Key Points:

Young children may be more likely to fall victim to dog attacks because they maintain eye contact, which the dog perceives as aggression, says a new report.

The report in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal said children aged 4 and under - such as Christchurch mauling victim 2-year-old Aotea Coxon - accounted for 24 per cent of cases of hospitalisation for dog bites.

"High rates among children can probably be explained by their lack of physical strength or motor skills to ward off an attacking dog," said the report's author, Otago University lecturer David Healey.

"Immaturity and lack of judgment may also sometimes lead children to act in ways that animals perceive as threatening or aggressive.

"Specifically, they maintain eye contact, and their eye level is often the same as that of a dog.

"Furthermore, it has been suggested that children under 5 years of age are significantly more likely to provoke animals than older children."

The report said there were five known fatal dog attacks in New Zealand, which is estimated to be home to 600,000 dogs.

Between 1989 and 2001 there were 3119 hospitalisations from dog attacks - 3025 estimated to be from dog bites and 94 from being "struck" by a dog.

Upper limb, head, and lower limb were the most common regions tobe injured in a dog attack, and themost common site of injury was the face.

Thirty per cent of victims were bitten at home, with 6 per cent of attacks occurring on the street and 1 per cent on farms.

In 80 per cent of cases, a male dog was responsible for the attack.