Photo of dogChildren and Dogs

How to ensure your child is safe with your dog

With the passage of a weekend with the tragic news of another fatal dog attack on a baby it is worth considering how these attacks happen and what could be done to prevent them.

A new baby is an exciting time for any parent but if you also own a dog you may have other worries to consider. How will your dog take to a new baby? This question, I know causes many a pregnant mum to have sleepless nights.

If you are worrying about this it is best to speak to a qualified dog behaviourist who also understands children well in advance of your due date.

This dog is worried, it wants to turn away but is standing its ground. Best not approach this is a warning signal.

So, here are a few golden rules.

Finally make sure you understand your dog's body language.

This dog is highly anxious and looks submissive. Its paw is lifted and its ears are back with tongue flicking over its nose and it is in a freeze. It looks submissive as it is trying to keep others away. However, if pushed this dog could resort to defending itself. Never approach a dog displaying this kind of body language as you may push it over the edge.

What is your dog telling you about how he feels? As can be seen in these few photos dogs can show very subtle early signals such as looking away from the child, or freezing slightly, or licking their lips rapidly. These tiny signs can mean that your dog is very uncomfortable. If you have a child and your dog is following intently but runs away any time the child looks at him, has low body carriage and tail tucked down this dog is clearly fearful . If dogs feel under threat then they may bite. Equally if he has raised hackles, makes himself look big, has erect sharply wagging tail this dog may strike, however signs will have been displayed before and if he is displaying this strong aggressive body language then he may attack before you get a chance to intervene, watch for early signs of abnormal behaviour and remove him at this stage. If your dog growls at your child under no circumstances punish him, as this will make him more fearful and more likely to bite without warning in the future having learned he gets punished for growling. Remove your child immediately. If your dog is growling at your child or showing any of the above behaviours, seek professional advice immediately by asking your vet to refer you to a qualified dog behaviourist. Do not rely on advice given by telephone or e mail. It is impossible to safely give advice in these situations when the dog cannot be seen which is why I don't give advice in this way with aggression cases. If your vet is unable to refer you to someone then check COAPE or The APBC for qualified animal behaviour practitioners in your area.

If your dog seems to become highly excited when children arrive and rushes around like a mad thing it may not necessarily mean he is happy (although he may well be just very happy). Some dogs display this behaviour when very stressed. If he is doing this with drawn back lips and tail tucked down this is a clear indication of stress. This dog, if unable to escape may pose a risk.

Some people wrongly believe a dog with a wagging tail is safe to touch. This is not always the case. If the tail is highly erect and doing a staccato wag, this is more likely to signal agitation or a high state of arousal not happiness and this dog should not be touched.

Sometimes it may be that a particular dog will not be safe around children. Hard decision as this is, you will need to re-home this dog if you have children. Please do not take the risk as it may end up in the death of the child and/or the dog. However, if the dog has already badly bitten, options are less and it may be necessary to consider euthanasia if a sensible home cannot be found. 

All too often dog bites on children are on the facial area.

One single lapse can have a devastating effect which will be lived with forever by all concerned. The child in the picture above will be scarred for life. It is estimated that approximately 740 people per 100,000 population in Britain is bitten by a dog each year (according to Patient UK). According to the NHS nearly 3,800 people per year require hospital attention for dog bites and this figure increased by 40% over the four years leading up to 2008 most of these bites are on children. You can help to ensure this never happens to your family by ensuring you gently socialise your puppy with well behaved children as soon as you get him home from the breeder and keep on socialising for at least a year.

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Denise is a qualified and experienced full time dog behaviourist and trainer. She holds a B.Sc (Hons) in Applied Animal Behaviour and also an advanced diploma in companion animal behaviour and training, DipCABT (Coape).

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