March 6, 2006

Dog Bites More Common in Very Young Children

NEW YORK -- Dog bites occur more often in very young children, so families should consider waiting until their children are of school age before they introduce a new dog into the household.

Even then, parents might want to think twice about getting a Doberman pinscher or German shepherd, according to a study published on Monday.

Dr. Johannes Schalamon and associates at the Medical University of Graz, conducted a review of 341 children treated for dog bites at a trauma center in Austria over a 10-year period.

They found that children 1 year of age or younger had the highest risk of being bitten, although children up to age 10 also had a higher risk than older individuals.

"Parents should postpone purchase of a dog until children are of school age," the researchers recommend. 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," they added. But "school-aged children can be trained successfully in precautionary behavior when approaching a dog."

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. No dog bites in the study involved fighting breeds such as pit bulls, perhaps because of increased public awareness of their aggressiveness, Schalamon's group added.

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