Children under the age of nine should not be left unattended with dogs, and adults must be constantly vigilant in their presence, a local vet has said.
To help with the push for more pet education in schools, RSPCA educators are going into schools across NSW to teach children how to approach dogs, the warning signs of an attack and what to do when confronted by an angry animal.
Dubbo veterinary surgeon Duncan McGinness said adult supervision was always required with children under the age of nine.
“The most common time or age a child would get bitten or mauled by a dog is at roughly three years old, when toddlers tend to stare at the eyes of the dog,” he said.
He said the challenge was that some dogs attack and accept the challenge, while some others would not.
Adults need to be vigilant, he said, and should never assume a nine-year-old is safe around a dog.
“Three-year-olds don’t know better and they keep on staring, but it’s all about body language for a small group of dogs.”
Mr McGinness said three-year-olds were usually the ones sent to casualty with facial injuries, many of which occur either in parks or their own backyard.
“Adults can step in between the child and the dog and break that eye contact.
“To break eye contact we need to look away, look down and not excite the dogs any further... the worst thing to do is run, but it’s hard for kids because that is the first thing they do.”
As well as treating animals, Mr McGinness also holds a puppy preschool to teach dogs and their owners about what they need to do.
“If puppies demonstrate behaviour like aggression, it’s definitely an early warning sign which should be tackled sooner rather than later,” he said.
RSPCA education officer Zoe Dawson said dogs would use their entire body language to tell humans how they feel.
“A happy dog would have their ears forward, and be relaxed with their tail low and wagging while panting,” she said.
She explained that an angry dog would have their teeth bared, lips curled back and would snarl or growl.
“If you see a dog with an owner and you would like to meet them, always ask the owner for permission as they would know the dog best.”
She also said dogs should always go to the person, who would then stroke the dog on the neck and chest area.
“Make it so you aren’t towering over the dog and they can always see your hand,” Ms Dawson said.