Children are unaware of the risks of approaching frightened dogs

Children understand the risks of approaching an angry dog but they are unaware that they should show the same caution around frightened dogs says a study presented to the British Psychological Society’s Developmental Psychology Section’s annual conference this week.

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Lead researcher Dr Sarah Rose of Staffordshire University said: “UK statistics show that young children are at the highest risk of being bitten by a dog with nearly 1200 admissions to hospital for under 10’s during 2013-2014. This study explored whether the explanation is that they are unable to accurately recognise a dog’s emotions when approaching one.”

Dr Rose and Grace Alridge (also of Staffordshire University) asked two groups of children aged 4 to 5 (57) and 6 to 7 years old (61) to watch 15 videos and look at 15 images showing real life behaviour of dogs.  Video clips were all between 6 and 11 seconds long and the only auditory information was the dog barking. The images and videos used had been watched by two veterinary nurses and two laypeople who had agreed on the emotion the dog was showing.

Both groups were asked questions relating to their intention to approach the dog (Would you play with this dog?) and what emotion they thought the dog was experiencing (How happy/angry/frightened do you think this dog is feeling?).

Analysis of the results showed that the children recognised happy, angry and frightened dogs in videos and images at above the level of chance. Furthermore, they recognised angry dogs more accurately than happy or frightened dogs.

However, although the children were less likely to approach an angry dog there was no difference in their inclination to approach a happy or frightened dog.

Dr Rose said: “Young children are relatively good at accurately identifying the emotion that a dog is displaying. However, children’s understanding of safety around dogs is lacking as they only demonstrated caution about approaching angry dogs. They appeared to be unaware that there might be problems approaching frightened dogs. This finding should help inform dog bite prevention campaigns.” 

Source:  The British Psychological Society media release

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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