Smooch Your Pooch: A Cute Children’s Book with Unsafe Suggestions

Smooch Your Pooch cover

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 books 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 publishing 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 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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Positively Expert: Sophia Yin

Dr. Yin is an internationally-acclaimed veterinarian and applied animal behaviorist who lectures and teaches workshops to dog trainers, shelter workers, and veterinary staff, and is the author of three books including a veterinary textbook and DVD set on behavior. Her "pet-friendly" techniques have set the standard of care for veterinarians.


5 thoughts on “Smooch Your Pooch: A Cute Children’s Book with Unsafe Suggestions

  1. Cathy Bruce

    Great post Sophia! As a dog trainer AND a mom of a 5 year old son, I'm glad you have highlighted the unsafe recommendations to children in this book. I've only found one good children's book so far that has some good tips and that is "May I Pet Your Dog." I read it to my son's kindergarten class last month. We need more books like that that highlight kids making "good" choices around dogs.... not letting them hang out car windows!

  2. lin

    There are some good titles out there. The site also talked about this book, and here's my post:
    >>I work with kids and books, and my #1 favorite title for helping young children understand their behavior towards pets is "Tails are not for Pulling" by Elizabeth Verdick. It features a variety of animals, and uses very simple language to ask children to be kind: "Fur is for petting, not pulling," "Ears are for listening, not yanking," "Pets are for loving, not teasing,"(giving examples of what teasing a pet might be). Very good illustrations, too.

    Other good titles:
    May I pet your dog: the how-to guide for kids meeting dogs by Stephanie Calmenson. Very well done with good illustrations.
    Please don't tease Tootsie by Margie Cunningham (a sillier version of 'Tails are not for Pulling')
    Be Gentle with the Dog, Dear by Mattthew J. Baek. A good dog is terrorized by a toddler. <<

  3. Ravana

    Great posting. I think you should write that new baby book you have created in your last paragraph.

  4. Penny

    While I applaud you for wanting to keep pets safe, you are treating this book as a manual for pet care, not the storybook it is. Please don't say the book is making "recommendations" because it's not. It is rhyming, it is fun, it's intent is not to teach children how to care for pets but to enjoy reading. The Giving Tree is not a manual for cutting down trees but a metaphor for God. Love You Forever is not teaching mothers to become stalkers by driving across town with a ladder on the roof of the car to climb into their grown child's home to rock him at night but an expression of how much and how long a parent will love a child. If you are going to condemn this book, then you have to include Laura Numeroff's "If You Give a..." series, where a cat gets a cupcake (what if it's chocolate! we're teaching our children to feed cats chocolate cupcakes!), a moose gets a muffin, a pig gets a pancake and a party (confetti...could choke on it), and a mouse a cookie who also has popcorn when you take him to the movies (health code violation!) or goes to school (what if he bites another child!) While you're at it, let's ban Where the Wild Things Are because a mother punishes a child by depriving him food when he's bad or Dr. Seuss, who advocates that children should allow a strange cat into the house when mom is gone or that you should eat green eggs and ham, which look like they have become tainted and toxic.

    In stead of condemning this book, why not say it's a cute story but children need to be taught how to really take care of pets, and here are some great titles, like one of the posts did. (For fish, read Eastman's "Fish Out of Water" for a funny story with a real lesson.) But so you know, I read this at story time, and NONE of the kids thought it was a manual for how to treat dogs but a fun story. Don't underestimate the audience just because they are children. If children treat animals poorly, whether abusive or well-meant, it's because the adults around them treat the animals like that and it's how the child learned to treat animals. And this book is NOT aimed at adults as a teaching tool. If the parents aren't educating their children,it's not the book's fault.

    BTW, I dog sit several dogs, and EVERY one of them adores being hugged and kissed...when I stop, they find a way to make me start again. Even my cats find ways to have me cuddle with them. I guess animals, like humans, are individuals. Some like affection, some don't. And just because some humans don't like hugging and kissing doesn't mean all humans don't. So let's not generalize all dogs.

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