Canine expert says American Staffy dog that killed baby while parents slept saw newborn ‘as prey’

·3-min read
Police at the home in Kariong, in Australia, where the baby was killed in a dog attack (7News Australia)
Police at the home in Kariong, in Australia, where the baby was killed in a dog attack (7News Australia)

The tragic incident of a family pet killing a five-week-old baby while his parents slept has prompted calls to ban potentially dangerous dogs in Australia, and brought on warnings against allowing them near children.

The American Staffordshire terrier – which is considered to be a pit bull-type breed and is banned in the UK – killed the baby boy in Kariong, just outside Sydney, in New South Wales (NSW) in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Emergency services arrived at the bungalow just after 2am, but the baby could not be revived. It was reported by Australian media that the 26-year-old mother was extremely distressed, and was taken to hospital and sedated.

The dog, which was at least seven years old and registered with the authorities, was euthanised within a few days.

“This is a matter of tragic proportions,” Brisbane Water Police District Commander Detective Superintendent Darryl Jobson had said.

The baby was the couple’s first child, 7News Australia reported.

About a month before the dog attacked the baby, it had killed the neighbour’s spaniel in the family’s own backyard, according to reports. The parents had been told by the local authority to take their pet for a temperament assessment.

American Staffies are some of the most popular dogs that people keep as pets in NSW (Creative Commons)
American Staffies are some of the most popular dogs that people keep as pets in NSW (Creative Commons)

The dog may have thought that the baby was “prey” rather than a human, due to the infant’s size, a dog behavioural expert has said.

Nathan McCredie warned that dogs of all breeds, especially the ones that have powerful jaws, have the potential to kill, and that “unstable” dogs should not be within three metres of a child under the age of 14.

He told Daily Mail Australia: “That dog would have had no idea the boy was a human – babies are a different size, they smell different, they scream and squeal. To the staffy, it looks like prey.”

Mr McCredie said has “no doubt that staffy was unstable” and that an animal with a violent history should not have been allowed in the same room as the baby.

He has also warned owners of such dogs against using squeaky toys and ropes to play violent games like tug-of-war.

A spate of attacks by large and muscly dogs on people and animals in the NSW region, where the family has lived, has prompted calls to restrict ownership of them.

American Staffies are the most-highly represented in the number of dog attacks in NSW, with 881 cases reported in 15 months –according to data from the NSW Office of Local Government.

But the high number of attacks involving dogs such as staffies could be because they’re popular breeds, leading them to be overrepresented in statistics. American Staffies are in the top 10 most popular dogs in NSW, official data shows.

The fatal dog attack happened in Kariong, just outside Sydney, in NSW (Google Maps)
The fatal dog attack happened in Kariong, just outside Sydney, in NSW (Google Maps)

Dogs NSW spokesman Brian Crump has advised against the banning of American Staffies, adding that it is problematic to discriminate against all dogs of the same breed.

An RSPCA NSW spokesman has said that “each individual dog should be assessed based on their behaviour.”

In NSW, there are five breeds of dog that are restricted, meaning they cannot be sold or given away.

They include American Pit Bull Terriers, Japanese Tosas, Dogo Argentino (Argentinian fighting dogs), Fila Brasiliero (Brazilian fighting dogs) and Perro de Presa Canario or Presa Canario dogs.

Whether the American Pit Bull is the same as the American Staffy has long been debated.

Since 2015, the American Dog Breeders Association considers the American Staffy to be a separate breed. The United Kennel Club, also in the US, registers them as the same breed.

In the UK, the American Staffy is banned, as well as the Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Fila Braziliero.

It is not illegal in the UK to own and keep a Staffordshire bull terrier, a separate breed from the American Staffy, as it is not listed in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

But ownership of Staffordshire bull terriers that have been cross-bred with any of the banned breeds is restricted.

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