According to a new study, dog bites in children occur frequently and the breed of dog, behaviour of dog owners, children, and parents are all influencing factors.
Dogs bite very young children more often, and the researchers say that children 1 year of age or younger have the highest risk of being bitten, while children up to age 10 have a higher risk than older individuals.
In the study Dr. Johannes Schalamon and associates at the Medical University of Graz, reviewed the cases of 341 children treated for dog bites at a trauma center in Austria over a 10-year period.
They found the incidence was highest in 1-year-old patients and decreased with increasing age.
The vast majority of the dogs were familiar to the children and most of the children had injuries to just one part of the body.
The face, head, and neck region were the main areas bitten and 93 children were hospitalised.
The researchers say in view of the findings families should consider waiting until their children are of school age before they introduce a new dog into the household.
Parents might also consider which breed is most suitable, as the researchers also found that the risk of being bitten by a German shepherd or a Doberman was about five times higher than for a Labrador, retriever or a mixed breed.
Fighting breeds such as pit bulls were not involved in the study possibly because of increased public awareness of their aggressiveness.
The researchers issue a reminder that throughout evolution dogs have lived in packs with a specific order of dominance and in view of this rigorous hierarchal pack system, dogs may regard newborns as well as toddlers as subordinate.
They conclude by saying prevention strategies should focus on public education and training of dogs and their owners.
They say children who are younger than 10 years represent a high-risk group for dog attacks.
The study is published in the current issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.