Coroner: Baby swings can trigger dog attack

Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2005

NEW ORLEANS #&151; Rocking your baby to sleep in a mechanical swing can trigger a deadly attack on the child by the family dog, a coroner warns.

At least two such deaths have been documented in Maryland over a four-year period, Dr. Albert Y. Chu of the state's medical examiner's office said Wednesday at a meeting in New Orleans of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

The back-and-forth motion may activate the dog's instinct to chase prey, he said.

''Think about dogs chasing cars or tennis balls. They can't control their behavior #&151; they just go,'' he said.

In 2003, a 2-week-old boy was dragged from his swing and killed by the family's pit bull in Baltimore after the baby's mother left him to answer the front door. In Edgemere, Md., in 1999, a 3-month-old boy was mauled to death as his parents slept in another room.

An Associated Press check of online news archives found at least one more death #&151; that of an 18-day-old girl in Tampa, Fla., in 2000 after her mother left the room to warm a bottle for her #&151; and at least two non-fatal attacks around the country in the past few years.

In one of those cases, in Summerville, S.C., in 2003, the dog lunged for the baby and bit her in front of the child's mother.

Catherine Mills, a Marshall, N.C., dog trainer with 25 years' experience, and John C. Wright, an animal behaviorist at Mercer University, said pets should be conditioned to ignore baby swings before a baby is put into one.

''Put the swing up, leave it on without a baby in it until the dog or cat totally ignores it,'' Mills said.

Wright suggested even more extensive ''desensitization'': Get the dog used to a lifelike crying doll #&151; with a real diaper, if one is available #&151; then the swing, then the two together.

Everyone interviewed agreed on one thing: Do not leave even the most trusted pet alone with a baby.

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