Pets and children can form a wonderful bond and it is heart-warming to watch them interact. Apart from the obvious companionship and affection, pets also teach children responsibility and how to care for another living being. Unfortunately, not all childhood experiences with pets are positive and research clearly shows that children aged between birth and four years are at the greatest risk of hospitalisation from dog attack injuries. These injuries often occur because children do not know how to behave around dogs and dogs do not know how to behave around children.
Dogs often misinterpret human behaviour and this can lead to excitement, confusion, or even aggression. It is important that, from a very young age, children learn
to be calm and not to make loud noises when they are around dogs.
It is essential that children under seven years of age are always supervised closely when around dogs. They should never be left alone with a dog, even if
it is their own dog, or a dog with which they are familiar. Active supervision
is essential to minimise the risk of an incident occurring, even if the dog has never shown signs of aggression.
If you cannot actively supervise, you must securely separate the dog from the child/ren.
Children should be taught a number of things about interacting with dogs.
They should never approach a dog that is:
injured or sick
in its kennel, on its bed or in a car
Children should leave a dog alone if:
it lifts its lips and shows its teeth
the hair on its back or neck is standing up
it is growling, snarling or barking
it is crouching down low, has its ears flat against its head, or its tail tucked between its legs. This could mean that the dog is frightened and could be just as dangerous as an angry dog
it is in the street or a park without its owner.
If approached by a dog a child should:
stand very still and do not run, as the dog may chase the child
be very quiet
curl fingers and keep arms down by sides
look away from the dog, not into its eyes
wait for the dog to go away
tell an adult about what happened
if a child is knocked over by a dog, he or she should curl up into a ball and stay still and quiet. Once the dog has gone away the child can get up and walk slowly to find a responsible adult. Do not run. If the dog is still nearby,
it may chase the child.
Children often want to say hello to dogs they see walking with their owners. This is OK, but your child should follow the routine outlined below:
Ask his/her parent/caregiver if they can pat the dog.
Ask the owner if it is OK to pat the dog.
If the owner says yes, hold the back of your hand out with your fingers curled under.
Allow the dog to sniff your hand. If the dog backs away or is not interested in sniffing your hand, do not say hello.
If the dog sniffs your hand and does not back away or change its behaviour, pat it gently under the chin or on the chest. Do not pat the dog on the head.