Many dog owners feel their pet is just another member of the family but that familiarity also comes with some real dangers for children.
A study published Wednesday by researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, found that families often underestimate the risk the family dog poses to their young ones. Children offering unwanted close contact can be prime targets for a bite, the research suggests.
And it’s not just when children are alone with the dogs that accidents happen.
“Dog owners should recognize 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,” Christine Arhant, a researcher with the Institute of Animal Husbandry and Animal Protection at Vetmeduni Vienna and the study’s director, told Science Daily.
Arhant said they sent out an online survey to try to understand why dog bites seem so common in the home and what attitudes might contribute to that. The survey included several photos of children interacting with dogs that respondents were asked to evaluate. Photos showing interactions with unfamiliar dogs were generally ranked as inherently more risky than pictures showing the family dog.
“Most of the respondents are aware of the general risk of dog bites,” Arhent said. "The healthy distrust of unfamiliar dogs does not appear to exist toward the family dog. People trust their own dogs and exclude the possibility of a bite incident.”
The researchers suggest that families learn to respect their dog’s need for places to rest and eat. When children can get to the household dog while it’s trying to relax, accidents can happen. By keeping that resting area out of reach of the child, parents reduce the risk of unsupervised interactions between a young child and the dog.
Dog-bite fatalities aren’t extremely common in the United States but there can be fatal consequences. In 2014, there were 42 dog-bite-related deaths in the U.S.