Why dogs are not your child’s best friend - Macleans.ca

Why dogs are not your child’s best friend

A tragic death in Quebec is a cold reminder that dogs are animals, always capable of attack



The tragic death of a 21-day-old girl in Saint-Barnabé-Sud, Que., last week puts a lens on a little-discussed issue in a culture that views dogs as family members and delights in YouTube videos of babies frolicking with protective St. Bernards: that these beloved animals are increasingly biting and attacking—most often the hand that feeds them.

Animal behaviourists shudder over the scant public details known of the Quebec case. The newborn had been strapped into a car seat placed on the floor and left unattended while two Siberian huskies, a male and a female, ran free. A third husky was found by police in a cage with her puppies. The baby’s 17-year-old mother, who was outside of the house when the attack occurred, was charged with manslaughter and will appear in juvenile court on Aug. 31.

As a minor, she cannot be identified. Police say the baby had been left unsupervised for at least 20 minutes; her lawyer, André Williams, says it was no more than five. Crown prosecutor Caroline Fontaine told reporters the charge stemmed from the mother’s alleged failure to provide “the necessities of life” to her child, a statement that gives rise to many questions, among them: does leaving a child alone with a dog constitute a failure to provide for a baby? Or is this situation a special case due to the mother’s age and socio-economic standing?

She and the baby’s 19-year-old father had lived in the house with two other families, one of which owns the dogs, for less than a week. No complaints had been registered against the animals, Williams told Maclean’s. The baby’s father told media they were gentle: “Strangers could approach them and they wouldn’t even bark.”

But dog behaviourists point out that bringing a newborn into a household alters the dynamic, particularly when the dogs are not trained. “The smell of a baby is different; its movements can make a dog uncomfortable,” says Kelowna, B.C.-based dog trainer Brad Pattison, the host of the TV show At the End of My Leash. Dogs taught boundaries can take on a nurturing disposition when a baby arrives, he says, though risk increases if there’s more than one dog. In 2008, a two-month-old baby in Tulsa, Okla., left in a windup swing was killed by one of the family’s two dogs—a black Lab puppy—while his 17-year-old mother, who wasn’t charged, slept in the next room.

Dogs often attack out of jealousy or to protect perceived territory, Pattison says. A woman he knows was bitten by her dog while breastfeeding: “The dog had been allowed on the bed for the duration of her life.”

The Quebec case has focused attention on Siberian huskies, known to kill newborns in similar circumstances. Pattison calls such canine profiling “breedist”: “Every breed is capable of attacking because they are an animal first and foremost,” he says. “We underestimate the power of a 16-lb. dog.”

The unnamed baby is one of three children killed in Canada this year by canines. In February, a 10-year-old boy was mauled by a pack of dogs in northern Saskatchewan; in March, a four-year-old boy was killed by sled dogs in the Baffin Island hamlet of Pangnirtung, Nunavut. Though dog owners are legally liable for their animals’ actions, no charges were laid in either case. Most attacks in Canada occur in rural areas or native reserves, says Colleen Lynn, founder of Dogsbite.org, a blog that tracks dog bites.

Children, unsurprisingly, are the most vulnerable. A June 2008 Canadian Veterinary Journal study found that of the 28 people who died of dog attacks between 1990 and 2008 in Canada, more than 85 per cent were under age 10. A survey of non-fatal dog bites to children by the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program found 17,474 injuries between 1990 and 2003, most among children aged five to nine. Some 70 per cent of dog-bite victims know the dog; a quarter live in the same house, reports the Canadian Safety Council.

Such attacks are destined to increase, Pattison believes, given the “fur kid” phenomenon that sees owners treat dogs like children themselves. “People dress them up, they feed them human food in high chairs, they sleep with them, they’re pushing them in strollers,” he says. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

The numbers are already rising. Hospitalizations for dog bites in Britain have increased by 40 per cent in the past four years—to almost 5,000 people a year. A Toronto Humane Society study found that dog bites in Ontario rose to 4,819 in 2009 from 4,381 in 2003, even after the 2003 pit bull ban.

“Bites are extremely common and not taken seriously enough,” says Enid Stiles, a Montreal veterinary behaviourist, who says many are oblivious to the risks: “I wouldn’t leave my child with someone I don’t know and I wouldn’t leave my dog with my child unattended,” she says.

It’s wise if unrealistic to say you should never leave a child alone with a dog, says Pattison. “But everybody I know who owns a dog and has children has run upstairs to change the laundry or take the garbage out.” That five minutes can bring heartbreak: last year, a two-week-old baby was mauled to death by a chow-mix in Arizona. No charges were laid against her mother, a policewoman who was in the bathroom.

A major attitudinal shift is needed, says Pattison: “People need to be aware dogs are not your best friend.” But that’s not the message of a heartwarming YouTube video showing a newborn sharing a blanket with a Siberian husky imitating the baby’s wails. As of this week, it had nearly half a million views.


Why dogs are not your child’s best friend

  1. Great, great post.

    (See, I can be nice to female journalists when they write morally correct stuff)

    • Why do have to be a douche even when complimenting an article? What does being a female journalist have to do with anything in this piece? What does "morally correct" mean?

    • Bonko, u r clearly bonkers :)

  2. This was truly a tragedy…but a crime? How unfortunate for this young mother to have to deal with all of this.

    As your article suggests, we've all run upstairs to check the laundry and left the child alone, perhaps with a dog nearby. My daughter used to have tea parties with our black lab. He would sit by the coffee table and wait for her to serve the "tea" and hold the cup up to his lips to pretend he was drinking. I would peek around the corner never wanting to interrupt because it was so cute. The dog would see me peeking and give me this look like he was saying "don't you dare laugh at me".

    Of course, the dog became a part of the family after we had kids and once he stopped being a puppy himself, he would routinely put himself between the kids and danger, like the stairs even though the stairs had a gate. He would also sit and not move if a child he didn't know came into the house. He was a smart dog.

    • We don't know all the details. The mother could have been drugged up or could have left the child for far longer than she claims. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the police on this one.

      And you should never, ever leave a dog alone with a baby for even five seconds. It doesn't matter how good the dog is, you can't predict how a dog will react to a baby. Now you seem to be talking about a 'child' and that's a bit different. Once a baby has grown and the dog is used to it their interactions will be more predictable, but never leave a dog with a baby.

      • Yes dear.

        And you should live where I live. Coyotes regularly roam my back yard and my kids were never allowed outside without the dogs. The "family pet" was also the early warning detection device and the child predator protection system. Even now that my kids are in their teens…heck, I don't go outside without the dogs.

        I can't recall if I ever left the baby alone with the dog but I bet I did, running off to pee, check on dinner, answer the phone. I don't doubt that I was lucky this tragedy didn't happen to us but as I said, it was a tragedy. Accidents happen and this poor young mother who is now facing criminal charges because she stepped outside while her baby was in the car seat…even if it was for longer than she said. I hope the police drop the charges.

      • Would you assume she was "drugged up" if she was 25? 35? 40? Do you know any facts about the case that were not mentioned in the article? Or is the entire basis of your assumption the fact that the mother is 17?

  3. Truly a horrible tragedy, and potentially an important subject. However, if you are going to present a thesis (people treating pets as part of the family is dangerous) shouldn't the text of the article at least support your main argument.

    You point out that 3 children have died, but of the other two tragedies one was by working dogs and the other wild dogs. Indeed, "Most attacks in Canada occur in rural areas or native reserves, says Colleen Lynn, founder of Dogsbite.org, a blog that tracks dog bites." Colleen might have gone on to point out that those are places were one finds working dogs and wild dogs. Generally it is in the city that people treat their pets like people. Also the dog bite statistics from the Humane Society are more than one would expect from the population growth during those years but just barely.

  4. Why don't you put a picture of a Lab or Poodle, since they bite most!! Typical stereotype of a Rottweiller. Yet Rottweiller attacks on children are rare, even more so in Canada. Typicall liberal B.S.

    I suppose next month, you will have an article suggesting banning all pets….

    • I researched your web site, used in your article….brutal journalism!!!!!
      I couldn't find one creditable figure, relating to Canada, nor the U.S., only opinion based commentary
      I expect better from Macleans

    • Sorry Chris, the bulk of Canada's liberal population will be out burning flags on Canada Day, rallying for the legalization of crystal meth, and unilaterally advocating for the destruction of Israel – they won't have time to advocate for the ban of pets. At least, that's what a conservative buddy told me over a joint the other day. I took him at his word, only because I was too busy masturbating to gay porn while at work.

      Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go troll the fox news website for more refreshing omni-stereotypes about people who don't vote Conservative. I'm fresh out.

      • Well said. I consider myself pretty centrist, but apparently I am a liberal because I am more leery of rotts than poodles — and I have never been seriously attacked by any dog. It's just my liberal bias, I guess.

        Now don't bogart that joint, brah!

  5. What a crappy article. "these beloved animals are increasingly biting and attacking." Really? Increasingly? I don't see any evidence to back that up. The three kids killed? The Ontario numbers showing a 9% increase in a six year period, with no info on the intervening period? Is that even statistically signifcant?

    This was a tragic event, but it demands more serious journalism than this.

  6. This really is a bad article. You cite an activist website as a source of data. And Brad Pattison is NOT an animal behaviourist. Have you ever seen his show? It's like a parody of bad reality TV. He is a horrible, horrible trainer. No one should ever take advice from him or rely on him as a source of real information on animals. Would it really have killed you to actually call a real behaviourist for this article?

  7. We need more articles that fear monger about household pets!

  8. The leading cause of accidental death of children in Canada is incompetent, underage unmarried parents. Siblings and other family members kill babies more often than the family dog. This article is truly a poorly written, fear mongering piece of trash not fit to publish in Macleans. Your fine reputation will not last long if you don't clean out the garbage.

    • I couldn't have said it better than how Johnathan has put it. It surprises me that Macleans would even publish this garbage.

  9. It is very unfortunate incident which should not be blown out of proportion because of the couple's age. This could have happened to any dog-keeping family with a newborn. FYI, underage is not = incompetence.

  10. Miss Kingston, look at where liberalism has gotten us: you can't even write a perfectly sensible article about dogs killing babies without The Usual Suspects getting up on their hind legs hurling a barrage of punctuation and invective at you. Can I interest you in the conservative movement? These people are actually defending baby killing beasts; does this not gross you out somewhat?

    • Bonko you need to put your head on straight….I'm pretty sure that any dog I have ever met is smarter and better behaved than you! You must not like animals, and in return they probably do not like you either. Look at the sources of this article, they are anti-dog activists with no credibility what so ever. this article has put a stain on a normally trustworthy magazine. Their are far many more "baby killing beasts" of the two legged variety in this world that you should focus your libertarian efforts on.

  11. I wonder what the graphs would look like if you made one showing the numbers of dogs in the household to the increase in attacks? Have the numbers if dogs increased the same degree? If yes than the problem has not got worse. I think this is a mojor oversight for this piece. Having said that, it doesn't make the issue any less serious and it behoves us all to be more cautions with those we love.

  12. MacCleans using Colleen Lynn, a woman who as attacked by a dog two years ago and then started collecting newspaper articles. This is your "expert." ?
    With all the reliable organizations that have been studying dog attacks for years, like the HSUS, ASPCA and NCRC, MacCleans uses a woman with a blog who hates dogs. Ah, more evidence that the world of journalism is going right down the crapper.
    And no surprise then that nothing else in this article would be correct.
    Dogs are incredibly safe, and are more safe today then they ever have been, both in the U.S. and Canada.
    Calgary has seen a 75% decrease in dog bites over the past decade.
    Cities in the U.S., like NY, Chicago, LA, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Houston, etc. have seen huge decreases in the number of dog bites over the past decade.
    Funny the two areas you use to show dog bites are going up (Toronto and the UK) both have BREED BANS !! That's pretty telling of itself.
    So, I see MacCleans is in the fear-mongering business, and using shoddy and unreliable sources to back it up.

  13. "Why Nursery Schools, Playgrounds, Toys, Bicycles, Soccer, Skateboarding, Inline Skating, Snowboarding, Basketball and Hockey are not your child's best friend."

    Borrowing data from the same statistical program that this article quoted (the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program … http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/injury-bles/chirpp/ind… all of those activities or item had substantially higher levels of both injury and death for children than did dogs.

    Why is this important? For me, it's a excellent example of how statistics are drastically misinterpreted and misunderstood in a way that distorts logical behavior and policy responses. Humans are famously bad at understanding probability and risk and scale — I believe that a publication like Maclean's should be providing clarity and analysis, not fodder for over-reaction.

    Yes, it is tragic that this child died from a dog attack. And yes, the parents clearly should have been more attentive. And, in general, I believe that dog owners mostly don't know what they are doing and so that increases substantially the risk of these incidents.

    But please, Maclean's, put these issues in perspective.

  14. wow here come the dog lovers

    • Au contraire mon frere
      I`d say here come the baby lovers with Education to help people who are the real problem in these situations rather than the dogs http://www.dogsandstorks.com/

      Try and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem
      If you have nothing constructive to say,say nothing

  15. Let’s not forget cats whose behaviour can also change dramatically with the introduction of a newborn.

  16. The LAST site I would quote regarding dog bites is Collen Lynne's site. This site is nothing less than a BSL Lobby group and the stats are WAY beyond questionable. For those of us that follow media reports we KNOW that media labels EVERY short haired medium sized MUTT as pit bulls for and RARELY Corrects ALL the incorrect reporting of "types" of dogs involved in incidents. One can be SURE Ms. Lynn's site DOES NOT correct mistakes by media, which is rampant.

  17. Ridiculous misinformation by this author, Siberians are not "known to kill newborns in similar circumstances". Any dog can attack a child, especially if they are not familiar with one another. Children need to know how to approach and interact with dogs and infants must be supervised with pets, always. Stop perpetuating misinformation about this most family-friendly, gentle, intelligent breed of dog. Small dogs bite more often than larger breeds, and to an infant, even a bite from a small dog can be deadly. Huskies are not, generally, dangerous dogs. The dogs in this case were not familiar with the child, having been living together less than a week. They never should have been left alone with the infant. This cannot be blamed on their breed, only on the baby's parents.

  18. This is absolutely ridiculous. There are far more deaths from parents killing their children per year then dogs killing children. Such faulty logic, I take it you're a cat owner?

  19. I used to work for Canada Post and that's when I learned about how dog attacks can lead to serious injury for letter carriers and consequences for the dog itself.

    Children and the elderly are even more likely to be victims.

    I've recently started a Facebook page called “dogs who love posties” to show support for responsible dog ownership and help make people aware of how serious an issue dog bites and attacks are. It's at http://www.facebook.com/dogswholoveposties

    It includes links to tips and resources some might find useful and is open to everyone, of course. One excellent Canadian resource, for instance, is the dogs and kids website provided through the Canada Safety Council. You'll find information on how to approach a dog, how to act around a stray or loose dog and can download fun activity sheets!

    And yes, cats are represented too. If you dig down in my links, you'll find one to a video about Shadow, a cat that was spooking mail carriers who came to his Winnipeg home.

  20. The pit bull ban was passed in 2005. If a credible source like Maclean's can not be bothered to validate easily verifiable information like a date, why should we take any of their other "facts" seriously?

    To back up their "facts" they have Brad Pattison who in 2009 hit 2 dogs in the face at one of his seminars, and self admitted dog-hater Colleen Lynn.

    Is it fair now to assume that Wikipedia will be used for verification of any future publications?

    • My thoughts exactly. Excellent catch on their incorrect date regarding the enactment of the pit bull ban. Honestly, how the hell did you guys get that one wrong? There is absolutely zero credibility to this article. What happened to the ethics and standards of journalism? Anybody can write this crap. Citing dogsbite.org, come on…

  21. holy fuck, leave the poor dogs alone.

    the mother of the baby was incharge of the child, the dog most likely did not do it on purpous. children pull on dogs ears, tails, they poke them and annoy them, wouldn't you get annoyed too? i'd probally snap at the baby too…

  22. "while his 17-year-old mother, who wasn't charged, slept in the next room".

    Ah, more excellent research by MacCleans – NOT – This case was VERY widely covered by the media – so it should not have been difficult, with the slightlest bit of research, to find out that the mother was not only charged, but convicted of involuntary manslaughter in this case.

    Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy – From using Colleen Lynn to not even doing a simple search to find the results of a criminal case.

  23. This is a sad and tragic story… I feel terrible for the mother but also shake my head at her lack of responsibility. ALL dogs are protective and we have to remember that anything new is a threat. You wouldn't leave a new born puppy in a room with a full grown dog in fear the dog would attack the puppy. So what compelled her to leave a new born CHILD in the room? I understand you can't be glued to your child but the least you can do is put the dogs outside.

    I'm a huge animal lover and I find this article insane. My dog would never hurt a fly and I have left her with my neice many times however I can't speak for others. Just like you can't speak for the stepfathers, the mothers, the aunts, the grandparents all who have been convicted of murdering children. Don't make dogs out to be viscious creatures of death. We are more of a threat to them then they will EVER be to us.

  24. Wow, nice little soundbite full of much misleading information…

    "does leaving a child alone with a dog constitute a failure to provide for a baby?"
    Damn right it does. ESPECIALLY if it is an unfamiliar dog with an infant or young child. Children are unpredictable, noisy and move around a lot. Dogs are domesticated predators and if not properly socialized, trained and exposed to young humans their natural instincts to resource guard, protect themselves from perceived threats and to chase and bite can be triggered. This does not make them vicious creatures, they are animals and need to be respected as such.

    I have to split the comment due to length, more to follow…

  25. Yes, a new baby or other changes in a household or routine can cause stress based lack of inhibitions occur. They are not "jealous", that is just a glaring anthropomorphism from someone who decries the same sort of rhetoric from others. Territorial behaviour and resource guarding are instinctive behaviours from their long ago past, genetically hardwired into domesticated dogs, which come to the forefront when under stress.

    Yes, every breed can and will bite under the right circumstances. Being predators a dog's bite strength is impressive, even in a small dog they are built to crush bone. The fact that MOST dogs go their entire lives without so much as breaking the skin of anyone else shows remarkable self restraint.

  26. This occurence with the infant is tragic and was fully preventable. MOST bite incidents are. And it's not the dogs that are the problem here, though they are certainly a part of it.

    Proper breeding, socialization and training of dogs makes for a safe dog. But who is doing the breeding, socialization and training? PEOPLE. Lack of effort and knowledge is where these terrible incidents come from. This has NOTHING to do with whether your dog sleeps on your bed, wears dog clothes or is carried in a bag.

    Next time you want to put an article of this subject matter in a formerly respected newsmagazine like yours, please get some expert opinion from educated, qualified professionals and back it up with real data.

  27. While the issue of parental ignorance regarding dog behavior is very important, I'm not sure I would be listening to Brad Pattison for advice on the matter. There is a video circulating on the Internet, which his minions try hard to eliminate, that shows him slapping a dog's face as a form of discipline: http://www.facebook.com/#!/video/video.php?v=1015…. And, recent studies show that aggressive owners tend to have aggressive dogs: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/139465.p…. The real key to having a child-safe dog is to socialize it when it is between age 8-16 weeks (including introduction to children of all ages), train it early using positive training, and continue training and appropriate exercise and social activity throughout the dog's life. If you can't do that, don't get a dog, and for gosh sake, don't expose children to dogs that haven't had that background. Most dog bites happen out of fear! If you go to the shelter to get a family dog, don't take the one that hides in the back of the kennel or the one that charges the gates. Get a middle of the road *stable* dog, as identified by the behavior staff, even if it's old, black or the ugliest dog you ever saw!

  28. No dog should be around kids under 10. childern should have pets after there old enough to have one. dog don't understand what they did wrong and should not have to pay the price of being put under.

  29. You don't push dogs in strollers! You don't feed them food in a hair chair! I'm sorry, but we still are different species! Humans are almost incapable of living like dogs, yet we push the canine to their limits, to act like us. That's just wrong. You don't do that!

    I feel sorry about all the children who died because or dog attacks, but we must still recognize that animals don't have a bad mind, or heart. Nor do bears, or wolves, or coyotes. It's the conditions. It's how we have treated them. Humans, are vain creatures. Humans, we're just horrible, yet we look at the dog with loving eyes, and the next with disgust and hatred.
    However I look at this article, I can't help but think about what compelled the dogs to make decisions like that, yet in the end, I always point my finger at us.

    Maybe they aren't our best friends, but that doesn't stop us from trying. But we still have to recognize that, we're different, and that's just how it is. That's just how it always will be.

  30. I'd prefer to see an article about dogs that die to humans neglect.

    Sorry poochie but I cant afford to take you to the vets to get your eye looked at. I need a case of beer and momma needs some smokes for the weekend! Just throw some dirt on it, you'll be ok!

    • Your attempt at being funny has failed miserably.

  31. I have owned dogs for more than 40 years. Our first dog when I got married was a German shepard we had him 5 years before having our first child yet once he knew that she was part of the family absolutely no one could touch us unless we said so. Our next Dog was a rotti a female she was 2.5 years old when we got her. She protected the children and at one time a friend came over and just plafully tapped my son on the butt with a newspaper she got up from in front of the fireplace and lunges for my friend. She was however well trained and obedient and imediately stopped when told out. Out third and fourth dogs are also rottis. In all the years I prefer them over ohers they are loving loyal and raised right would never harm a soul unless your were in harms way..

  32. Leaving a small child alone with a dog,any dog, is a dangerous and irresponsible act. There are cases on record of Pomeranian's killing infants that have been left alone with the dog for only minutes. There were 30 canine homicides in the U.S. in 2009 ( Canine Homicide refers to the killing of a human by a dog). Of these 30 dog related death's 24 were children……What's even more alarming are the recent U.S. canine homicide statistics. The first 6 months of 2010 produced 16 fatal dog attacks.The most frequent victims were young children who were killed by their parents own dogs….13 0f the 16 decedents were Children………Family dogs killed 14 of the 16 victims…….Never leave a child alone with any breed of dog.

  33. The fact that dogs are animals is the very reason that it's the owners that are to blame, and leaving young children alone with any dog for any amount of time is a potentially deadly mistake, no matter how sweet-tempered and apparently harmless the dog usually is. A dog does not usually understand when things get out of hand or whether what they're doing is considered unacceptable, so humans need to be there to take responsibility intervene if they need to. When they don't, it's the innocent who pay the ultimate price.

  34. Oh come on Anne Kingston. Please do your homework. Dogsbite.org and Colleen Lynn are nothing more than a hate machine which exist for one reason only – to stretch out and grab as many dog bites stories as they can and twist them into looking like Pit Bull maulings, while they completely disregard every other dog attack under the sun. They should NEVER be considered as a reliable place for gathering information about dog attacks ever.