Oct. 6 was another depressing day for me, and it must have been a horrible day for the parents of 5-week-old Jose Diaz of Jacksonville, Fla. The infant was killed by one of three family dogs referred to as "mutts." The parents were working, and the grandmother had been left to care for little Jose, but she was not with him at the time.
I found it particularly interesting that before the baby was born, the mother of the baby had moved out of her mother's home and chose to leave behind her dog, the dog that was thought to be the killer, although I doubt it will ever be determined for sure which of the dogs attacked the child.
Investigating detectives say the death appeared accidental. Well, perhaps legally that's the definition for it, but even though I may be going over the top a little, it borders on homicide as far as I'm concerned. Let me tell you why.
Most dog bites, maulings and worse can be prevented. If you understand dog behavior — if you just pay attention to your dog — the signs of aggression are almost always there. Then, there are some basic rules to follow. It's the people, not the dogs, who don't "get it." Dogs need training, and their temperaments need to be determined.
In this case, the expectant mother wisely left the dog with her mother when she moved away before the baby's birth, probably because she sensed a danger. The most grievous mistake was leaving the baby alone with a dog, any dog. That unsupervised time was a killer. And that goes for the family pet that seems to be the sweetest dog in the world. For example, I know of a case where an infant was crying and the "sweet" dog picked the infant up by the neck and took it to the mother. This was canine instinct, but it killed the baby. Dogs are not people, regardless of what you may think about your pooch.
Another rule is early dog training. A well-trained dog is easier to control, and early training can more often than not modify aggressive behavior. Let too much time go by, and behavior modification becomes less possible. However, I'll say it again, even a well-trained, sweet dog should never be left alone with an infant or small child.
The same day I heard about the Jacksonville incident, I spoke with a woman in Culver City, Calif., who contacted me because her son-in-law has a 6-year-old pit bull terrier that is well-trained. He and his wife are expecting a baby. Based on conversations about the dog's behavior, I recommended that this dog should not be in the home with an infant, especially since this home had been the dog's territory.
The son-in-law wants to wait and see how the dog acts around the baby. In this case, as in many, waiting is not a good idea, even for this high school teacher. His mother-in-law says he is blind to anything that doesn't support his beloved dog.
And again on the 6th of October, I spoke with a man who has a 1-year-old Labrador retriever, never trained. The dog is now a good-size canine and able to jump over the fence. Just that day, the dog had leaped into the neighbor's yard, knocked down a child and terrified her. The neighbor views this dog as dangerous and may report the problem. Waiting before getting a dog under control, as in this case, can be dangerous and expensive.
So let me ask you: Do you have a dog and a child in the house? Do you have a dog, and are you expecting a child soon? How are you handling the situation? What are you going to do to protect your child and do the best thing for your dog? It's worth taking the time to think about and then take action.
— Uncle Matty
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!" Send your questions to dearuncle.gazetteunclematty.com or mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. © Creators Syndicate Inc.