Why dog attacks happen

Are dogs and children a safe combination? Dog lovers say yes – their family pets love the children and would never hurt them. But victims of a dog attack probably said the same thing at one stage. Hundreds of children get attacked every year by strange dogs, but more disturbingly, their own family pets.

Why dogs bite

According to animal behaviourist Karen Grey-Kilfoil, there are four reasons why dogs may bite :
  • Space. A dog will often nip when it is carried around or hugged too much.
  • Fear. Some dogs are afraid of children.
  • Pain. If you suspect this, take your dog to the vet immediately.
  • Discipline. Mother dogs discipline their dogs when they misbehave, and sometimes they see children as puppies and will reprimand them with a nip. This needs to be dealt with firmly.
There are no 100% safe dog breeds, but it does seem that some dogs breeds do not have the temperament suitable for families, e.g. guard dogs. They are regarded as ‘potentially dangerous’”.  (And the potentially is very important, because there are many families who live peacefully and without fear with these dogs, and they form part of loving families.)

There is a difference between biting and a nip. Whatever the reason for the bite or nip, you must consider the reasons why the dog bit (was it hurt, is it stressed?), where it happened (close to food or bedding?) and how serious the bite was.

You should see an animal behaviourist after the incident to assess the dog’s aggression and whether it is curable. Sometimes euthanasia is the only option. ‘You can rehome the dog,’ but, Karen warns, ‘it is irresponsible to put the dog’s wellbeing above the chances that the next attack might be fatal.’

Signs That Your Dog May Bite

Dogs that bite with usually behave in a certain way, even though it is no definite indication that it will bite. DO NOT ignore this behaviour, as it could be the warning sign of a possible attack:
  • Aggression: Growling, barking, snarling, lifting it’s lip – especially in the company of children.
  • Dominance: Standing over a child in a threatening way, snatching food from a child, intentional pushing.
  • Fear: Yelping, running away, hiding
Responsible dog owner & parent

As a parent and dog owner, you have a responsibility towards the safety of your children and the behaviour of your dog. Bad owners have bad dogs. Keep the following in mind:
  • You must invest time, money and patience on your dog – anything from proper training and regular visits to the vet.
  • Dogs want to be part of ‘a pack’ (your family). They need attention just like a child. Dogs need more than feeding. If you cannot give attention to your dog, rather rehome it.
  • Children may help with chores, but it is your dog and your responsibility.
  • Children and dogs need constant supervision. When the playing gets too rough, separate them until things calm down.
  • Teach your children to always stroke a dog – never hit, pinch or pull ears. Your dog might be used to it, but a strange dog might retaliate by biting.
  • Never hit a dog if it hurts your child – it will only make the dog more scared or malicious towards children. Speak to an animal behaviourist or consider rehoming the animal.
What to do if a dog is aggressive

Can dog attacks against children be prevented?
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