It May Make For A ‘Cute’ Photo, But Letting Your Child Sit On A Dog Can Be Dangerous

Written by: Dina Fantegrossi

April 28, 2016

We’ve all seen the “adorable” photos and videos of kids sitting on, bear hugging, and grabbing the family dog. I must admit, I’m guilty of smiling and “liking” a few of these seemingly harmless pics online. Most of us don’t immediately wonder what the dog is thinking or feeling in these moments. We forget that they are not furry humans. That they don’t understand that the child means no harm. Until something tragic happens.

When a dog hurts a child it becomes national news, but how about all the incidents of dogs injured by well meaning children? Most of these incidences go unreported – even untreated – so we never have the chance to weigh in. The dogs just quietly suffer with the injuries they sustain from kids who simply don’t know any better.

dog in blanket

One dog owner wrote in to the Chicago Sun Times’ famous Dear Abby column with such a story. His Labrador, Layla was severely injured by a 9-year-old friend of his son’s who tried to “ride” the pooch. The letter explains that the child did not have a dog of his own and certainly was not intending to hurt Layla. “Heartbroken in New York” asked for Abby’s help in deciding whether or not to inform the child’s parents of the incident, let alone seek financial restitution for Layla’s veterinary bills.

lab stock tookapic

Here is the original letter, and Abby’s succinct response:

DEAR ABBY: My 9-year-old son’s friend Isaac was over for a visit. He was captivated by our Labrador retriever, Layla, who is very loving. Isaac doesn’t have a dog, so he wanted to play with Layla. At one point, I overheard him say to my son, Look, I’m riding your dog! I immediately intervened, but I was too late.

A day or so later, Layla was unable to descend our stairway and was clearly in pain. She has been on pain medication for three weeks and is growing progressively worse. The next step is to get X-rays and/or an MRI to see if she has a spinal injury, and then determine her treatment. Its possible the damage is irreversible.

My wife and I are extremely upset about this, but we’re afraid to tell our son or Isaac and his parents for fear it will place undue guilt on a 9-year-old boy. On the flip side, I wouldn’t want him to do this to anyone else’s beloved pet. How do you recommend we proceed?

Heartbroken in New York


Children are not mind-readers. If you don’t tell them when they make a mistake, they won’t realize they have made one. Contact Isaac’s parents and explain what happened. If your dog needs treatment, they should be responsible for whatever damage their son did.


It is imperative that we make the safety of our dogs a priority. By doing so, we are also keeping our kids, and ourselves, safe. It’s important to teach children, not just how to avoid being bitten, but how to interact with pets in a way that is safe for them and the animals. Many adults do not know how to interact with dogs safely, making it impossible for them to pass those lessons on to their kids.

We all know by now that we need to understand canine body language, but we also need to understand our pup’s limitations.

dog on farm flickr

Dogs, even giant breeds like Great Danes, are not built to be ridden. The muscles in their backs cannot support the weight of a child. Dr. Sarah Bassman of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine gave the following statement to The Stir regarding this issue:

Children riding on the back of their family dog is very dangerous for the animal, and the child, even if you have one of the giant breeds as your family pet. The muscles in a dog’s back are not strong enough and not designed to carry a passenger and could be damaged by this activity. We worry about muscle sprain and strain, vertebral subluxation, and disc-related problems. Lesser sprains and strains may need to be treated with pain medications or physical therapy while serious spinal injuries could lead to paralysis which may or may not be able to be surgically repaired.

temple dog

Aside from the physical issues, there are the behavioral aspects of dogs to consider. Dogs often display dominance by elevating themselves higher than another. When a child climbs on top of a dog’s back the same dynamic comes into play. The dog may feel challenged, threatened, frightened, or confused – leading to a bite.


No dog should be put in a situation like this. No matter the outcome, chances are it is the dog that will suffer the most. A spinal injury or a developed phobia of children end up being the best case scenarios for the pup. If the dog reacts by biting a child, its life is instantly put at risk, regardless of what caused the incident. The dog almost always bears the responsibility. The dog may be given away by the only loving family it has ever known, or worse, euthanized for a crime it never would have committed had the child known how to properly behave around dogs.

The good news is that more people are speaking out about the dangers of these behaviors. Social media has had a huge impact on the increase in awareness, but media outlets are talking about it, too. In fact, WikiHow previously had an article called “Riding a Dog,” but after Dogster referenced the article and its harmful implications in their coverage of this story, Wikihow removed the page the very next day.

The more we spread awareness about canine body language and how best to interact with our pets, the safer our dogs and children will be.

H/T to

Featured Image via WikiCommons.

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Written by: Dina Fantegrossi

April 28, 2016

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