Children in the 0–4 age group are at the highest risk for dog attack related injuries requiring hospital treatment. All dogs are capable of biting regardless of their size, age, or breed. We can make our children and pets much safer by understanding what the high risk behaviours are and how we can set up safe practices within our homes.
Children aged 0 to 4 are the highest risk age group for serious dog attack injuries requiring hospital treatment.
7 out of 10 of these dog bite injuries requiring hospital treatment happen in the child’s own home or at a family member or friend’s house. This strongly suggests that the children are being bitten by their own dog or a dog they know.
Children are usually bitten on the face, neck and head
Children are more likely to be bitten on the face, neck and head due to their height.
Every dog can bite
One of the biggest problems is over confidence of the dog owner that their dog won’t bite. Every dog can bite in the wrong situation. The two main reasons why children are bitten are:
going near a dog when it needs to be left alone.
Active supervision helps prevent dog bite injuries in young children
Active supervision is very important for reducing dog attacks on children. Research shows dogs are less likely to attack if an adult is there, especially if it's the dog’s owner. Immediate intervention allows a parent to prevent an attack or minimise the severity. Research has identified that young children are unable to fight off an attack, due to their size and strength. This is a contributing factor to the severity of injuries.
High risk behaviours
Research suggests that over 80% of the dog bites to young children are from the child interacting with dog in the following situations. An informed, supervising adult can prevent these behaviours.
Avoid high risk behaviours
Dogs should be left alone when they are:
playing with their own toys or possessions
sleeping or in their kennel or bed
with their puppies
Children need to avoid:
hugging dogs around the neck
patting dogs on the head
climbing on the dog
staring at the dog.
Reduce the risk of dog bites
Actively supervise or securely separate dogs and children
Parents must actively supervise all interactions between children and their dog. Active supervision means your focus is always on the dog and child. Always supervise from close by so you can quickly intervene.
If you can't actively supervise your child and dog, they must be securely separated. This can be as simple as kids playing outside while the dog is confined inside. Two levels of separation is ideal, such as a locked door and a baby gate as a backup. The dog must be securely separated when your child is asleep.
Make sure your dog has somewhere to rest away from your child. Dogs enjoy their rest time especially when they are older. Child free zones are just as important as dog free zones.
Supervise or separate: more information
Most dog attacks take place in the homes of family or friends. Family members and friends must actively supervise or securely separate when your child is around their dogs as well. When you have children of family or friends in your own home, you should securely separate your dog. You cannot assume your dog will behave the same way around other children as with your children, especially if you are not actively supervising.
When your children are in somebody else’s home, active supervision or secure separation is needed. Your child is unlikely to play differently with your dog and someone else’s dog. Different dogs can react differently to the same behaviour from a child.
Don’t be afraid to discuss this with your family members or friends. If they do not agree to your request, do not leave your children in their care unless you can stay and supervise.
Model positive behaviours
Children learn from us all the time. Pets also remember what they learn at a young age. It is very important to model positive behaviours to both pets and children. If you play roughly with your dog, your toddler will do the same. The reaction of your dog towards your child can be inappropriate because your dog has been taught to react this way.
Before you decide to engage in rough play with your pet, ask yourself:
What behaviours am I reinforcing with my pet?
Do I want my pet playing with my child roughly?
If you are not comfortable with your answers, then change the way you play with your pet.
Avoid inappropriate behaviours
Pets and children do not understand how to behave with each other. Toddlers can accidentally do things to hurt or upset your pet. Toddlers grab fur, pull ears and tails or poke at eyes and noses. While we consider a harmless hug around the neck a sign of affection, your pet might not like it.
Toddlers can accidentally hurt or upset your dog because they are unsteady on their feet. By reducing the opportunity for your child to inappropriately interact your pets you are reducing the risk of your child being bitten. Dogs can’t tell children to stop and react according to their instincts. If dogs feel threatened or hurt, they may bite or scratch if they can’t escape.
Once your child is mobile, you must be much more aware of your home set up, to make sure your dog and child aren’t near each other without supervision. A high percentage of the dog attacks of 0 to 4-year old’s are toddlers.
Learn basic dog language
It is important to learn basic dog language and the warning signs dogs give. Understand how your dog shows you it is:
comfortable and relaxed
frightened or nervous
angry or aggressive.
Most dog owners can tell when a dog is happy and relaxed or angry but have difficulty recognising when the dog is nervous or frightened. This is important, as the dog’s behaviour is unpredictable and could escalate out of fear. It is important to look at all the signals a dog gives through it’s whole body, instead of just the dog’s face.
Understanding dog behaviour: more information