The recent spate of dog bites and attacks in NSW has led to several clients contacting us at the clinic and asking for information on how to be a responsible pet owner. Top of the list of concerns amongst most dog owners, is how to teach their children to safely interact with not only the family pet, but also with strangers dogs that they encounter at the park and when out and about on a daily basis.
Over 80% of Australians will have a companion animal at some stage of their life, and having pets around young children can be wonderful. Pets teach children empathy, caring, nurturing skills, responsibility, and provide a sense of companionship which is very different to that which they get with other children. Children (and adults!) with pets have also been shown to exercise more regularly, have a more healthly lifestyle, and have lower stress levels.
Whilst there are numerous benefits to having companion animals, it is also important that children be raise to respect household pets (and strangers pets) and taught the correct way to interact with them in a gentle and kind way. This will make interactions pleasant and beneficial for both the child AND the pet.
We have compiled the following information as a guide to help families educate their children on the correct way to behave around our 4 legged companions. It is also a guide for pet owners on how to manage interactions between their own pet and approaching children.
Who is most at risk?
Unfortunately when it comes to dog bites, young children are often the most common victims. Young children move quickly and often erratically and this unpredictability can be frightening to a dog , they are often at face height with dogs – thus affording them eye to eye contact with the dog which in the canine world is often perceived as threatening or challenging behavior, and children will also often move quickly and pat roughly (and in inappropriate places) which can upset the dog.
A recent study by Kidsafe NSW found that children under 5 are most at risk of a dog bite, with 12-18 mths of age being the most at-risk group. Boys were more likely to be bitten, and of those attacked, 78% were attacked by a dog owned by a friend or family member (i.e. a ‘known’ dog). 81% of attacks occurred in the child’s own home.
What steps can be taken to prevent a dog bite at home?
No dog, no matter how well trained or known by the family, should EVER be left alone with a child. An adult should always be in the room to supervise interactions between pets and children, this is crucial in reducing the incidence of bites at home. If the supervising adult has to leave the room for a moment, then the 2 should be seprated (ie either the child or dog leaves with the adult) – never leave the 2 alone together. 99% dogs would never intentionally set out to bite a child, however when unsupervised young children may engage in rough or inappropriate play (ie pulling tails, poking eyes etc) and this can lead to even the most gentle pup nipping due to pain/fear.
DISCOURAGE ROUGH PLAY
Rough play such as chasing, putting hands in mouths, allowing the dog to tug/pull/nip at a childs arms, legs, or face can seem innocent enough and will often start gently. However combined with excited squeals and thrill of chasing, this type of play can often escalate and lead to ‘over excitement’. It is also teaching the dog that this kinds of predatory behavior and mouthing behavior is acceptable around children – which it is not. Encourage older children to use to use toys when playing with the dog (a ball or frisbee etc). Younger children should be content with supervised gentle patting of the dog.
Feeding dogs should be an adults only activity. Children should be taught never to approach a dog that is eating or has a treat, and ideally they should only ever be fed or given treats in a room away from the children to minimize the risk here. Training your dog not to guard their food/treats is something which should be started when the dog is a young puppy. For information on how to train an older dog in this skill, please contact the clinic or speak with our clinic trainer –Vicki Austin.
LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE
Just like us, dogs can get a fright is worken suddenly, especially if they are woken by a person of equal size excitedly leaping onto them. Children should be taught not to approach or disturb sleeping dogs. Ideally, provide your dog with a bed in a room away from the hustle and bustle of the main areas in the house, so that they can sleep undisturbed, and retreat for some ‘alone time’ if they feel the need.
As well as teaching children how to be safe around their own pets at home, it is a very good idea for ALL parents (even those who do not own dogs) to teach their children how to act around strangers dogs, and how to approach them if they wish to pat them.
The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne have produced a wonderful booklet on this topic. Telephone The Royal Children’s Hospital Safety Centre on (03) 9345 5085 for information on the Dogs ‘n’ Kids resources on dog bite prevention and responsible dog ownership.
This brochure instructs parents (and pet owners) on how children should be taught to approach dogs safely;
- Teach your child to always ask permission from their carer AND the dog owner if they want to pat a dog, even if they know the dog.
- Never proceed if either the dog or child are not calm and content to be involved.
- Show your child first how to pat a dog and always closely supervise.
- If approaching a dog; approach on an angle, move slowly and calmly. Stop to the side of the dog and curl your fingers into a fist – allow the dog to sniff the back of your hand first. If it is calm and happy, you can then proceed to then stroke the dog gently on the chest or under the chin. Always be gentle.
- Wash your hands after patting.
Warning signs that a dog may not want to be patted can include:
- Backing away.
- Lifting of the lip.
- Raising the hair on its back.
- Tail between its legs.
If a dog is displaying these behaviours, do not approach it. It may be feeling stressed or frightened and is unlikely to welcome attention and pats at that time.
If you would like more information on child safety around pets, or training your dog to interact well with children, please contact us at the clinic on 02 9960 2856. Our Veterinarians and Nurses will be happy to discuss the subject with you, and our clinic trainer Vicki Austin is also available for one on one training sessions for those wishing to undertake extra training and work to better socialise and train their pets.