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Aggressive dogs are dangerous to children

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Dear Uncle Matty: Our 6-month-old puppy growls at our 4-year-old daughter. Our trainer said he would outgrow this. I'm afraid the dog will bite. What should we do?

Dear Uncle Matty: My dog bit part of my child's lip off. Recovery will be painful and tedious. Could this happen again? He only growled a few times before this happened.

Dear Uncle Matty: It happened so fast, there was nothing I could do, and I was standing only inches away. Our family dog attacked my 3-year-old son and came within a centimeter of his eye.

Dear Uncle Matty: We have a 6-month-old baby and a 5-year-old golden retriever that belonged to my husband before we were married. I am afraid of the dog because he growls and bit me once a year ago. I don't think this dog should be around children, but my husband won't get rid of the dog. What should I do?

Dear Dog Owners Everywhere Who Are Parents, Neighbors and Friends: These are the kinds of messages (and worse) that I deal with every day — dozens of them by phone, e-mail and fax. People call about their aggressive dogs for different reasons, and not all of them are willing to listen to the truth.

Some dog owners just want to be told that they can keep on doing the same old thing and everything will be OK. When I can't do that, they move on and probably keep contacting people until they hear what they want to hear — that there is nothing wrong with the dog and not to worry. But they should worry because, in each of these cases, the parents are engaging in child endangerment. And more likely than not, if they do not take responsible action, the dog will bite or attack the child or someone else.

But it doesn't have to be like this! No dog owner has to live in fear. No parent has to endanger his children because of the family dog. Here are the rules — no ifs, ands, or growls!

1. Test a dog's temperament for signs of aggression before the dog becomes a family member.

2. Train your puppy when it is young, and it is easier to modify most aggressive behavior. The dog learns how to be a good and safe companion.

3. Realize that some dogs should not be in a home with young children.

4. Never leave your children alone with a dog regardless of the size, age and temperament of the dog.

5. Learn the signs of aggression in dogs and what to do about it for the sake of your family, other people and animals, and for the sake of your dog.

Now, let's examine the e-mail comments above.

"Our trainer said he would outgrow this (growling)." Dogs do not outgrow aggressive behaviors. If your dog is growling or exhibiting other signs of aggression, find out what type of aggression it is (there are many), and then, work with a professional to modify the behavior using love, praise and affection. If there is a child in the house, and you care about your child, you should either find an alternative situation for the dog or keep the dog completely away from your child. This could be an enclosed dog run with appropriate shelter. Then, learn how to safely live with the situation.

"Could this happen again?" Of course! And it probably will! This is not a safe animal. And imagine the trauma for this poor child living with a dog that has attacked the child and caused such pain and suffering.

"It happened so fast, there was nothing I could do." I remember this situation, as I do all of them. This dog had never bitten the child, but after the caller and I conversed for a few minutes, we discovered that the signs of aggression had been there and were ignored. The child was lucky but will have to undergo several operations. And it didn't have to happen.

"I'm afraid . . . but my husband won't get rid of the dog. What should I do?" If the husband won't act responsibly and do the right thing, this woman should take her child and leave the unsafe environment. Better yet, tell the husband to take his dog and find other quarters. This 5-year-old aggressive canine will never be safe with children.

If you think you have an aggressive dog, visit the doghouse at unclematty.com and the all-new Grrr! section that helps you learn about aggression. It could save your child from an aggressive dog.

Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Read all of Uncle Matty's columns at the Creators Syndicate web site at www.creators.com, and visit him at www.unclematty.com. Send your questions to dearuncle.gazetteunclematty.com or mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619 © Creators Syndicate