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Thursday, 7 March 2002

Beware of the Dog

The recent case of young Hayden Alexander, a three- year old boy who was attacked by his neighbour's dog follows on from other cases of similar attacks. Hayden was playing in the lane behind his family home in inner Sydney when he was attacked.

Hayden was admitted to Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick after he was rescued from the dog by some older children. The injuries he sustained were severe requiring microsurgery to repair damage to the back of his head and reconstruction of his left ear. He also sustained scratches on his shoulders and back.

Dr Matthew O'Meara is the Director of the Children's Accident and Emergency Department at the Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick and sees first hand the damage that dog bites can cause to young children.

'The majority of dog bites occur in the home or backyard and studies show that particular breeds certainly influence injury rates. Dominance aggression accounts for nearly half of dog bites - the dog competing with the child for attention.

'Aggression is common to dogs bred to be fighters or guard dogs. The breeds with the highest attack rates are (in order): Bull Terriers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Blue Heelers and Border Collies.

'Injuries from any dog breed may range from superficial scratches to puncture wounds and broken bones', said Dr O'Meara

A dog's behaviour depends not only on its breed but also on the way it is trained and supervised. A dog, which is bred as a working animal, needs space to burn up its energy. Such a dog can become bored in a small backyard and may be inclined to nip when excited. A 'nip', however, can do serious damage to a child.

Dr O'Meara has provided some advice regarding preventative injury measures when children are playing with dogs:

1. No child under 10 years of age should be left alone with a dog. Children are naturally curious and may upset the dog if they tug or pull it like a soft toy.
2. Dogs should be kept on a leash in ALL public areas according to the NSW Dog Act. Some local councils set aside areas for unleashed dogs. Take particular care of your children in these places.
3. Never allow your dog to jump up on anyone. An adult may easily fend off a dog that jumps, but a child may be pushed over and hurt.
4. Approach all dogs with caution regardless of their breed or how well you know the dog.

'The debate does not just end with the breed of dog. Responsibility on the part of owners when any child plays with their dog, correct training of dogs, supervision by parents when near dogs are all factors which contribute to the lessening of numbers and severity of dog attacks on children', said Dr O'Meara.

For Further Information Contact:

Catharina Boer, Public Affairs Manager Tel: 9382 3571 - Mob: 0411 730 842

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