Researchers from Lincoln University have found that children under the age of seven do not spot the warning signs when dogs are angry. They tracked the eye movements of children and found that they focus on the mouth and teeth area in aggressive-looking dogs instead of at the eyes and nose, and that children aged under five are more likely to lean in to have a closer look. It is thought that this 'leaning in' behaviour could explain why they are at more risk of being bitten on their face or neck.
Lincoln University's Babylab is developing an interactive DVD called Blue Dog to teach children as young as three how to read dog cues. The DVD shows how to behave safely with a pet dog in a home setting. It shows how the dog may react in a situation where it feels threatened, using typical scenes such as a child approaching the dog's food, or wanting to push the dog off the sofa. The DVD gives the child a choice of a safe or unsafe response and demonstrates that only the safe choice is rewarded.
Previous studies have found that just under half of children report being bitten by a dog during their school years. The majority of attacks happen in the child's own home with a familiar dog.
Lincoln University is assessing whether children aged between three and five apply what they have learned from the DVD with their own pets.
Dr Tiny de Keuster, a Belgian vet who is working with lead researcher Dr Kerstin Meints on the project, said, 'We hope the Blue Dog programme will make a difference immediately by teaching parents and children about living with a dog, from the dog's perspective. We need support from every sector of society to raise awareness, including teachers, doctors and local authorities.'