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Plunket: Children and Dogs are friends and foes

Background information sent by post on 11 April 2003.

Media Release

11 April 2003

Children and Dogs are Friends and Foes

Man's best friend can be a child's best friend too, simply by teaching children some practical tips that will help prevent dog attacks that can lead to traumatic consequences.

The tips go hand in hand with responsible dog ownership and parental supervision of children which are both crucial to ensuring the relationship between children and dogs is healthy and safe, according to Sue Campbell, Plunket's national safety adviser.

"It would be a shame if children were denied the benefits of pet ownership - the joy, the companionship, and a growing sense of responsibility - because of fear and lack of information," she said.

Plunket was unable to find evidence that the number of children bitten by dogs this summer has increased, despite several cases receiving high profile in the media.

"One attack is obviously one too many and that is the most important point. However, rather than letting the recent media attention given to dog attacks foster a sense of fear, let's use the heightened awareness to focus on ways to keep our children safe.

"As with all safety issues, there are some very simple, practical tips parents can teach their children to help them avoid getting hurt. With around a half million dogs in New Zealand - most of which are loving animals - it's almost certain that children

will have some contact with a dog as they are growing up," said Sue Campbell.

Without being shown how to behave, children will simply do what comes naturally to them. Animal management specialist, Barry Gillingwater, says squealing and rushing towards or even startling a dog with a hug can bring out the wrong instinct in some.

"Fear, pain or confusion can all cause a dog to react to protect itself - some by barking or running, some by biting. This is true both for dogs the child knows and those they don't," said Barry Gillingwater.

Some suggested attack and bite prevention practices include:

* Show children how to not scream or run if approached by a dog, but to stand still and straight with arms close against the chest and fists under their chins

* Ensure children know NOT to run or to ever stare a dog in the eyes; running turns the child into 'prey to be chased' and staring at a dog is taken as a challenge to fight

* Show children how to slowly turn to keep the dog in view and in front of them till it gets bored and leaves them be: most bites are from the back, on the buttocks or legs

* Encourage children not to 'play fight' other children around their family dog. Dogs are very loyal and protective of 'their children' and may think the other child is hurting 'theirs'

* Given a young child's face is often at the same height as a dog's mouth, the best protection is parental supervision. Ensure if neighbourhood children come to your house, either you are there to supervise or your dog is kept away - especially if 'play fighting' between the children is likely.

* Don't approach a dog that is tied up - it cannot escape and may react from fear.

* Do not attempt to pat a dog anywhere near the face, neck or top of the head.

While these practices can't guarantee dog bites will never happen, in most cases it will greatly reduce the risk. Rather than feeling scared, children who are taught properly will feel less helpless said Sue Campbell and Barry Gillingwater.

Barry points out that the majority of incidents happen in the home or a familiar environment.

"This shows more needs to be done in ensuring pet owners keep the safety of children in mind.

"When choosing a family pet, select a breed known to have a mild temperament and avoid adopting grown dogs who have already shown aggressive or anti-social tendencies - especially if the dog is likely to have contact with children.

"Owners must raise their dogs responsibly right from puppyhood. Dogs need to be taught appropriate behaviour - just like children.

"Any dog will try to be boss and will try to boss those smaller or less powerful than they are - until they are trained properly. Not with meanness or beatings - but with structure, clarity and approval for doing things right. Like with children, meanness just breeds meanness and more anti-social behaviour. Dogs do need to know their owners are 'the boss'," said Barry.

"Prepare, don't panic." says Sue Campbell. "Parents knowing - and acting on - some basic facts about animal behaviour, is one of the best ways they can help protect their children from being attacked or bitten by a dog."

Information from: Royal New Zealand Plunket Society Inc

Sue Campbell, National Safety Adviser

Contact: Phone 03 471 9286, Fax 03 477 5164, After hours 03 454 2452

Animal Management

Direct Service Solutions Ltd

Barry Gillingwater, Director

Phone: 025 295 4339

Issued by: Royal New Zealand Plunket Society Inc

Craig Pollock, General Manager Marketing and Communications

Phone: 04 474-1526; After hours: 025 345 312

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