Mastiffs and Kids
Mastiffs are known as protectors of women and children, and for those of us who love the breed, this is one of the qualities that we love. As a woman who used to live in an isolated home, I felt safe knowing my girls would bark at anyone at the door.
For Mastiff owners with children, there is nothing cuter than a child hugging or kissing a Mastiff. We all know about the “too cute” factor of Mastiff faces, sometimes just begging to be hugged or kissed.
But sometimes there is a very bad ending to a hug or kiss.
Simply, most dogs don’t like to be hugged or to be face to face with a person. According to Dr. Ian Dunbar, hugging is the number-one cause of bites to pre-adolescent and adolescent girls who want to hug and mush everything.
Why? Because we are “frontal,” and dogs are not. We walk straight toward each other and stick out our arms to shake hands. We hug, we kiss, front to front, and we feel good about it. Friendly dogs who aren’t friends yet approach in an arc. The closer they get, the slower they go. There is no frontal.
Then – perhaps the ultimate example of how dogs are unlike us – they sniff butts.
Aggressive dogs approach other dogs frontally, and sometimes our frontal approaches are misinterpreted by dogs. Think about a small, excited child running toward a dog.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are 4.5 million dog bites in the United States every year, and children are the most common victims. They are also the most severely injured, and most injuries are caused by a dog the child knows. There are many of us who cringe every time we see a picture posted on the Internet by misinformed parents who think it’s cute that their child is kissing the dog because when we look at the dog’s body language, there is nothing cute about it.
I think we have a responsibility, not only to our own children, but to the public, to learn about dog body language and to teach children to behave appropriately around dogs. Because dogs are dogs. They do not behave like people; they behave like dogs. And when pushed beyond their tolerance, which can vary greatly from dog to dog and situation to situation, they don’t say, “Please leave me alone.” If we have taught them that they have choices, they will often choose to remove themselves from the situation (good dog!) or warn with a growl. But sometimes they bite.
Over the years, I’ve heard from many Mastiff owners who were upset because “out of the blue” their Mastiff, who had always loved children, growled at a child.
These incidents occurred at baseball games, picnics or other events in the summer where there were a lot of children and commotion. The Mastiff had been awake too long, it was hot, it was noisy and by the time the 50th child patted the Mastiff on the head, the Mastiff had had enough and said, “Go away.” Fortunately all of these incidents ended at the warning because the owners respected the warning and moved the Mastiff away from the situation.
But the incident would never have happened if the owners understood life from the dog’s point of view.
(Yup, dogs don’t really like being patted on the head. Would you? I had an elderly grandmother with six elderly sisters who always patted children on the head. I can remember being at family events and begging my mother not to send me over to say hello because I would have to run the gauntlet while they all pinched my cheek and patted me on the head.)
As responsible people, we should teach our children how to behave around dogs and reinforce our dogs for good behavior around children. It might be a safer choice to be careful about posting pictures of children hugging or kissing dogs, even if the dog loves it. (And dogs can learn to love being hugged and kissed, and we should all teach our dogs to love being hugged and kissed, just in case some child runs up and hugs our dog.) But such pictures encourage other children to put themselves in what might be a dangerous situation with a dog who might hate being hugged or kissed. Save those pictures for friends who know your child and dog; they are too good not to share!
Oh, No, Silver
Being supersized Molossers, Mastiffs invariably draw comparisons to small horses. And, predictably, kids are drawn to want to sit or ride on them.
Mastiff fanciers are touchy about this, to say the least.
In 2014, Doritos sponsored a “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, in which five videos vied for enough votes to be played during the big football game. One of the contenders, “Cowboy Kid,” didn’t win the popular vote – or the $1 million prize – but as the company’s pick, it was aired during the game, too. With the Lone Ranger’s “William Tell Overture” playing triumphantly in the background, a young boy rescues a bag of chips from the clutches of his older brother by jumping on the back of his huge fawn Mastiff, who even rears up on his hind legs, a consummate canine version of Silver. Compared to much of what is in the ring these days, the Doritos dog was incredibly sound. But Mastiff fanciers, predictably, were not amused.
“Cowboy Kid is not as cute as people would like to think,” wrote one visitor to Doritos’ Facebook page, expressing the ire of many. “This is irresponsible advertising at its best, in that children will see this, not realize it is Photoshopped, and try it with their own large-breed dogs. It is not just about Mastiffs. Dogs and children alike can be seriously injured.”
Mastiffs have seemingly always been associated with children. Images of them over the last century invariably show a Mastiff being hugged, kissed, straddled or slept on by a child.
“Many of the images that I’ve found always relate to Mastiffs with children – this just seems to be a common theme that exists in old photographs, as well as paintings and prints,” says Steve Oifer, whose has collected thousands of images of Mastiffs for his personal archive, called the Mastiff Museum. “For some reason, the Mastiff takes on this role of father figure. The Mastiff might be an archetype of that parental protector, and there’s an automatic affinity for a child to appear in the picture with the Mastiff due to that.”
Understanding canine body language is critical when dealing with children. Click here for a great photo gallery with explanations of what is happening in each photo.