Beyond the pits: Grand kids and good canines

Once again, the tragedy of a child having been bitten in the face and disfigured by a dog has made the news. And, naturally, it's a pit bull that did the disfiguring.

The "naturally" isn't commentary on the nature of pit bulls; it's commentary on the nature of the media. Dogs of all breeds attack and maim children and adults at an alarming rate—4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year per the CDC—yet it's those stories featuring pit bulls as the bad guys that make the news. Every time.

The recent horrible story locally involved a nine-month-old baby and the pit bull owned by the baby's grandpa. I have an eight-month-old grandson. And I have a pit bull. Well, he's only part pit bull, the other part seemingly pointer, but it's the pit part that freaks everyone out. Naturally. And it's the pit part in the dog that recently bit that poor baby that likely, sadly, influenced the decision to euthanize the dog.

LylaI'm not going to tell you pit bulls are the sweetest and most misunderstood of dogs. That can be the case, but as is the case with all dogs, much is attributable to an animal's upbringing and environment, not just their supposedly inherent traits. I will tell you, though, that my pit bull, Mickey, is the least likely of our dogs to hurt one of my grandsons. Our other dog, Lyla, because of torture the poor rescue dog suffered, torture which we'll never know the details of but that clearly messed up the mutt's mind in oh so many ways, is far more cause for concern around my grandsons just because she's so skittish and unpredictable.

Regardless of predictability or pedigree—and I've said this here before—kids and dogs, especially dogs that are not used to kids, are not a good mix. Should not mix. At all.

That's a hard thing for grandparents, I think, because we dearly love our canine babies who reside in our home day in, day out. When the grandkids visit, we want the grandbabies to get to know our canine babies, play with them, become friends with them, love them like we do.

It's not that simple, unfortunately.

I recently wrote an article for another publication on this exact topic. Here are some of the points from that article in hopes it might help prevent a tragedy similar to the heartbreaking one—for the baby and the dog—now getting top billing in the local media:

  • Baby gates are key. As a long-distance grandma, my grandsons visit my house only a few times a year. When they do, we make use of baby gates. Lots and lots of baby gates throughout the house, separating our human babies from our canine babies. It’s not ideal, but the alternative is to have no dogs at all, which doesn’t sit well with this pet-loving grandma.
  • Pets should be provided a quiet, out-of-the-way room during gatherings with extended family. Though some pets may enjoy socializing opportunities, others will be overwhelmed by the excitement. Be sure yours has access from his quiet place to his bed, toys, and water.
  • Don’t allow grandchildren to give animals treats without you helping out. Kids often don’t understand or follow the standard treat-giving protocol, and dogs may be skittish or overly aggressive in nabbing the goodies.
  • Be sure older grandchildren—who may be tempted to sneak sweets and treats to the family dog—know the rules of what foods are or are not acceptable for sharing.
  • Try to limit the disruptions to your pet’s eating, sleeping, and exercise schedule as much as possible. Animals thrive on routine; throwing things off only adds to their excitement and confusion.
  • Never leave kids and canines together unattended. Your granddaughter and Fido may both be sweet as can be, but all that can change in an instant if your granddaughter decides to dress Fido in play clothes, ride him like a horse, or worse.

Sure, your dog is your best friend and may be saddened or jealous or confused about little visitors taking your time and attention. The most important thing to remember, though, is this: Grandchildren take priority. So regardless of your dog's hurt feelings, it’s always best to err on the side of caution—the side that protects your beloved grandbabies above all else.

Today's question:

What is your No. 1 tip for keeping grandbabies safe and canine babies happy when under the same roof?