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Dog ownership within a family brings with it the risk of dog bites. 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. Incidents are commonly triggered by a child's interaction with the dog such as playing or approaching the dog while it is sleeping or eating so there needs to be close supervision at all times when dogs and children are together.
Young children are often bitten on the head, face and neck because of their height in relation to the dog's face. Dog bites can lead to infection, permanent scarring and disfigurement. There can also be symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. If bitten by a dog, the child may require a tetanus booster and other medical care.
Supervision of dogs and kids together is an essential factor in reducing injuries caused by dogs. You cannot prevent an incident if you are not there. Supervision ideally means one adult for the dog and one adult for the child. However parents cannot be in two places at once, so if you are unable to appropriately supervise them together then separate the dog and child at this time. For example, put the dog outside or in a different room if you are not in the room where the children are playing or have the dog or child follow you when you leave the room so that you know where they both are at all times. Remember to reward both the child and the dog when they behave correctly.
Many dog bites occur when children are playing around dogs. Sometimes young children can unintentionally be rough and unrelenting. 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.
Feeding the dog is an "adults only" activity. This is because correct nutrition is important and also because dogs may become protective of their food or bones. Dogs should always be separated from children when eating. Children should be taught not to approach a dog that is eating of gnawing on a bone. Teach children to call you rather than attempt to reclaim their own dropped food from a dog.
Teach children not to disturb a sleeping dog. If you need to wake the dog, call the dog from a distance to allow it time to become oriented. Children should be taught not to approach a sleeping dog.
Provide the dog with a bed that is separated from noisy high-activity areas. This will minimise the risk of unintentionally waking the dog. The dog needs a place, such as a crate or kennel, where it can get away if it is tired, not well or does not want to be cuddled.
For more information on treating dog bites, read our
Kids Health Info fact sheet on cuts,