Worrying Smarter: Why the Most Dangerous Animal Is Closer to Home Than You Might Think

Today’s blog entry is for data-driven homeschooling moms, and it’s all about an area of ever-present concern: a child’s safety.  Calvert Education is partnering with Natalia E. Pane, M.A., M.B.A., author of The Worry Clock: A Parent’s Guide to Worrying Smarter about Your Child, to provide the Calvert community with information on the whole child, with a focus on child safety.  Be sure to read Natalia’s previous blog post, with some eye-opening statistics on teen driving.

Have suggestions or questions you’d like answered? Write Natalia at Natalia@worryclock.com.  

Why the Most Dangerous Animal Is Closer to Home Than You Might Think

Which animal kills the greatest number of children in the United States? Spiders like the Brown Recluse? Sharks like the Great Whites off California or the Bull Sharks found upstream in rivers? What about bees? None of the above.

So far, the animal that kills more children than any other species is the dog. Two and a half times as many children age one to four were killed by dogs [i] as died by falling down steps or sticking something like a fork in an outlet.

Are we talking about many kids dying from dogs? No, these numbers are all small, especially given the fact that 37% of households have dogs,[ii] but experts agree that introducing a new baby should be taken very seriously with lots of preparation and in some cases may not be appropriate for the well-being of the child—and the dog.

There are significant amounts of data available on the estimates of dog bites, but I am focused solely on fatal attacks on children, which yield a slightly different picture (e.g., dogs more likely to be the household dog for fatal attacks than a chained neighbor’s dog for dog bites).

Reviewing a list of fatal attacks to children from 2000 to 2013,[iii] one can see trends. Most of the infants were killed by the family dog, in their own homes. Many of the incidents occurred when the responsible adult left the infant or child unattended in a bassinet or play area to which the dog had access. In many households there was more than one dog involved in the attack.

Pit bulls are the most prominent breed and account for the majority of fatalities (see summary table). But, breed isn’t everything. A Pomeranian killed a 6-week old girl in 2000, and a Labrador retriever killed a 2-month old in 2008 (albeit under extreme circumstances). Golden Retrievers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels, for example, have all had fatal attacks attributed to them.[iv] Of course, this list doesn’t account for base populations of the breeds. If there are four times fewer Huskies relative to other breeds, then Huskies would actually be more deadly than Rottweilers.

Some of these attacks were linked to maltreatment of both children and dogs, but most were not. Some attacks were after histories of aggressive behavior by the dog, but many were not, including a significant number that came as a complete surprise. Research on all dog attacks (not just deadly ones) has found that:

  • Male dogs are 6.2 times more likely to bite than females
  • Un-neutered dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite than those that are neutered
  • Dogs bred at home are less likely to bite, compared to those bred by breeders or pet shops
  • The older a dog is when introduced to the home, the more likely they are to bite.
  • Dogs are more dangerous when acting as a pack

How can you protect your child and your dog?

First, if your dog has already bitten, you have a dangerous dog (as defined in some legislation), and need to take a number of steps to protect anyone who comes in contact with your dog, especially any child. You are always liable [v] for anything your dog does, but you could also be negligent, knowing that your dog has bitten before. A child having any unsupervised time with that dog likely counts as negligence.[vi] It is easy to ignore or diminish clear signs, “it was just a little bite” or “it was an unusual circumstance,” so if there are any warnings at all, get the dog evaluated by a professional.

From the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan: [vii]

Your child’s safety comes first. If, after working with a professional and on your own, you are still not 100% confident about the safety of your baby with your dog, then finding your dog another home to protect the well-being of your child and pet is a step you may have to take.

For those whose dogs have not already shown aggressive behaviors, you may still want to take certain steps, like never leaving the young children with the dog unsupervised. Cesar Millan, the CDC, and the ASPCA all have good pages that address keeping children and dogs in harmony.

If a new infant is being brought into the family, Cesar has some great advice on aspects not usually covered, including setting the boundaries of the nursery and claiming your baby’s scent. And he does not think that you should use the dog’s breed as a guide. See: http://bit.ly/1cNbGIX.

To avoid bites generally, Cesar recommends vaccinating dogs and teaching submissive behavior. [viii]  He also notes that many dogs are attempting to play with infants, and hurt them only unintentionally, like the three month old killed by two Shiba Inu dogs in 2013.

The Centers for Disease Control’s dog bite page recommends:

  • Spay/neuter your dog (this often reduces aggressive tendencies).
  • Never leave infants or young children alone with a dog.
  • Don’t play aggressive games with your dog (e.g., wrestling).
  • Properly socialize and train any dog entering your household. Teach the dog submissive behaviors (e.g., rolling over to expose the abdomen and giving up food without growling).
  • Immediately seek professional advice (e.g., from veterinarians, animal behaviorists, or responsible trainers) if the dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors.

And the ASPCA describes additional suggestions, including making sure you understand the animal’s body language. Even “good” dogs have bad days, but understanding what they are going through will help you to identify their warnings. See: http://bit.ly/1dcORVq

One-sentence take-away: Always supervise children, particularly younger children, around dogs.

Natalia E. Pane, M.A., M.B.A., is the Senior Vice President for Research and Operations at Child Trends, a think tank and research organization devoted to improving the lives of children and families. For fifteen years, Natalia worked with leaders within the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services on federal data collection, analysis, and use. With the recent (2013) publication of The Worry Clock: A Parent’s Guide to Worrying Smarter about the Real Dangers to Your Child she examines the statistics from a whole new perspective—a mom who wants to continuously become a better mom.

[i] Centers for Disease Control mortality data 1999-2007.

[ii] See the American Veterinary medical Association https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Statistics/Pages/Market-research-statistics-US-pet-ownership.aspx

[iii] Wikipedia lists the incidents; a random sample was verified, suggesting the data are fairly reliable, although incomplete. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatal_dog_attacks_in_the_United_States

[iv]  Sacks, Jeffrey; Sinclair, Gilchrist, Golab, Lockwood (15 September 2000). “Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998”. JAVMA 217 (6): 836–40.10.2460/javma.2000.217.836 and http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/images/dogbreeds-a.pdf

[v] http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/22/beware-of-biting-dogs-and-liability-claims/?_r=0

[vi] http://dogbitelaw.com/legal-rights-of-dog-bite-victims-in-usa/negligence.html

[vii] http://www.cesarsway.com/tips/yournewdog/introduce-your-dog-to-your-baby#ixzz2pdnY1uHB

[viii] http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/22/beware-of-biting-dogs-and-liability-claims/?_r=0