Any dog can bite!

Auckland Council launches campaign to drive down dog attacks on children

Publish Date : 06 May 2024
Dog bite

A dog is a man’s best friend, or so the saying goes.

Yes, dogs can be sweet and loving, but they’re still animals which means they have natural instincts and can bite; the sweetest dog on the planet can be provoked into biting.

Already this year in Auckland, 12 attacks on children have been reported to the council; this is likely to be a fraction of injuries that occur as many incidents go unreported. In 2023 there were 783 claims made to ACC for dog-related injuries in children up to 14 years old requiring hospital treatment in Auckland alone; add another 300 for the 15–19-year-olds and that number rises to 1083.

Councillor Josephine Bartley says dogs are not just pets, they are beloved members of our families providing joy and companionship in our lives.

"But the reality is that any dog can bite and most such incidents are preventable.

“Research reveals around 27,000 dog-related injuries are reported every year in New Zealand, with just under 3000 of those to babies and children under 14 years old.

“Statistics, including data from Starship Hospital, highlight that children under nine years old of Māori and Pasifika communities are more likely to be seriously injured in dog attacks.

“We need to address this issue as a community and this is why Auckland Council is launching the campaign, to draw attention to the problem in the hope people will become more vigilant with dogs around children,” she says.

Dr Natasha Duncan-Sutherland is an emergency doctor at Auckland Hospital with over 10 years' experience in emergency departments. She conducted six studies on the prevention of dog-related injuries, including one that showed children aged 0-9 were more likely to be hospitalised with serious injuries to the head and neck.

“The main reason dog attacks occur is over-trust. Preventing dog attacks requires a societal shift in perception from ‘my dog wouldn’t’ to ‘my dog could’.

“Prevention also requires adults within communities to speak up when they see issues with dogs and take responsibility for the safety of our children - ko te tohu o te rangatira he manaaki.” 

The launch of the council’s “Any dog can bite” campaign is a timely reminder to dog owners and families of their responsibilities, says Auckland Council’s Manager Animal Management Elly Waitoa.

“We all love having pets, but dogs can bite in a variety of situations, even playful or protective ways. Dog owners need to consider child safety, the protection of children and the risks of having dogs around children in both private and public spaces.

"Our Animal Management team has a proactive programme around responsible dog ownership and continues to educate adults and children on how to safely interact with dogs and understand dog behaviour,” she says.

Elly has some important advice for parents and caregivers, to ensure little ones are kept safe around the family pooch or a visiting pup.

“Babies and children should never be left alone with a dog and should always be closely supervised within arms-reach of an adult.

“Dogs can harm children through chasing (predatory) behaviour; if they’re jumped on or knock over a bassinet; by sitting on an infant; when guarding a bone, food or property; when they are startled, overstimulated or when children get over excited,” she says.

Dog owners can also take proactive steps to protect little ones by always supervising them around dogs, particularly when they are playing or in a large group, providing separate child and dog spaces in the home for non-supervised times, desexing dogs, and ensuring their property is fenced and gated to prevent the dog escaping.

When in public (and other than specific off-leash areas), keeping dogs on a leash held by an adult helps keep everybody safe from unwanted behaviour or an attack. And if you have a dog that is reactive, fit it with a humane muzzle to protect both your dog and the public from harmful interactions.

“Ultimately, preventing dog attacks can be achieved through responsible dog ownership, some simple changes to owner behaviour and greater acceptance that any dog can bite.”

The campaign which targets communities in the south of Auckland include radio advertising, street posters, community papers, social and digital banners.

Advice for dog owners:

  • don’t allow dogs to roam beyond your property; their sense of territory expands and increases the likelihood of aggressive behaviour and attacks
  • keep dogs contained or under control at all times
  • de-sexing is important; a de-sexed dog is less likely to be aggressive and roam
  • be extra careful with toddlers; they are more vulnerable because of their size, lack of understanding of risk and verbal instructions.

Toddlers and children should not be allowed to:

  • be around dogs, including puppies, without adult supervision
  • put their face down to a dog’s face, hug or kiss it
  • play with a dog’s, food, feeding bowl, toys or bedding
  • wander into neighbouring properties where there may be dogs.

Signs of a happy dog:

  • low, wagging tail
  • relaxed mouth that appears to be smiling
  • soft and friendly eyes
  • relaxed ear
  • fur laying smooth

Signs of an unhappy dog:

  • tail is stiff and up or tucked tightly between the dogs leg
  • lips are pulled back and showing teeth, could be barking or growling
  • hard eyes that may appear black as pupils dilate
  • ears folded back tightly in a defensive position
  • hair on the back and shoulders standing
  • rigid and uptight body
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