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Keeping Your Children Safe Around Your Dog

No dog lover can have failed to see the very sad news recently that a four year old child was killed by the family dog, a rescued Bulldog that the family had owned for just two months. This terrible accident comes hot on the heels of a similar tragedy during the summer, where an older child was killed by four pet dogs when visiting the home of a friend. Events like these, while fortunately incredibly rare, really do bring it home to dog owners and parents alike, that sometimes terrible accidents and tragedies can happen. The domestic dogs that we know and love can sometimes display negative personality traits, or have been treated and cared for in such a way that makes them aggressive, and in the right (or rather, wrong) circumstances, can prove to be incredibly dangerous.

The Dangerous Dogs Act

The Dangerous Dogs Act is an act of parliament that bans the ownership and breeding of certain breeds of dog, as well as tackling dogs of any breed on an individual basis that have been deemed to be aggressive or dangerous. Ownership of several dog breeds is illegal (other than in the case of certain very rare exceptions) and every dog lover should take care to ensure that any dog that they own or that they or their children spend any time around, is not one of the banned breeds of dog. These dogs are judged to have a heightened propensity to unpredictability and aggression, plus the physical ability to inflict serious harm. While it is certainly true that the vast majority of dogs of banned breeds are perfectly safe and good natured, some are not, and it is never worth taking the risk.

Rescued dogs

Making the decision to rescue or rehome an adult dog in need of a good owner rather than buying a young puppy is a decision to be lauded, and something that every dog lover should seriously consider. However, when you take on an adult dog with an unknown history, you are also taking on all of the potential bad habits, poor training or even in some cases, aggressive tendencies that may have been trained into these dogs by their previous owners. It is of course vital to understand that any dog may display negative personality traits, and even buying a pedigree puppy when young and raising them correctly is no guarantee of their temperament or safety.

If you are considering rehoming a rescue dog, follow the following safety tips:

  • Carefully consider the breed or type of dog that you are looking for. Many dogs have origins in fighting or baiting roles, and while this does not necessarily mean that the dog will automatically be predisposed to aggression, dogs of these types are sometimes desired by irresponsible owners who will train the dog to amplify their aggression. You might then inherit the effects of this type of treatment along with the dog.
  • If you have children and are considering rehoming a rescue dog of any type, make sure that you choose one that has a known history and background, and that was put up for adoption for reasons that were unconnected to the dog’s temperament. If this is not possible, ensure you choose a dog that has spent a significant amount of time with the professionals at the rescue centre and that they are able to speak knowledgably on its traits and temperament, and have taken reasonable steps to identify its reactions in different situations and test out its responses to different stimulus.
  • Something else to bear in mind is that serious dog attacks are usually perpetrated by male dogs, and female dogs are generally less aggressive by nature (other than when defending their puppies). Female dogs, however, can still exhibit aggression, and particularly defensive aggression.

Keeping your children and their friends safe around dogs

Unless you have owned your family dog for many years and have witnessed them putting up with all manner of irritating behaviour from your children without ever snapping or responding negatively, supervision is key when dogs and children of all ages are together. Even if you have owned your dog for several months, you will still not be able to be totally sure of their temperament or how they will react in a wide range of different situations, and dog attacks on children and other people are rarely carried out by dogs that are totally new to their owners.

Be particularly aware of how any friends that your children might have to visit act around your dog. Different people and different treatment can bring out different attributes in dogs to those that they normally display, so even if your child and your dog are best friends and play together perfectly happily, never leave any non-family members around your dog without an adult present.

Reading the signs

Dog attacks rarely come completely out of the blue with no prior warnings, indications or demonstrations of negative temperament traits in dogs that are known to a family, so be sure to always be alert to the warnings signs of potential problems.

If your dog growls, snaps or takes on a defensive posture with your children at any point, you should not simply ignore this or attribute it to the behaviour of the child; the situation could escalate in the future, and potentially cause a horrific accident.

It can be very hard for the dog owner who is emotionally invested in their pet as well as their child to recognise or acknowledge that their dog is potentially unsafe around their children, and denial often plays a large part in the lead up to dog attacks by family pets. Never let aggressive or negative behaviour in your dog be ignored, and if you do not feel that you have the knowledge or strength of character to correct the behaviour or get to the root of the issue and fully correct it, make sure that you keep child and dog apart until you can seek professional help.

Unfortunately, sometimes families have to make the difficult decision that the temperament of the dog that they own is too unpredictable or defensive to make them safe to keep around children. In this situation, the tough decision must be made to either rehome the dog to a knowledgeable dog lover without children with full disclosure, or in some cases, even have the dog put to sleep.

For more information on children and safety with dogs, plus some tips on how to train both the dog and the children, check out these safety tips


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