Today’s Reddit Question Is How Would You React If Your Four-Year-Old Killed A Dog

shutterstock_155049833Man oh man this right here is a doozy courtesy of Reddit. Because I’m a professional mom and mommy blogger person I have my own opinions on this whole situation, and I am probably right (Yeah, you know me), but you know I’m dying to hear what you guys think so let’s get on with it. The father writes on Reddit:

For context: My(31M) ex(28F) and I have been split up for 2 years. She took our son and lives with her parents 3 hours away from me, so for the last 2 years, I’ve only gotten to see my boy once every other weekend. My car died about 2 months ago, so I haven’t been able to make the trip to pick him up since.


OK so, 31-year-old guy split up from his 28-year-old partner for about two years, and he hasn’t been able to spend much time with his son.

Fast forward to yesterday. I get a call from my ex and she says “Our son killed the dog.” Naturally, I’m appalled. Apparently, she’s been letting him take the dog for walks by himself (They live in the middle of nowhere so it’s moderately safe. I’ve expressed before that I don’t think it’s a good idea.) and yesterday, he tied the (pug) dog’s leash up on a fence post just high enough that the dog couldn’t breathe. I guess he came in after watching the dog strangle and said “Henry’s hurt, his tongue is out.” Henry was gone before anyone could get there in time.

This is right where I get twitchy. I have kids who range in ages from nine years to 17 years. I don’t let any of them walk our dog, a rambunctious Boston Terrier alone, except my teenager. We live in a very safe neighborhood with sidewalks and not a lot of street traffic and I still don’t let my kids walk the dog alone. They can do it in the fenced backyard, but I won’t even let them walk him down the street. Our dog freaks when he sees other dogs, he chases squirrels and could easily pull my younger kids into traffic, and it’s just too risky for me to feel okay with. I cannot imagine letting a FOUR-YEAR-OLD walk a dog alone, even if you do live in a remote area. The dad continues:

I wasn’t there, so I have no idea if this was an accident, or if he tried to hurt the dog on purpose… I’m thinking he may be emotionally frustrated because we haven’t seen each other in a couple of months?

If you guys were in my position, what would you do??

Oh man, now the poor dog is dead and I’m sure the little kid feels awful and there is nothing you can technically do, except not let your kid walk the dog alone especially at such a young age. And this dad needs to stop blaming himself.

It’s weird that I feel this way because I’m sure growing up back in the day in the way way back in the day, having a dog meant it was the kid’s responsibility to walk them, even if they were just past toddler stage. I’m sure at age four a lot of kids were plowing fields and hunting and you know, getting factory jobs to support their families but I’m too much of a wuss to let my nine-year-old walk our dog alone. Plus, one time I let her walk our dog just down our street and some weird old guy walking some foofoo dog yelled at her “Keep your dog away from my dog” and she came home all freaked out and upset so I don’t even let her do it on our cul-de-sac.

In my opinion, four-years-old is just too young to be left alone to handle a dog. Poor Henry, RIP Dog.

(Image:  Dancestrokes/shutterstock)

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  • Kendra

    The only appropriate response is to FREAK THE F OUT!!!!!!
    Seriously though, a four year old walking a dog alone is INSANE.

  • SA

    Four seems way too young to be left alone with a dog. The kid might not have even realized the dog was dying and thought he was just making weird faces. I would immediately get the kid to a counselor because either something is going on with the kid that made him WANT to do this or else he is going to be struggling with the paid of realizing he accidently killed his dog. Heartbreaking.

  • Alex Lee

    Going for benefit of the doubt here.

    Maybe the 4 year old really cared about the dog and didn’t want him running-away. So he looks for a place really high and, to his 4 year old mind, really safe and secure. Mom and dad put things they love way up high, too (wallets, jewelry, fine china, etc…)

    It couldn’t hurt to schedule a session with a child psychologist, just to talk about the incident – and try to gain a sense of remorse or intent – and see if there are any warning signs.

  • pixie

    Yeah, I don’t think a four year old should be walking the dog by himself. It’s possible he had no idea he tied the leash too high (actually, I’d really like to believe that this was the case), but maybe he should suggest the child get evaluated, even if it’s just for emotional trauma for knowing he accidentally killed the dog. Or get the child evaluated himself, assuming he’s allowed to do that without the mother’s permission (though hopefully both parents could be adults and help their child together).

  • Paul White

    therapy for the kid. I get really, really scared when people hurt animals like that.

    He may be a budding serial killer, he may be frustrated with ya’ll, it may have just been an honest foulup on his part, I don’t know, but safe > sorry.

    • Katherine Handcock

      I do a lot of reading about forensic psychology (yeah, weird interest, I know!) but the “injuring animals” part has to do with lack of empathy, which most kids are still developing at age 4. It’s usually around school age or later that the concern emerges. Not to say that he shouldn’t get help and therapy – at the very least, so that when he DOES understand what he did, he has someone to help him through that realization – but he’s probably just an ordinary kid who had no idea that he was really hurting the dog.

    • staferny

      I’m interested in this as well, do you have any book recommendations on this subject for a beginner?

    • Katherine Handcock

      Probably the most accessible ones are the books by John Douglas, one of the founders of the behavioural science unit in the FBI; I’d recommend “Obsession” and “Anatomy of Motive.” The rest are good, too, but those two are probably my favourites in terms of introducing how forensic psychology works.

    • Sam Inoue

      As a psychologist I would be concerned if the kid seemed like he had done it on purpose, even at 4 years old, but you’re right I very much doubt at that age he knew this would hurt the dog. a 4 year old is developing empathy, but he should show some for hurting the animal, or at least fear which it seems like he did since he went in to find his mother, I’d be more worried if he didn’t tell mom cause that would show lack of empathy for hurting the pet. Super cool that you read those books for your own interest, I don’t know many people who would willingly read a text book type of book for fun

    • Katherine Handcock

      I’ve always been fascinated by a variety of different sciences, and it doesn’t take too long for me to want to go beyond the (necessarily) simplified version in books for general audiences. Fortunately, I’m a fast reader, so it’s not too hard for me to get through heavier texts!
      And since I’ve got a psychologist handy, can I pick your brain? I’d love to find some good texts about child psychology, specifically with regards to art and creativity. Any books you can think of you’d recommend?

    • Sam Inoue

      Sorry to take forever to get back! That’s awesome that you can get through those heavy texts, I am a fast reader which is fortunate cause I had two kids while in college. I definitely understand reading texts in all the sciences, its totally interesting. Since I am a criminal psychologist I work adults predominately, but I asked my friend who is a play therapist. She told me a few books (not only textbooks) that she likes and has used. Creative arts and play therapy for attachment problems by Malchiodi and Crenshaw which is a textbook about use of play and art. The first author on that one, Cathy Malchiodi apparently wrote a few others about understanding children’s drawings, I’ve only read Breaking the Silence which was interesting especially in regard to my own children’s art, but my friend said she really likes Understanding Children’s Drawings. She also suggested Artful Scribbles by Howard Gardner. Also The Creation of Imaginary Worlds: The Role of Art, Magic and Dreams in Child Development by Golomb. Those are just a few I would definitely be happy to look through my college texts cause I did start off wanting to work with children, its just been a while since I read those :) Also sorry to babble on, its rare anyone wants to hear anything about what I do.

    • Katherine Handcock

      These all sound great! Thank you so much. I’d happily take some recommendations on criminal psychology books, too – most of the ones I’ve read in the past were a decade or so old, so I’m sure there are more recent ones that I haven’t heard of.

    • Psych Student

      Actually, I’d love to hear more about the work you do. I’m a Psy.D. student who’s going off to internship next year. What kind of work do you?

    • Sam Inoue

      I work with people accused of violent crimes during the trial generally to assess claims of insanity, but also for a variety of reasons. This is relatively new, I used to work in a women’s prison in a rehabilitation role, this new job can be intense at times. What type of internship are you doing? What type of work are you interests you?

    • whatlight

      Couldn’t agree with you more.

  • Guest

    I’d beat the kid senseless if we’re being honest. I can’t handle abuse of animals and I think it reflects severe mental issues. I couldn’t imagine any child I’ve ever met “accidentally” killing a dog and I do not believe that they wouldn’t know he was dead when they hung him up to die themselves. They need to not have any more pets or animals around the kid and get him into counseling. If you think the kid is lashing out because you as the parent are never around perhaps try to make some time for him? I think that would be something a non-idiot would think to do in that situation.

    • pixie

      To be fair, I think he probably was making time for the child, but custody agreement said he could only see his child every other weekend and with no car and having to travel three hours might have made it nearly impossible. We have no idea if he could afford to rent a car to go see his son.

    • Guest

      That I could understand, however if it is the case he shouldn’t be asking reddit if he should go see the kid he should ask a counselor and/or judge. I think it is pretty apparent the kid needs some guidance.

    • pixie

      Oh yeah, totally, I don’t disagree he should ask a counsellor or other professional and the child definitely needs some guidance.

    • SP

      Please don’t beat the child. Emotional issues are not solved by violence and that will only make matters much, much worse.

    • Guest

      I was just being honest and that would be my (and my husband’s) initial response because rage, and I feel like a time out or taking away the kid’s gameboy aren’t the harsh consequences needed for taking an innocent life. I agree that the kid needs help to deal with the emotional/mental issues going on but that does not (in my opinion) negate the need for an actual punishment.

    • SP

      … Knowing that you killed an innocent dog for the rest of your life is punishment enough. When you are mentally disturbed, consequences like getting beaten don’t mean shit and only make you more frustrated. Violence inflicted on a disturbed child makes them feel powerless and then they are likely to take it out on more victims.

      I understand your rage, but you are an adult and you have an easier time controlling your violent urges. Don’t make the hypothetical problem worse.

    • Guest

      If the kid is mentally disturbed or a tiny serial killer in the making, then knowing he killed the dog is not a punishment at all. Nobody is saying you have to beat the kid, I’m saying that is my initial response because I know most people wouldn’t have any consequences for their kid in this situation besides saying “well Jr. feels terrible about it and thats bad enough” because therapy or not, Jr. knows he got away with it.

    • SP

      If the child gets better through the help he needs, he will have to live with that. If he doesn’t get better, who knows? I’m going to chalk your responses up to not understanding mentally and emotionally hurting children. This isn’t a child who broke a window or got in a scuffle at school; he killed a beloved family pet. You can’t react like the de rigueur methods of dealing with “bad behavior” are going to have any kind of desirable result.

    • Guest

      My experience is actually with adults who have mental issues. Many learn the hard way that just because you have a mental issue doesn’t mean you get a free pass on commiting a crime. If everyone tells this kid he has a mental issue that keeps him from being held accountable it will not end well.

    • SP

      Well, I was this kid and I can tell you that all the punishment in the world would not have done a single thing except frustrate me further and make me want to hurt and control even more things that were less powerful than me. Kids are not adults (adults have a far better capacity to understand negative consequences because they have more developed brains) and I bet you’ve never assaulted an adult with mental problems like you say you would to a child. The young child can still change through emotional guidance and people who believe he isn’t some monster future criminal who is already too far gone.

    • Guest

      This explains a lot about your thoughts on the subject.

    • SP

      It’s hard to read tone in text, but I really, really hope that was not a veiled dig. If it was (and please forgive me if it wasn’t), it was low and shows a lot of contempt and lack of compassion.

    • Psych Student

      We shouldn’t be beating adults as punishment either.

    • AnotherGuest

      If you really believe that (a) you would beat another person into unconsciousness in a fit of rage and (b) this is appropriate behaviour towards a four-year-old child who has zero chance of defending himself or seeking help afterwards, I’d say that’s a pretty good indicator you’re having some emotional issues of your own. Please get help.

    • guest

      Oh lord, go fuck yourself.

    • Psych Student

      But why does that “actual punishment” have to come in the form of violence? Then all you’re doing is teaching your child violent and abusive behavior.

    • Jell

      I can’t imagine myself hurting a child for any reason but I have to say if I came upon anyone’s child in the act of hurting/torturing an animal, even a four year old, I would probably slap first and ask questions later. If that were my dog, I can’t even imagine. I can’t even imagine. I’d be lying if I said I knew I could keep myself from some kind of physical reaction.

      After the fact, absolutely no, no, no. Lashing out at a child that way after the fact is appalling. Kid needs therapy, regardless of whether he meant to or not. Therapy. This isn’t something punishment can touch.

    • Guest

      This exactly.

    • Kelly

      What a great way to make a serial killer. I shudder at the thought of you raising children.

    • Guest

      So anyone who has ever smacked their kid is raising a serial killer? Get real. And in this particular case, the kid sounds like he is already well on his way to serial killer status.

    • Kelly

      You said you would beat your child senseless. If your reaction to a mental health issue is to beat your child, you’re a shitty parent and yes, at risk of raising a child who grows up to be a violent criminal.

      Could this kid be on his way to becoming a serial killer? Yeah. But only a moron would think beating the shit out of him right now would “cure” that.

    • Dexter Morgan

      I would beat you too Kelly, if I had the chance.

    • blh

      I have no idea what’s going on with the kid but my sons almost 4 and I don’t think he has any idea what death means. I think people like you have the problems though you can’t handle ainal abuse but you could “beat a child senseless”??

    • Amanda D

      So the abuse of a child is ok, but the abuse of an animal is not? I guess I don’t understand that logic. An animal is not more important than a human being. I don’t condone the abuse of an animal, but it is never ok to “beat a kid senseless”.

  • LiteBrite

    I was going to say that this sounds like a terrible accident, but then I read this line:

    “I guess he came in after watching the dog strangle and said “Henry’s
    hurt, his tongue is out.” Henry was gone before anyone could get there
    in time.”

    So, was the kid just standing there, watching the dog choke to death? If so, is four old enough to know that something was really wrong with the dog? I’m asking this in all seriousness because I really don’t know.

    However, I totally agree that a four-year-old is too damn young to be walking a dog by himself.

    As to what he should do: figure out what the fuck really happened and fast so that he can get the kid the appropriate help.

    • Katherine Handcock

      My understanding is that four years old isn’t really old enough to understand – even if he understands that what he was doing could lead to death, he probably doesn’t understand that death is permanent. I suspect the kid does need help – because in a year or so, he’ll get exactly what happened, and he will need help to overcome that.

    • Alanna Jorgensen

      My four year old knows about death, but no matter how it is explained it does not sink in that it is forever. She still gives her toys “shots” when they “die” to resurrect them, and when I tell her that trying to escape from me in the parking lot can get her squished she gets that she will be hurt but I can tell she doesn’t get that she may never get back up.

    • footnotegirl

      A four year old might not be able to understand death, but they can certainly understand pain and suffering, which is the issue here.. that kid apparently watched the dog choke (which no doubt included a lot of struggling and thrashing).

    • slightly ornery

      But a 4yr old doesn’t necessarily understand that struggling and thrashing = pain and suffering. In fact, it may have looked comical to a child.

  • SP

    I can’t post this under my normal tag, but this is my experience and my deepest shame. I won’t bore you with my life story, but I had a dysfunctional upbringing. I had severe emotional issues. My grandma who I was living with used to let me walk her dog when I was seven and I did the exact same thing. Luckily I got the help and compassion that this child probably needs. Even if it is some fluke and he didn’t understand or mean to do it, please get him evaluated and in therapy if necessary. Most of all, show him how much you love him and find a way to provide him with positive guidance. You (and your ex) may wish to speak to a professional yourself to figure out how to do this.

    I now happily married, a vegetarian, and have animals of my own that I love. I work with children and have never been in trouble with the law. I truly believe in my heart that early intervention (and medication for anxiety as an adult) saved me from a dark path.

    • Maria Guido

      Thanks for sharing this.

    • Amanda

      I love this so much, thank you for sharing. We only ever hear of the kids who kill animals and then go on to be serial killers. We never hear about the kids who either accidentally or even on purpose killed animals, but got help and grew up to be healthy adults.

    • Lackadaisical

      Thank you for sharing something that has obviously been deeply upsetting for you. It is good to hear of a time when a similar situation was handled well rather than the usual knee jerk reactions that something like this can provoke. Kids can do awful things, particularly when they are going through emotional turmoil with added confusion due to being a child trying to figure out grown up consequences in their home lives. That doesn’t necessarily reflect on the kind of person they will grow up to be, especially if the grown ups in their lives take responsibility for guiding and supporting the child after something like that. I am glad you had the support you needed after your incident and that everything has worked out well for you in the end, and I am sorry that you had to go through the dark times before you got that support.

    • jendra_berri

      Thank you for sharing. I’m so glad you got the support and help you needed as a kid to work through your issues. And hurting animals is a warning sign for emotional disturbances. I also think this child needs and deserves psychological help.

    • Tinyfaeri

      Thank you for sharing, and I’m glad you got the help you needed in time.

    • SP

      Thank you all for the kind words. Without going too far into it, I know my grandma was definitely my savior. She loved me and fought to get me help even after what I did. The incident haunts me and I wish it never happened, but on some level I know that the fact that I feel distressed is what proves I became a person capable of experiencing normal, healthy empathy. I’m really grateful for that and I hope this child has people in his life willing to do what was done for me if that’s what he ends up needing.

    • Psych Student

      Thank you so much for sharing. I agree with your thoughts that the fact that you feel distressed is a *great* sign. You shouldn’t beat yourself up forever (I’m sure you know that), but it’s a good that you can look back on it and feel regret. It sounds like you were able to grow up to be a well adjusted, caring, empathetic adult. Thank you for working so hard to get to this point.

  • Kelly

    A friend of my mom’s had a four year old girl who gleefully stomped in the skulls of a couple of puppies before her horrified mother snatched her away from them. When asked why she did that, she said, “I was making them dead.”

    Just to flesh out the story. This woman had two children with a man who was later found to be a violent criminal and diagnosed with Antisocial personality disorder. She fled from him when the little girl was an infant. This little girl was never exposed to any violent movies or anything like that because her mother was afraid her husband’s issues were hereditary.

    I think she reacted as well as anyone could. She immediately sought the help of professionals and put the child in therapy. Did it work? How can anyone really know? She’s now a normal adult who functions well in society but so was her dad for a long time before his crimes were discovered.

    It’s a shitty position to be in as a parent but I think if you even suspect your kid is doing things like killing dogs, you should probably seek out some counseling and the advice of an expert.

    • potato

      Wow, that sounds really messed up. I do think it sounds very different from what happened with this kid, though, because this kid seems to have no idea what he did, and the girl you mention actually knew the puppies would die from her actions.
      I agree with the commentors who suggested that a counselor could be useful just to gauge intent, and if it was completely innocent, help the kid work past the fact that he unwittingly killed a dog.

  • Katherine Handcock

    From what I understand, a four year old is only just starting to understand the idea of death as permanent. Add that to a kid’s lack of understanding that tying a leash up high like that could prevent the dog from breathing, and I totally believe this is an accident. Heck, my son is five, and he’s only just starting to understand that wrapping a scarf around his OWN neck and pulling it tight is a bad idea! It’s a horrible accident, and one that the kid will definitely need a lot of help to overcome – in a year or two, when he starts to understand what he did, he’ll particularly need that.

    But all of it could have been avoided if the kid was not left alone to walk the dog. The lack of understanding about injury and death is half the reason you don’t leave kids that young alone with animals. It’s a horrible, sad situation all around, and I just really hope that the kid gets the empathy and help he needs to get over what happened.

  • Dixie

    How could a 4 year old tie a leash too high? Most leashes are at least 6 feet long. I have a pretty tall four year old and there is NO way she could tie a 6 foot leash up high enough to cause distress to a dog…not to mention there is NO WAY I’d let her walk a dog alone.

    • SarahJesness

      Yeah, I’m wondering the same thing.

  • Taxes Make Kittens Cry

    As long as this boy follows Harry’s Code…

    • Dark Passenger

      Beat me to it :)

  • Rachel Sea

    All the therapy, forever. Either the kid was clueless about the harm he was causing, or he was lashing out, or he’s has a serious mental illness, or a combination thereof. They need to figure out which it is now, and take steps to make sure something even worse doesn’t happen.

  • Harry Morgan

    What would I do? I’d teach him the code and hope he never gets caught.

  • ConcernedMama

    Umm… flag, red flag. Kids who are cruel to animals (at any age, really, but certainly past 2) are at risk for major major psychological issues. Think psychopath. I don’t care what the circumstances. Get this kids some help and say some prayers!

  • 21foot

    Some municipalities have a bylaw that states no one who is not physically or mentally capable of controlling the dog in their possession is allowed to walk that dog in public. This of course includes children and is a finable offence. I wish more places reinforced this rule. Whether this was an accident or not I can’t say, but a similar situation happened in my city several years ago now where two young boys came home in tears because their dog had hung to death on a playground slide. They claimed at first that “mean teenagers” did it on purpose and that started a police investigation, but the truth eventually came out that the boys had taken the dog up the slide with his leash on, and the dog had jumped off entangling the leash in the process. Neither were strong enough to lift him in order to unclip the leash or the collar or get the leash untangled. They were afraid they’d get in trouble so they made up the lie. It was just a horrific accident, but another example of unsupervised interaction between dogs and children going very wrong.

    And I’m one to talk, sure, I got my first “dog of my own” as a kid, purchased with my own savings etc. We did everything together and he’s sitting at my feet right now a deaf senior. I’m also now training dogs for a living, but there are so many things that I did with him as a kid, so many situations I put us in, that as an adult I can’t believe something didn’t go wrong and I have no idea why it seemed like a good idea at the time.

  • tk88

    Four is too young to be left alone with a dog, nonetheless to WALK the dog. I honestly don’t know if this is an accident or intentional, because it could go either way. Four is still young enough to not understand the reality or permanency of death. Also, Pugs are a very gaspy, snorty dog. So even if the dog was gasping for air while strangling the boy might not have realized he was in distress. That being said, it still might have been on purpose. Either way this kid should see a therapist–either for intentional animal cruelty or accidentally killing a beloved pet.

  • TammaraDarrigo

    The News is so very Joke about 4 year old child can Killed a Dog .Its can not be Possible but its reality in the News.

  • blh

    Never mind the dog, four is too young to be walking anywhere alone.

  • footnotegirl

    Not enough information here to give any good advice. I’d want to know how the kid is reacting now and if this was intentional or accidental on the child’s part. Either way, the kid needs to get into therapy NOW to either a) cut off any abusive tendencies off at the pass if it was intentional or b) help him deal with having done this if it was an accident.

  • footnotegirl

    Not enough information here to give any good advice. I’d want to know how the kid is reacting now and if this was intentional or accidental on the child’s part. Either way, the kid needs to get into therapy NOW to either a) cut off any abusive tendencies off at the pass if it was intentional or b) help him deal with having done this if it was an accident.

  • Michelle Pittman

    does he also wet the bed and like to play with fire? idk…even at the age of 4, both of my boys had empathy and would be able to tell if an animal was choking or not…when dogs are being strangled they DO thrash around (true story – when i was little i tied our dog to the front porch — he then fell off and almost strangled – thankfully i went to check on him and saved him – but BOY did i feel awful!)…

  • Rodiansinger

    Well when a dog accidentally kills a kid, the response is always to put the dog down.So in this case I’d say have the kid put down. That is what you do with a dangerous animal right?