Date Released: 

On behalf of The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), the Chairman, Donna Brander, would like to issue the following statement regarding the recent tragic events involving children and dogs.

This is a tragedy for all concerned and the APBC extends its deepest sympathy to the families involved. All dog owners’ have the responsibility of understanding and addressing the potential dangers of keeping any dog. Dogs should be well socialised, particularly to children and infants, in order to be well adjusted to the special behaviour children and infants sometimes display. Even when habituated and socialised to the distinctive behaviour of children and infants, the interaction of dogs and children or infants should always be supervised by an adult

The early weeks of a puppy’s life are crucial for it to develop into a well balanced adult dog. Lack of adequate socialisation is the biggest cause of aggression in dogs. There are many responsible dog breeders and owners who are aware of the importance of early socialisation and training. These responsible people are breeding and raising sound puppies. Unfortunately, there are, however, many inadequately socialised puppies being sold inappropriately as family pets.   It is also the responsibility of the new owner to understand the breed of dog of their choice and how to raise their puppy properly. The APBC also believes that much could be done for both human and dog welfare if legislation was introduced to prevent the ‘mass production’ of unsocialised puppies in puppy farms.

However, problems can still occur when children and dogs are left unsupervised. Children may frighten the dog, without realising it, and, as they do not pick up the dog's warning signals, the dog may resort to biting if it feels trapped and unable to escape. The typical example is of a toddler being allowed to follow a dog under a table, where the dog is trying to seek refuge. Allowing children to 'hug' dogs can be dangerous as this can be very intimidating for the dog. Always stroke a dog on the side and do not reach over its head.

Parents should never allow their children to go up to an unknown dog in the street to pat it, without first checking with the dog's owner that it is alright to do so. Equally, do not allow children to tease neighbour's dogs through the fence as this may aggravate the dog and potentially lead to the dog nipping at fingers under the fence or even jumping over the fence.

Supervision and common sense are of paramount importance and part of responsible dog ownership and parenthood in order to ensure the safety of children and pets . The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour contains a chapter on ‘Pets and Children’, which gives practical tips and advice on how to handle a variety of situations from both the human and dogs’ point of view

It is important that dog owners, or the public, do not panic as these tragic occurrences are rare. Dog owners who have concerns over the behaviour or potential behaviour of their pet, should seek advice from a professional behaviour counsellor.

Many insurance companies will cover the cost of a behaviour consultation with an APBC Member. For further information on the APBC and details of members, visit www.apbc.org.uk.