Dogs, and other pets, are an important part of life for many Australians; they provide enjoyment and help children develop responsibilities transferable to adulthood. Studies have shown pets also help children develop social and nurturing skills, higher self esteem and encourage them to be physically active.
When bringing a dog into the family, it’s important to ensure the best measures are in place to provide a safe environment for all. Around 13,000 people each year attend hospital emergency departments in Australia for dog bite injuries. Children under the age of five are most at risk, and are most frequently bitten by their own family dog or by a friend’s dog, usually in or around the home.
Here are some key points to remember about dogs and child safety:
- It’s important you choose a dog breed that is well matched to your family and will be for years to come.
- Training is essential for all dogs regardless of breed, size or age.
- Any dog is capable of biting. Parents should not introduce a young child to any dog, regardless of breed, without strict and close supervision.
- Dogs that are not members of a household with children need to be introduced to children safely and regularly. However, it’s important to note that some dogs may never learn to accept children.
- Socialising your dog throughout its life is very important. Socialising means that your dog learns to accept people, children and other animals as part of its life.
- When out, all dogs should be on a lead unless in a designated off leash area and under your control.
- Many dog bites occur when children are playing around dogs. Their high pitched squeals and uncoordinated attempts at showing affection may cause the dog to feel threatened and it may act defensively or trigger a chase response. Discourage rough, inappropriate play, as this may over excite, upset or hurt the dog.
- Explain that a dog should never be hurt or teased. Teach children to call you rather than remove or reclaim a toy by themselves, from a dog as the dog may become possessive of a toy.
- Adults should always feed the dogs and dogs should always be separated from children when eating, as they may become protective of their food or bones.
- Children should be taught not to approach a dog without adult supervision or disturb a sleeping dog.
- A dog’s body language may give us clues about how a dog is feeling. Some dogs perceive eye contact or staring as a threat or challenge. A dog should be left alone if it lifts its lips, growls, backs away, raises the hair on its back or stares at you.