I have briefly posted about this before, but I want to reiterate it yet again.
The real tragedy is that these needless, horrible deaths could have been prevented.
No dog should ever be left unsupervised with a child. EVER. PERIOD. And I'm not just talking about Huskies and Golden Retrievers and Rottweilers. Even small dogs can pose a threat to a newborn baby. A Pomeranian killed a newborn in the bassinet by grabbing its head (several years ago, I believe). Small dogs pose a threat too. And when I say supervise, I mean that any child should be supervised by an aware, sober, responsible ADULT any time a dog is in the room.
Dog are wonderful additions to families. They can grow up with children, offering companionship and important lessons in how to treat those who cannot speak for themselves. They can also teach responsibility for another living creature and respect for others. I don't think that having dogs automatically equals creating a dangerous environment for your child. I own a 75 pound Doberman.
But I know without a doubt that I would never trust her alone with my daughter. She is the sweetest, most docile Doberman I have ever met. Once, as I was holding my cousin Stephen, he reached over and poked her in the corner of the eye. His finger went into the socket about 2 knuckles deep. She didn't even flinch. She's that forgiving. And STILL, there is no way I would trust her with my child unsupervised. Why? Simply this - I have nothing to gain by leaving my child alone with my dog, but I have everything to lose.
So, here are the things I think every parent should know and do to prepare a dog and a child for dog/child encounters.
First, every parent should learn the warning signs of an anxious dog that might bite. This site: Liam J Perk Foundation has several excellent links on the warning signs in dogs. (As an aside, if you don't want to cry, don't read Liam's story. If you need more convincing, read it). The ASPCA has an excellent article on dog body language.
Secondly, every child needs to be educated on how to interact properly with familiar AND strange dogs. Sure, you can be vigilant about monitoring dog/child interactions at home, but what about when your child is walking home from the bus stop and meets an unfamiliar dog? All children need to learn how to interact in this situation. The ASPCA has some good links on this subject.
Third, every dog owner should set up and maintain a "safe place" for the family dog - somewhere the baby can't reach by crawling and where the dog can feel safe. Crate training is essential for this sort of thing. They are indispensable for any number of behavior problems and are absolutely a must when large groups of people visit. They create a safe habitat for dogs.
Fourth, large groups of people are not good places to mix children and dogs. There is too much going on, and everyone assumes everyone else is supervising. When planning for a party or holiday gathering, dogs should be crated or otherwise removed from the excitement. This is when having a crate becomes very important - again, a safe environment for the dog.
In summary, dogs are great additions to a family. But having a dog, like anything, is a responsibility that must be taken seriously and never lightly. There is no reason to trust your dog with your child's life.