Baby News

Babies & Dogs

Friday 23rd of November 2012  |  Category: Baby News  |  Written by: Siobhan Thomas

The big danger

Each year in England alone there are 210,000 dog attacks on humans, many of which are on children. A Defra report states that 4 children have been killed by dogs since 2007, but tragically another attack yesterday brings the number to 5. Harry Harper was reportedly bitten by the family dog, a Jack Russell, and died after being taken to hospital.

Jack Russells are known for sometimes being snappy, but they frequently make successful family pets. There are other breeds more notorious for their aggression - such as Pit Bull Terriers - but any breed of dog can snap. Even the Labrador-Retriever, the often stereotyped 'ideal family dog' has been known to launch vicious, occasionally fatal attacks on human beings.

Why do they do it?

Some of the more common reasons that dogs end up biting humans include fear or self-defence (misconceived or otherwise), sickness or pain, perceived challenges for their food or water, or encroachment on their territory. OK, so as an adult you can reasonably expect that you can read your dog's cues in most cases and avoid these situations quite successfully (although it isn't always that simple). But what about a small baby or a toddler? It doesn't take a qualified dog instructor to imagine how quickly a baby's curiosity over the dog's dinner could turn into trouble.

baby with a toy dog

What's more, a baby is often introduced to a household after the dog. This can cause jealousy and resentment for an animal which may up until then have received the lion's share of 'Mummy & Daddy's' attention. A baby might not have to actually 'do' anything to provoke aggressive behaviour from its canine cohabiter, as is proven by attacks on infants such as Harry Harper.

There is plenty of good advice out there for keeping your baby safe from a family dog and for managing their interaction so that they grow to have a good relationship. Without doubt the most important and non-negotiable piece of advice is to never ever leave the baby in a room with the dog without supervision. But in busy families with other children, doorbells and phones to answer and countless other distractions it would be easy to let your strict rules slip a little.

Of course most people manage having a dog and a baby together without an issue and they wouldn't change it for the world. But presumably that's because they never had a bad experience. And whilst statistically an attack might be unlikely, is that a good enough reason to take the risk?

Adorable, cuddly, fun AND dangerous?

Don't get me wrong. I am not anti-dogs, in fact I think they're great for most families provided they have the time and energy to look after them properly. I adore the book 'Marley & Me' and from the age of 13 the cornerstone of our family (whether we all cared to admit it or not) was formed by a loveable canine duo: a Labrador and a Cocker Spaniel. They were both grateful rescue dogs who provided a lot of fun and happy memories for us all. However, there was more than one occasion where our lab got a little overexcited when playing, particularly with my younger brother. And my parents even noticed (despite his idiotic and mostly senseless behaviour) that he was often clever enough to direct a 'tug of war' around a corner and out of their sight before pulling my brother to the ground. He never bit any of us, but at times like these you would occasionally get a glimpse of the wild in him and remind yourself to keep some caution. As he grew out of his boisterous years and my brother grew bigger, the 'pack hierarchy' seemed to become more clear in his eyes and these incidents stopped. But where would a new baby have fitted into this pack? He was a keen, if usually unsuccessful rabbit and pheasant hunter. If he caught one he would shake it to death to break its spine. This only happened a couple of times, mainly he did this to stuffed toys and my mum's handbags but it showed a surprising aggression and strength that was for the most part hidden.

As for the Spaniel, he was more level headed but we were treated to the odd display of sharp temper, usually when something got in the way of his food. It would be over in a flash but the sudden warning snap was sobering.

It has to be said that these incidents could be counted on my fingers and we had the dogs for many many years. They taught us a great deal about responsibility and caring for others as young teenagers. They also brought us much laughter and sometimes embarrassment with some of their antisocial tendencies. Above all they were faithful and adored members of the family who we miss greatly. I wouldn't have wanted to give them up for anything, but then again, a new baby was never on the cards.

So is it worth the risk?

In my personal opinion no, it isn't.

If you distance yourself from the emotions of choosing to rehome a much loved family pet, you can see the question for what it really is. Should I allow an animal in my house which has the potential to hurt or kill my baby? I know there are ways of managing the two responsibly, but accidents still happen. The chances of an attack or a bite are slim, very slim, but the potential consequences are massive. Wait until the children are older.

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