While young children understand that they should not approach angry dogs, they do not realise they should be just as cautious around frightened dogs, a conference in Belfast has been told.
According to UK researchers, young children are at the highest risk of being bitten by a dog. They decided to assess whether this is because children are not able to recognise a dog's emotions accurately when approaching them.
The study involved two groups of children - 57 four and five year-olds and 61 six and seven year-olds. Both groups watched 15 videos and looked at 15 images showing the real life behaviour of dogs.
The videos were no longer than 11 seconds and the only sound the children heard was dogs barking.
The emotions being shown by the dogs were agreed upon by two vets and two laypeople.
The children were asked what emotion they thought the dogs were feeling, i.e. happy, angry or frightened. They were also asked questions about approaching the dogs, such as ‘would you play with this dog?'
The study found that children recognised when dogs were happy, angry or frightened.
However, while they said they were less likely to approach an angry dog, they were just as likely to approach a frightened dog as a happy dog.
"Young children are relatively good at accurately identifying the emotion that a dog is displaying. However, children's understanding of safety around dogs is lacking as they only demonstrated caution about approaching angry dogs.
"They appeared to be unaware that there might be problems approaching frightened dogs. This finding should help inform dog bite prevention campaigns," the researchers from Staffordshire University said.
Details of their findings were presented at the 2016 annual conference of the British Psychological Society's Developmental Psychology Section in Belfast.
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