Each day we read articles and watch television reports about dog attacks on young children that can be very confronting for parents , grandparents, aunts, uncles, carers and dog lovers. With Australia having one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, our pets have become an integral part of family life.

So much has been written about the positive outcomes of children growing up with a dog. Research has linked this important relationship to the development of companionship, empowering responsibility and empathy in children.

Unfortunately, not all childhood experiences with dogs are positive ones with research showing children in the 0-4 age group are at the greatest risk of dog attack injury serious enough to end up in hospital.

What we know about dog attacks

• Most dog bites happen in the family home or that of family/friends and by their own dog or one known to them
• 80% of injuries to children in the 0-4 age group were to the head/face/neck

Sadly children and dogs do not have an innate understanding of how to behave around each other.

The ‘We Are Family’ program is a means of informing parents of the potential risks and provides them with the knowledge, skills and strategies to ensure that the child /pet relationship is not only a physically and emotionally enriching one, but most importantly a safe one.

Unfortunately many pets are surrendered to animal shelters at the arrival of a new baby, with misinformation depriving children and pets of a long and happy relationship.

The ‘We are Family’ program is aimed at educating expectant parents, parents of young children and their respective care givers as to the importance of –

• Preparing the pets and the home environment for the arrival of a baby
• Actively supervising all interactions between child and pet
• Securely separating them when they cannot be actively supervised.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics highlights that the average age of our first time mums has increased to 30. This has led to many couples having established the pet members of the family prior to the arrival of children. ‘We Are Family’ helps to educate expectant parents on how they can prepare the home environment and train their pets to ensure appropriate habits are in place prior to the baby’s arrival.

The program promotes positive behaviours for parents to model to their children when interacting with pets and equips them with knowledge to interpret the various physical cues pets exhibit through their body language.

‘We Are Family’ is an initiative of, and fully funded by the Victorian Government. The program has been running across the state since 2008 in 60 Maternity hospitals and some 600 Maternal Child Health Centres very successfully. Through education, expectant parents understand why their pets may react in different ways and they are better prepared to safeguard children during their most vulnerable years.

For more information about creating a harmonious relationship between your dog and baby, see to view copies of the We Are Family booklet and DVD.