A study has found dog bites suffered by young children are often inflicted by the family dog and such incidents frequently occur, despite the presence of an adult.

A survey carried out by the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna also showed people underestimate risky situations involving the family dog.

Dog and child
Despite being aware of the general risk of dog bites, study participants underestimated the risk involving smaller dogs. Image: stopabox / Fotolia.

Study director Christine Arhant, from the Institute of Animal Husbandry and Animal Protection at Vetmeduni Vienna, said: “Dog owners should recognise situations in which their dog may feel harassed and they should intervene in time. Nevertheless, many bite incidents occur right in front of the adults’ eyes.”

Attitude analysis

Her team is investigating why bite incidents involving the family dog are so common, even under adult supervision. The group looked at the results of an online survey to provide the first analysis of parental attitudes regarding the supervision of child-dog interactions. The work is published in Science Daily.

Ms Arhant said: “Most of the respondents are aware of the general risk of dog bites.”

The majority of the participants, however, underestimated the risk involving smaller dogs. Asked to look at pictures of child-dog interactions, the respondents rated interactions with unfamiliar dogs as inherently riskier than with the family dog.

Unrecognised risk

Situations involving unfamiliar dogs, even with relatively lower risk, were rated as potentially dangerous. When it comes to the family dog, however, nearly all situations were rated as harmless, with no need for intervention. Only the situation of a child cuddling with the dog in the dog’s bed was rated as a potential risk.

About 50% of respondents allow the child to play or cuddle with the dog as much as they want. The same number leaves the child and dog unsupervised.

Ms Arhant said: “The healthy distrust of unfamiliar dogs does not appear to exist toward the family dog. People trust their own dog and exclude the possibility of a bite incident.”

The authors said this not only reduces attentiveness, but dog owners also assume the family dog is more tolerant and more patient than other dogs.

“But people need to respect their dog’s need for rest and a place of its own,” Ms Arhant said.

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