March 6, 2006

Study Suggests Small Children, Big Dogs Don’t Mix

CHICAGO -- Bringing a dog into the family should wait until the children are of school age, and even then parents might want to think twice about a Doberman pinscher or German shepherd, according to a study published on Monday.

A review of dog bites treated at a trauma center in Austria over a 10-year period found that children aged 1 and younger ran the highest risk of being bitten though anyone up to age 10 runs a higher risk than in later years.

"Parents should postpone purchase of a dog until children are of school age," the study said. Children generally enter primary schools at age 5 or 6.

"Throughout evolution dogs have lived in packs with a specific order of dominance. In view of this rigorous hierarchal system in a pack, dogs may regard newborns as well as toddlers as subordinate," the study added.

But "school-aged children can be trained successfully in precautionary behavior when approaching a dog," concluded the study from the Department of Pediatric Surgery at the Medical University of Graz.

The researchers said they found that the relative 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. Among the dog bites covered in the study none involved fighting breeds such as pit bulls, perhaps because of increased public awareness of their aggressiveness, the report added.

The study was published in the March issue of "Pediatrics," the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.