Children Standing on Dogs
The internet and social media are (understandably) all aflutter these days over the image that Sarah Palin recently posted of her son, Trig, standing on the back of their family dog. And subsequently, of a similar image posted by the Ellen DeGeneres Show this past July. Regardless of your politics or which daytime talk show you prefer, there truly is no arguing that both images depict a potentially dangerous and likely uncomfortable (if not outright painful) situation that could easily end in disaster — for the dog, for the child, for the family, and for dogs and children everywhere, even.
Teaching MomentsWhat’s important here is not who posted the photo, but rather the acknowledgement and recognition that both of these photos should serve as “teaching moments” on an important topic. The issue of pet and child safety, as well as teaching children how to safely and humanely interact with animals, should be one that transcends both politics and celebrity. And now, because of this situation, it can be an issue that actually benefits from politics and celebrity! Hopefully helping to prevent some of the approximately 2 million+ dog bites to children that occur each year.
Why Are These Dangerous Situations?Many people have commented on both pictures that neither dog seems particularly bothered by what is happening, and that they would move or bite if they were. Not only is such a statement predicated on dangerous assumptions, but such a statement also misses a very important point… the precedent that such actions and photos are setting — both for the children involved and for the parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who have viewed and cooed at the pictures.
What those children, and the viewing adults, are learning is that it’s okay to stand on the back of a dog that you know, a dog that has been well-trained, a dog that is a family pet. Even if it were the case under those specific circumstances (which, for many reasons, it was not), there is absolutely no guarantee that it will still be the case the next time either of those children goes to climb on that same dog’s back. And they will do it again.
Imagine how differently these situations will turn out when the dogs develop back or neck pain from a compressed disc or arthritis between their vertebrae (the bones that surround and protect the spinal column). Or when the dog is suffering from inflammation and pain of their pancreas (pancreatitis) and/or their stomach and intestines (gastroenteritis). These are all conditions that commonly occur in dogs, and conditions can arise suddenly with only minimal outward signs. There are actually many types of pain that dogs can develop — both in the short term and the long — any of which could lead to an otherwise docile and compliant dog biting, even inflicting a bite to a person whom they love and normally protect. (There are many documented cases of dogs in pain biting their owner — say, after having been hit by a car.)
And even if their own current dog were to never bite under such circumstances, there’s no guarantee that another dog — either one that the family gets in the future or one belonging to a friend or stranger — wouldn’t. Furthermore, when these children grow up and see the “cute” pictures of themselves standing on the back of a dog, they’ll likely then believe that it’s acceptable for their own children or grandchildren to stand on the back of a dog… which it will not be.
As you can see, this isn’t just dangerous in the short-term, it’s also a situation that begets a dangerous cycle and future pattern. It’s the precedent and the perpetuation of dangerous (and false) assumptions that it sets. And that’s all putting aside the (legitimate and important) concerns about the comfort, health, and safety of the dogs involved in such scenarios.
So let’s all return to civility and remove the politics of this situation and acknowledge the important teaching moment this poses for us all. Furthermore, let’s all respectfully ask both Mrs. Palin and Ms. DeGeneres to recognize these dangers and the important roles they can both play in dog bite prevention in light of these pictures. Only then can something good come out of this whole kerfuffle.
For more information on keeping children and pets safe around each other, please see the following articles and resources:
• 5 Lessons All Children Should Be Taught and Shown About Living With Dogs
• 5 Lessons All Children Should Be Taught and Shown About Living With Cats
• Pets and Pacifiers: When Children and Pets Don’t Mix
• Family Paws Parent Education
• Dr. Sophia Yin’s “How To Avoid Dog Bites”
• “Dog Bite Prevention in Children” website from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine