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Smooch your Pooch

If I were judging this book just on it’s overall cuteness and character, this book would get a top score. The cartoons are engaging, the rhymes catchy, and the overall message of “dogs are fun” is great. It’s clear that the intentions of the book are good. The authors are encouraging children to make the pet an active member of the family.  The problem is that a number of the recommendations are actually dangerous. In fact, the recommendation from which the book takes its title is the most dangerous recommendation of all. While the authors suggest to kids to, “Smooch your pooch to show that you care,” they fail to recognize that most dogs don’t like being hugged or kissed. The authors are clearly unaware that while many dogs tolerate being hugged and kissed, most don’t actually like it, especially not “anytime, anywhere” as the book suggests. In fact, according to a study of dog bites to kids published in Injury Prevention in 2007, the researchers found that familiar children were bitten most often in the context of “nice” interactions — such as kissing and hugging — with their own dogs or dogs that they knew.  And most children had been bitten by dogs that had no history of biting.

Unsafe Recommendation #2

There are other unsafe recommendations in the book. For instance, one illustration and rhyme says, “Let him sit by your side when you go for a [car] ride. And make sure the window is opened up wide. When his ears get all flappy, you’ll know your dog’s happy!” The illustration shows the dog with his front feet propped on the car door and his head sticking out the window.  It looks like fun and it’s not unusual to see a dog engaged in this activity but, at least one of my colleagues has quite a few horror stories to tell. Says Kathie Hayes, co-owner of Narnia Pet Behavior & Training, a popular dog training facility in Chicago, “One of our clients had her dog on leash in the car, she was holding the leash, but let the dog lean out the window. She had to make a sudden stop and the dog fell out of the window. The leash became taut and the dog rolled under the car and was killed because she ran over the dog with her own car.”

“A second client was on his way over for our class,” says Hayes, “[he] had his dog in the back seat with the back window rolled all the way down. The dog had his feet up on the door with half his body hanging out. The driver had to make a sudden stop and the dog fell out of the window and in the path of an on-coming car. The dog was hit by the car but did survive with a broken leg.”

And in yet another case Hayes describes, “A friend of mine spent over a thousand dollars on a hunting dog. He let the dog hang his head out the car window. A twig flew up and stabbed the dog in the eye.” Two thousand dollars were spent on veterinary bills for surgery and treatment (not to mention the pain and suffering the dog experienced) but the accident still resulted in blindness in that eye, so the dog could not be used for hunting.

A more appropriate but fun recommendation would be to “Let him sit by your side wearing a seatbelt when you go for a ride. And make sure the window is open, but not too wide.” A second illustration could emphasize that some dogs like the feel of wind on their face but if so, they should have protection for their eyes. An illustration of a dog with its head sticking out of the window could include a dog wearing protective goggles (such as Doggles). These messages would be informative, instructional, and cute.

Unsafe Recommendation #3

While this book is only thirty pages long, there is no shortage of unsafe recommendations. One odd suggestion is that, “When he woofs at the door, let him go right on out.” The illustration shows the dog being let out the front door. This makes me wonder if the authors live in a region of the country without leash laws where dogs normally wander the neighborhood and if so, don’t they get hit by cars? A more appropriate illustration and suggestion would be of the child letting the dog into a fenced-in backyard to go potty.

Unsafe Recommendation #4

My last complaint as a veterinarian is the section that says “Toss him a bone, feed him some kibble. Or better yet, pizza. He’d sure like a nibble.” Realistically, once he comes back from the veterinary hospital with bills for pancreatitis I think the adults may want to scratch that suggestion out of the book. A more appropriate rhyme would have been “Or better yet, pizza, but only a nibble.”

Now, I’m sure some of you who already own this book may pooh-pooh we veterinarians and dog care professionals as being no fun and think the unsafe consequences aren’t likely to happen. But think about this…

What if the book said, “Pinch your sister’s cheeks to show you care, pinch them anytime, anywhere.” Or it said, “Bounce and scream with your brothers in the car when you go for a ride. Remember to open the window wide.” Or it said, “Play in the street with your brother, play video games. Or better yet, offer him a cigarette, or a Mary Jane.” All of these could be accompanied by cute, adorable illustrations, but that wouldn’t make the suggestions safe or appropriate.


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