Young children find it hard to recognise fear in dogs.

Every year nearly 3,800 people in the UK are hospitalised due to dog attacks. Many of the victims are young children, particularly preschoolers. Nelly Lakestani and colleagues from the University of Edinburgh carried out research to see if they could provide insights which may help to prevent such attacks.

Their findings were presented on Thursday 10 September, at the British Psychological Society's Developmental Conference on at Nottingham Trent University.

430 children aged 4 to 10 years old, and 120 adults, from Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, were shown videos of dogs displaying friendly, aggressive/defensive and fearful behaviour and were asked to judge how the dogs were feeling.

The results showed that while the accuracy of judgements about the dogs' behaviour improved with age, the 4-year olds' judgements about fearful dogs were still very poor, with only 20% of responses correct.

Nelly explained: "Recognising fear in dogs may be difficult for younger children because the expression of fear is different from humans. Dogs display fear mainly by trying to escape or, if they cannot, by standing still, tucking their tail between their legs and pushing their ears down against their head. We found that when making their judgements, younger children tended to focus on the dog's face, as they would with a human, rather than its movements and postures. This suggests thate younger children were more likely to misundertand fearful behaviours."

"Dogs often bite as a last resort when they are exposed to a fearful situation that they cannot get away from, and that is why not being able to identify fearful beahviour is particularly dangerous. Younger children could require specific dog-behaviour-awareness training from preschool age in order to ensure that they are kept safe."

British Psychological Society