The virtual pooch that could help prevent dog bites

A virtual dog could soon be used as an educational tool to help prevent dog bites, thanks to an innovative project led by the University of Liverpool’s Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC).

In collaboration with Dogs Trust and University of Liverpool animal behaviour researchers, the VEC has created a proof of concept virtual reality (VR) experience in which people can approach and interact with a dog displaying signs of aggression in a safe and controlled way.

Virtual reality dog

Virtual reality dog in its environment. Credit: Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC)

The experience aims to help adults and children recognise specific behaviours displayed by dogs, which could potentially lead to an attack or incident if not correctly identified.

6,740 hospital admissions for dog bites and strikes were recorded in the UK in 2013 and University of Liverpool research suggests that the burden of dog bites is considerably larger than those estimated from hospital records.

As part of a desire to better educate children and adults about dog bite prevention, Dogs Trust wanted to explore whether a digital tool could help people identify a range of stress and threat behaviours typically exhibited by dogs, which have the potential to lead to a bite.

In response to this challenge, a team animal behavioural specialists and psychologists from the University worked closely with the VEC to make certain that the body language and detail shown in the virtual environment was both realistic and a truthful reflection of real-world canine behaviour.

As the user approaches the dog, the behaviour and body language of the dog gradually changes, the dog’s behaviour begins to display signs of aggression including licking its lips, lowering of the head and body, front paw lifting, growling, and showing of teeth. These behaviours are referenced from the ‘Canine Ladder of Aggression’ which shows how a dog may behave when it does not want to be approached.

Iain Cant, VEC Visualisation Team Leader said: “This was a really interesting project to work on with a lot of exciting potential for the future.

“The next steps will look to enhance the detail within the immersive environment to ensure the simulation is as realistic as possible. Future developments will also show a wider range of dog behaviours and the dog’s reactions to user behaviour.”

“More broadly the project highlights how immersive experiences can be used by organisations such as Dogs Trust as a valuable educational tool.”

Source:  Science Daily

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3 responses to “The virtual pooch that could help prevent dog bites

  1. Carolyn R. Moser

    I support efforts to educate the public on a better understanding of when a dog is uncomfortable, frightened, or anxious and how to behave with them.

    I am concerned that what I know as dog language showing that the dog is uncomfortable with what a child or adult is doing, has been classified as ” the ‘Canine Ladder of Aggression’ “.

    I find the statement that “the VEC has created a proof of concept virtual reality (VR) experience in which people can approach and interact with a dog displaying signs of aggression in a safe and controlled way.” givies the public the alarming perspective that any dog displaying normal dog behaviors is aggressive.

    As I understand it, almost all dogs will do anything to prevent a physical confrontation. Because of this, dogs have developed a clear hierarchical language with increasing warnings that tells other dogs their behavior will not be tolerated and to back off.

    Dog behavior experts will tell you that there is always a warning; it is just that most people do not know how to interpret dog body language.

    Since as humans we do not automatically understand these dog body language warnings, a dog’s way of trying to say to us ” What you are doing is making me feel uncomfortable, frightened, or anxious, please stop.”, problems develop. This is different from aggression.

    Two excellent sites that convey this, in my opinion, are Stop the 77 developed by two Moms with children who were dog trainers before they were Moms. Stop the 77 refers to statistics that indicate 77% of dog bites to children come from family dogs or friend’s dogs.
    https://www.petsafe.net/learn/join-the-stop-the-77-campaign-to-prevent-dog-bites

    Also, Learn How to Speak Dog and Teach Your Kids: Why You Need to Know About Dog Body Language https://doggonesafe.com/Speak_Dog

    I give these two links to everyone I know with children before they get a dog. The parents always thank me.

    Most adults don’t know anything about dog body language. I speak from experience having a rescue dog with anxiety issues. I have had to learn to read her body language and manage situations to prevent putting her in circumstances that escalate her anxiety. For example, a stranger, adult or child, coming directly at her and reaching for her head to pet her. A small child squealing and running toward her. A person allowing their dog to sniff her butt without warning while she is on leash

    My dog is not aggressive. She is not hostile with an automatic intention to attack. She is afraid and if pushed will react. She has never bitten a person or dog.

    Please help the public to understand that what VEC calls the ‘Canine Ladder of Aggression’ is more accurately the Canine Ladder of Dog
    Body Language.

    I enjoy your blogs and the information you share.

    • Hi Carolyn, thanks for taking the time to make thorough comment on this post. I agree with you that the University’s media statement about the work at the VEC could have used better and a more accurate understanding about canine body language. When they talk about the ‘ladder’ concept, it should be about body language and escalating signals that a dog is not comfortable.

      Having worked in the research setting in the past, I think it’s great to see another tool being developed that can help teach people to read canine body language – and yes- both children and adults will benefit from this type of education. Proof of concept simply means that there’s lots more work to be done to bring the tool to the marketplace so that it can be used. Hopefully, at this point of development, the research team will involve experts in the canine behaviour and training field.

      Finally, please note that I always copy and paste (verbatim) press releases from research organisations to ensure information is passed on and shared. That’s why I include links to the original source materials.

      Glad you like my blog!

  2. Carolyn R. Moser

    Thank you for your reply. I agree with everything you wrote. As a former Biomedical Librarian, now retired, I appreciate the links to original source materials.

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