Children misread aggressive signals from dogs

23rd September 2010 – Psychologists at Lincoln University have been conducting studies aiming to teach children to interact more safely with dogs. Alarmingly, they have found that children very often misread the signals of aggression that dogs send out and they believe that these misunderstandings result in thousands of young children being attacked.

These studies have shown that many children under the age of six think a dog is smiling when baring their teeth. They have also shown that children fail to recognise other signs of aggression meaning they are more likely to be bitten. Surveys have shown that around 43% of school children have been bitten by a dog.

Dr Kerstin Meints and Dr Nelly Lakestani, who are both involved in these studies, have been conducting dog bite prevention research for a number of years. They consider that the biggest problem is the relatively minor bites that children receive from their pet dogs at home. They believe such bites are caused by these misunderstandings between dogs and children, which is not only a child safety issue but also an animal welfare issue. Dogs that have bitten are often taken to animal sanctuaries and have to go through the trauma of being re-homed, if they are lucky. Some dogs are even abandoned or put down.

It is therefore essential that we teach children what dogs are trying to communicate and how to interact with them safely.

Tips to help teach children to interact safely with dogs

There are a number of reasons why children are more at risk of dog bites than adults. Young children are excitable, fast moving, they have high voices and they are closer to a dog’s eye level. They can trigger a dog’s instinct to chase and can often be rough when handling or petting a dog. If a dog does not understand his place in his pack, which should most definitely be at the bottom, then he will see children as his equal or lower which can cause problems in many ways. In this situation your dog may consider it acceptable to snatch your children’s food or to correct them if he considers them to be misbehaving.

It is very important to socialize a dog properly and teach him how to behave around children but it is equally important to teach children how to behave around dogs.

So, how do you do this?

1. If you do not already have a dog and are about to get one, make sure you choose a breed that will make a suitable family pet. No dog is guaranteed to be 100% safe with children but there are breeds that are more appropriate as family pets because of their nature and characteristics.
2. If you are expecting a baby and already have a dog do not make substantial changes to your dog’s routine after your babies arrival. For example, if you know you will not be able to pay your dog the same attention when the baby arrives gradually begin to withdraw attention from the dog in advance. You do not want your dog to make negative associations with the baby.
3. Make sure that your pet has sufficient attention, play and exercise to release any excess energy, prevent boredom and problems that may arise through stress and anxiety.
4. Never leave a baby or young child alone with a dog no matter how gentle you consider your dog to be. Teasing and rough behaviour can provoke even the most placid of dogs. Young puppies and dogs can be excitable and boisterous and unintentionally hurt children. Dogs around babies and children should be supervised at all times.
5. Reward your dog whenever he has been gentle and obedient in the presence of a child to enable your dog to make positive associations with children and babies.

In addition, you will need to teach your children to:-

1. Recognise when a dog might bite and not to approach or touch any dog showing signs of aggression. These include bared teeth, staring eyes, holding their ears flattened back, raised hackles, a tail moving very slowly or not wagging at all. More obvious signs of aggression are growling, snarling and barking.
2. Treat dogs gently and respectfully.
3. The correct way to pet a dog. Do not approach a dog from behind or he could feel threatened. Do not pat or stroke him on top of his head. Instead stroke him gently underneath his chin or on his chest.
4. Never touch a dog they do not know.
5. Even if your child does know the dog, teach your child not to invade the dog’s space and to allow the dog to approach them. They should allow the dog to come and sniff their hand. If the dog shows no sign of interest he should be left well alone.
6. Never approach a dog that is tied or chained up.
7. Never put their face up close to a dog.
8. Never stare at a dog.
9. Do not approach or touch a dog while he is eating and never tease a dog with food.
10. Never touch a sleeping dog as it could frighten or startle him.
11. Never run away from a dog or scream if they are scared. If a dog approaches your child they should stand still, look away from the dog, fold their arms and walk away slowly and calmly.

Image courtesy of macieklesniak

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One Response to “Children misread aggressive signals from dogs”

  1. tiffany and co sale says:

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