The RSPCA is urging parents to educate children on how to be safe around dogs, creating ‘Six Golden Rules’ to learn following Government Committee’s call for education programmes to reduce dog bites.
This week saw a report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee calling for UK Government to review the effectiveness of breed specific legislation (BSL), which prohibits the ownership of four types of dogs based solely on their appearance.
One of the Committee’s recommendations was for the Government to facilitate childhood education programmes on dog safety, and run awareness-raising campaigns encouraging responsible ownership and safe human-dog interaction among owners and the general public.
RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said, “As a mother and dog owner myself, it’s clear that children and dogs can be really great friends. Dogs can also help children develop kindness, understanding and respect for living things. Having a dog as a friend can improve a child’s social skills with people and caring for a pet can encourage responsibility.
“But, just as parents teach their children how to act around traffic and how to safely cross the road, it’s also their responsibility to understand themselves and show youngsters how to behave when they’re around their own or other dogs – either in public places, or in private homes and gardens.”
According to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, the age group with the highest number of hospital admissions for dog bites was children aged under nine. Hospital bite statistics also show that young children are more likely to be bitten by a family dog rather than one they don’t know.
“Unfortunately, we know that children are most likely to be the victims of a dog bite incident and we believe that one of the ways we can ensure less children and dogs are involved in these traumatic experiences is to better educate parents and kids on how to safely interact with dogs and avoid high risk behaviours,” Dr Gaines added.
Six golden rules
The RSPCA partnered up with certified clinical animal behaviourist Julie Bedford and vet and animal behaviourist the late Dr Sophia Yin to develop material for parents and teachers. They produced the Six Golden Rules for keeping children safe and dogs happy:
1. Never leave your child alone in a room with a dog, even your own dog.
2. Teach kids not to approach dogs if they are eating or have food; if they have a toy or something else they really like; if they are sleeping or on their bed; or are sick, sleeping, in pain or tired.
3. Remind your child to be kind, gentle and polite to their pets.
4. Teach your child to play nicely with their dog, by encouraging them to teach fun tricks like paw, play dead and roll over.
5. Always supervise your child when they are with a dog, and look for signs that the dog might be feeling uncomfortable such as yawning, lip licking or avoiding eye contact.
6. Teach children not to approach an unfamiliar dog or one which you, as parents, don’t know to be friendly towards children.
“We also recommend providing your dog with a cosy spot in a quiet room where they can retreat to if they need or want their own space,” Dr Gaines adds. “It’s good to teach your children to leave the dog alone when he/she is in this area.
“It’s also a nice idea for children to strengthen their bond with the family dog by playing fun and safe games such as hiding treats in the garden for the dog to find, playing fetch, and trying simple training.”