DEAR ABBY: "Deeply Concerned in Evanston" wrote you about the danger of a small child being left alone with a dog her niece had adopted from an animal shelter, because the dog was aggressive with other dogs. You advised that "anyone who would leave their little one around an animal who has shown aggressive tendencies was 'barking up the wrong tree,' and small children should not be around animals unless supervised." I agree. And as a former E.R. nurse -- as well as a former explosives-detection dog handler for the U.S. Air Force -- I would like to clarify.
The writer's concern that dogs may act in a prey response to small children was only partially correct. Dogs are pack animals. Their family is their "pack." In the pack, the dominant animal will offer a corrective bite on the nose of a younger dog to correct unacceptable behavior. That is why young children are so often bitten in the face. The dog feels it is offering "correction" to the child. And that is why it is imperative that dogs and young children never be left together unattended.
It is extremely important that the dog AND THE FAMILY learn dog obedience from the earliest possible age. Parents should find obedience classes that encourage or require the entire family to participate in training. If the child can speak clearly, he or she is old enough to give commands. This should be reinforced by the parents until the children can do for themselves. This shows the dog that it is subordinate to even the smallest human in the household. Consistency is the key: It is far more effective to consistently spend five minutes a day, EVERY day, than to spend one hour, once a week.
Do not allow the dog to exercise dominance over the family. This includes climbing on furniture (placing himself higher than his pack), jumping, or otherwise getting on, above, between or in front of family members.
For more information, I highly recommend two books by the Monks of New Skete, New York: "How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend" and "The Art of Raising a Puppy." They are the best I have ever read on this subject.
Thank you, Abby, for allowing me to get accurate information out there. I hope that it prevents unfortunate accidents for kids and their dogs. -- MYLES A. LYNCH, BLOOMFIELD, N.Y.
DEAR MYLES: I'm the one who should be thanking you -- for an enlightened letter that any aspiring dog owner can understand. Well-adjusted, well-trained animals do not happen by accident. They're the result of many months of effort and discipline on the part of both the dog and its owner.
P.S. I also know that the books you mentioned are very well-thought-of in the world of dog enthusiasts.