Children often misread fear in dogs – making a bite more likely

Dr Sarah Rose, Senior Lecturer at Staffordshire University, writes for The Conversation

The benefits of growing up with a pet are well documented – these days dogs are even used in the classroom. That said, we sometimes forget that dogs can still present a risk.

Children under the age of 10 are most at risk of being bitten by a dog. It’s difficult to accurately estimate how often children are bitten, as not all bites result in children being taken to accident and emergency units, but bites can often lead to serious injuries with unpleasant psychological effects, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Children may be at greater risk of being bitten by a dog because they struggle to recognise emotions in dogs and can’t interpret their warning behaviour. Many children may know little about how to behave safely around dogs and risk bites more often than adults.

The fear factor

New research could prove key to preventing bites. More than 100 children between the ages of four and six were shown images and video clips of dogs showing happy, frightened and angry behaviour. Children were asked what emotion they thought the dog was feeling and would they “pat, play, cuddle, brush or sit next to each dog?”

Although most of the children said they wouldn’t approach an angry dog, they were as likely to say that they would approach a frightened dog as they would a happy one. This desire to approach frightened dogs and cuddle them could explain why children are at a high risk of being bitten.

Read the full article on The Conversation