When Tolerance Fails

You are driving down the highway the Friday before Christmas (or the Tuesday before Thanksgiving), on your 600 mile journey to your family’s gathering spot. Somewhere along your drive you inevitably hit construction and miles of bumper to bumper traffic. You are in the left lane moving forward one car-length at a time. An hour goes by and you’ve gotten a mile closer to the eventual merge point and you can FINALLY see the new traffic pattern in the distance–you do a little dance because you are in the lane that remains open and you don’t have to fight your way in).

Another half hour goes by and you are there, yes, you are finally there, the merge point is close enough that you can almost taste it. Then, the idiot in the Mercedes in front of you lets two cars merge in from the right lane. You say, well, okay that was a nice thing to do, now let’s move on. Except the Mercedes doesn’t move. Another 4 cars from the right lane merge while you wait. Hmm, maybe they are just distracted since the traffic was definitely stop and go for over an hour. So, you do the happy little “meep” on the horn to get them to move. Still the car doesn’t move and 6 more cars from the right lane merge. Now you are getting a little more frustrated and you give “hoonk-hoonk” on the horn to ‘voice’ your increasing frustrations. Again, the car doesn’t move an inch and 4 more cars merge.

How long do you think you’d deal with this behavior before you made a more drastic move than simply give short honks of your horn? When would your tolerance fail? Tolerance will absolutely eventually break down, even from the most patient of people.

Why is it, if we know that a human’s tolerance will eventually fail, that people continually test their dog’s tolerance?

A few days ago I saw a youtube video of a toddler and a rottweiler that was unbelievably concerning. This dog was being asked to tolerate a toddler jumping up and down on her, lifting her face up by the skin on her cheeks, falling on her head, and putting his face near the muzzle of the dog. Do you think the human would step in and get involved in the situation? Why yes! Except his idea of involvement was to force the dog to lay down and tolerate more “abuse” after it escaped the toddler the first time.

This amazing dog tolerated so much manhandling it was absolutely ridiculous. The dog was lip licking, yawning, panting, whale eyeing, and doing look-aways nearly the whole time. The child was being encouraged to continue treating the dog in this manner and it was absolutely terrifying to watch. This dog tolerated way more than should be expected of a dog (particularly since the child, based on what I saw, was not known to the dog).

It is unacceptable and absolutely irresponsible to expect our dogs to have endless tolerance for anything. They are patient and forgiving creatures but they are living beings who will, if push comes to shove, stand up for themselves eventually. Tolerance failing may mean the dog walks away from the situation, it may mean they get fussy and pull their foot away from a nail trim, it may mean they growl, or it may mean they bite. Yes, we need dogs to have some level of tolerance or any tiny transgression would be reacted upon with over the top behaviors (you pet for a few seconds too long and they attack) but I do not think we should expect dogs to have unending tolerance. We simply cannot rely on our dogs’ tolerance to keep people safe because there is a point where that tolerance will fail. I don’t want to ever push the tolerance of a dog to the breaking point, especially when it involves a child.

Dog is lip licking, looking away and is about to wiggle out from underneath the toddler

Here the toddle is lifting up the dog’s head by her skin–dog is giving a huge whale eye

Here the toddler is leaning over the head of the dog while pulling at the dog’s lips and face–the dog is lip licking (and heavily panting, not that you can see that)

Toddler was jumping up and down on the dog like a bouncy toy. Here he’s about to drop down and the dog is giving a HUGE whale eye.

The toddler drops onto the dog who turns her head away and licks her lips.

Toddler falls onto the dog’s head and starts sliding off.

I must say that beside the issue of tolerance, the second most disturbing thing about this video is that his toddler is learning how to interact with dogs and he’s learning a very dangerous and disrespectful way to engage with another living being. He’s hitting the dog, jumping on the dog, pulling the dog’s face, lifting her head by pulling her skin, etc. This is not a respectful way to treat another living being that has feelings. This is NOT okay. He needs to be learning how to respect other beings, how to interact appropriately with dogs, and how to have boundaries. He needs positive role models to help him learn how to respect animals and how to safely interact with dogs.

The moral of my story is that we absolutely cannot rely on tolerance because there is a point where it will fail. The consequences of that failure can be devastating.

  1. Great article, Tena!

  2. Even these pictures were enough to freak me out! Yikes! I really fear for this child and this poor dog. Someone – or probably both – is going to get very tragically hurt in the future and the dog is going to have to shoulder all the blame. All because the adults didn’t teach this child from the beginning how to appropriately interact with a dog. A very, very, VERY tolerant dog at that. Mine certainly would not put up with this and I would never expect her to.

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