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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-26-2014, 08:19 AM Thread Starter
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How Well Can Children Interpret a Dog's Emotional State?

Young children have difficulty identifying certain emotions in dogs.
Published on June 26, 2014 by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C. in Canine Corner

I went to a local street fair and was chatting with a friend when a woman walked by with a Basenji on leash. The dog was clearly stressed, probably due to the crowd and the noise, and its emotional state was obvious since its ears were down, its body posture was cringing and low, and it was rapidly panting. My friend's five-year-old daughter, Ella, spotted the dog and began to run in its direction with her hand out to pet it. I stepped between the child and the dog and scooped Ella up and told her "You have to ask Mommy first before you pet a strange dog." By that time the Basenji and its owner had moved on. My real concern in this case was that fear is a motivating factor that often results in dog bites and these frequently target kids. According to one study 56% of all dog bite victims are children below the age of 10. This is five times higher than we would expect since children of this age account for only around 11% of the population. This has led some scientists to believe that one problem might be that children cannot read the emotional state of dogs as well as adults do. Some new data seems to confirm that this is the case for certain canine emotions.

In a recent publication in the journal Anthrozoos*, researchers from the University of Lincoln and the University of Edinburgh explored how well children and adults recognize the emotional expressions of dogs. They used a sample 430 children ranging in age from 4 to 10 years, and 120 young adults (university students with an average age of 21 years — mostly women).

To provide a realistic bit of behavior demonstrating a dog's emotions the researchers used video clips. These provided both motion and sound from a 5 to 11 second sample of dog behavior. The video clips used in testing had been unanimously rated as depicting one or another canine emotional state by three professional pet dog counselors and four veterinary behaviorists. In the end there were three video clips each of friendly behavior, aggressive behavior, of fearful behavior.

At the start of each test session with the children, the researcher showed them four cartoon-style drawings depicting happy, sad, scared, and angry human facial expressions and the kids were asked what they thought they meant. This was done to check that the emotions were recognized correctly. The researcher then showed the children each of the nine video clips in turn and asked “How is this dog feeling?” Each person could choose between "happy", "sad", "scared", "angry", or "I don't know". The cartoon drawings were used as props to make the task more accessible for the children, and the 4- and 6-yearolds were allowed to indicate their response by pointing to a drawing if they were too shy to respond verbally. After the children had judged how the dog was feeling, they were asked: “How do you know it’s feeling that way?”

Age played a big role in the accuracy of the judgments of emotional state. Although the adults scored very well (87% correct) the children scored less and less well as their age diminished. The 10-year-old children had a 73% accuracy score, eight-year-olds 65%, six-year-olds 58%, and four-year-olds only 46%. For all age groups the highest correct recognition scores were for aggressive behavior while the poorest performance was for fearful behavior. When it comes to correctly recognizing aggressive and friendly behaviors all age groups were better than chance. However for the four and six-year-olds their recognition ability for fearful behavior was abysmal. Only 20% of the fearful behaviors were correctly recognized by four-year-olds and 30% by six-year-olds. One worrisome aspect of this is that the fearful behaviors were most frequently misidentified as being happy or friendly behaviors.

The data was also coded to find out which aspects of dog behavior were being relied upon during the judgments. Specifically whether the child or adult was paying attention to the dog's face, how it moved or held its body, its tail, or the sounds that it was making. Most of the correct judgments of aggression (89%) came from individuals who were paying attention to the sounds (growls and barks) and the highest number of errors when looking at aggressive behavior (44%) came from those who were watching the dog's tail. When it comes to accurately perceiving fearful behavior, watching the face seems to be the poorest choice since 41% of the people who reported attending to the face failed to correctly recognize fearful behavior as opposed to only 15% of face watchers who got it right. This seems to be part of the problem for the youngest children since 54% of them report paying attention only to the face.

One of the reasons why the adults seem to do better overall appears to be that they are paying attention to more features of the dog's behavior, while the young kids focus on one or maybe two aspects of what the dog is doing or sounding like, and nothing more.

The fact that the four and six-year-old children do most poorly at recognizing fearful emotional states in dogs may help to explain why the dog bite rate is so high in their age groups. A fearful dog may become aggressive and bite if it feels threatened. That fear motivated bite will be initiated without any growl or bark. Since the kids are dependent upon the sounds the dog might make to accurately identify aggressive behavior, that fear motivated bite will occur unexpectedly and from the child's point of view without any warning.

These new data do confirm the hypothesis that young children do not interpret canine emotions as well as adults. Although young kids might have acceptable rates for correctly recognizing aggressive and friendly behaviors they are not very good at recognizing fear. What is worse is that when children failed to correctly identify fearful behavior they tend to judge the dog's behavior as being happy and friendly. This result seems to have implications for dog bite prevention programs designed for kids. Greater emphasis should be put on recognizing fearful behavior and also on checking out more than just facial signals. Perhaps teaching children to pay attention to body posture and movement could give higher accurate recognition rates and thus reduce dog bite rates in kids.

How Well Can Children Interpret a Dog's Emotional State? | Psychology Today

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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-26-2014, 11:09 AM
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Lots of adults need the same training work.
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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-26-2014, 01:30 PM
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I don't find that surprising at all, and I agree that many adults are also not skilled in body language. I wish children were taught dog safety in schools (and earlier, by parents). Dr. Sophia Yin has a LOT of great resources on her website for teaching kids how to read and interact with dogs safely.


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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-26-2014, 01:38 PM
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The tidbit I got out of it was that kids had real difficulty recognizing fear, which is probably the time when they are most at risk for being bitten anyway.
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-28-2014, 04:44 AM
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with a breed like the doberman pinscher or any other potentially aggressive dog

e.g. pit bull terriers, the animal should be "socialized" at a young age (between 3-12 weeks). That means it should have attended professionally organized puppy socialization training where it is exposed and desensitized to various experiences that would otherwise cause fear and, possibly, aggression later in life. Children are actually a big part of this socialization process. Children behave much differently than adults. Potentially dangerous dogs need to be exposed to children and their different behaviors at an early age. I'm utterly convinced that most of the horror stories we hear about large dogs attacking children involved dogs that never experienced puppy socialization. I think a lot of the problems associated with rescue dogs are, ultimately, related to this lack of socialization as well. This can be further boiled down to ignorant dog owners of course.
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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-28-2014, 11:38 AM
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Whoa, whoa, whoa. ANY dog can be potentially aggressive. ANY dog, when pushed over threshold or afraid, can bite.

Let's not single out 'potentially dangerous breeds.' A former coworker of mine required cosmetic surgery after she was bitten on the face as a child by the neighbor's golden retriever. And that's not the only bite from one of the 'friendly' breeds. Dogs are dogs, and if you push them too far, or if they're fearful and uncomfortable like the basenji in the article, they can bite.

All dogs need to be trained and socialized, and all people need to know how to read dog signals. Children need to be taught to ask first before petting- they're kids, they don't know how to behave around animals until someone teaches them.

It also goes back to breeding. Selecting dogs with solid temperaments and from health parents is just as important as training and socialization.

And lastly, responsibility. Dog owners need to read their dog's signals and remove them from situations where the dog is stressed or fearful. Or not put that dog in a situation where it might bite in the first place. Puppy doesn't need to go to crowded events full of people if it's going to make the dog nervous. Parents need to teach kids to ask before approaching and petting. Anyone raising or training a dog needs to train and socialize their dog.

A golden retriever has enough force in its bite to break bones. So does a Doberman. Singling out breeds isn't the solution to preventing dog bites. Any dog can be potentially dangerous if it isn't trained and socialized. Or managed, in the case of dogs with aggression problems. That wasn't the retriever's first bite. The fault lies with the owners, who failed to manage their dog and insisted he'd "be okay" with being petted.

The problem with larger dogs is that they can do more damage. If it had been a miniature poodle doing the biting, my coworker probably wouldn't have needed surgery. There's still emotial trauma for kids though (and adults) when they're bitten by a dog, no matter what size dog it is. Again, it's the owner's responsibility to manage their dog. Some folks really shouldn't have dogs. And we need to be more honest about dogs given up for adoption with bite histories. It sucks, but not all dogs can (or should be) saved.

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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-28-2014, 11:50 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by River View Post
Dog owners need to read their dog's signals and remove them from situations where the dog is stressed or fearful
This is the crucial bit in your post...which I agree 100%

Every dog owner should be able to read their dog and act before situation arises and the dog gets blamed...

Given the chance, any dog could bite when stressed, scared or provoked.

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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-28-2014, 11:52 AM
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That's so much true. When we meet kids we always keep dogs on a very short leash.
Kids reaction is always unpredictable and may trigger a response from our dogs.

Many parents don't understand that jumping and screaming kid quickly approaching a dog may trigger a protective dog behaviour. I would not call it aggression.


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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-28-2014, 06:37 PM
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Quote:
A former coworker of mine required cosmetic surgery after she was bitten on the face as a child by the neighbor's golden retriever.
yeah, I can't even count the number of times I have read about a golden retriever killing someone. just kidding. I have never read about a golden retriever killing someone because a golden retriever is genetically programmed to fetch pheasants and grouse and such. Yes, they should obviously have the benefit of socialization just like any other dogs but the need for socialization is absolutely imperative in any of the breeds that are genetically programmed to protect. You say it all goes back to breeding but I say it has a lot more to do with clueless pet owners who give the rest of us a bad reputation.
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 06-28-2014, 07:18 PM
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Never read about a Golden killing its owner or seriously injuring someone? Here's 2 minutes on google for ya. Oh wait, they're 'genetically programmed' to fetch grouse. Well, maybe the Golden that attacked my coworker thought her face was a grouse when he ripped part of it off. She was sitting next to him, patting his shoulder, when he tried to fetch her face. Yes, that must be it.

Golden Retriever/Lab kills 2 month old baby

Golden Retriever and Australian Shepherd euthanized after killing owner.

Golden retriever mauls owner to death. Now this owner reportedly abused the retriever, it turned on him, and killed him. I've got no patience with people who abuse their dogs, and a dog the size of a retriever is big enough to protect itself if it feels the need.

Golden Retriever attacks and seriously injures a woman.

Labrador mauls 3 year old boy.

Golden retrievers (and Labs) have been in the top 5 most popular dog breeds in the U.S. for several years running. That kind of popularity is never a good thing for any breed. You can bet that results in temperament problems because of careless breeding. Even as far back as 2009, people were commenting on the increase in bites from Goldens.

You're deluding yourself that any large breed of dog is somehow incapable of maiming or killing a person.

And you've never read about a Golden killing someone, either because you've fallen for the perfect Golden syndrome, or because Goldens don't make national news when they maim or kill a person. Pit bulls do, because that sells papers. And pit bulls are also a group of dogs that are being carelessly bred and poorly trained, and as a result, are showing up in a disproportinate number of dog bites. They are not dogs for inexperienced owners so yes, I do agree that owner carelessness plays a part.

It's the breeder's responsibility to breed dogs with good nerves and good temperaments. It's the owner's responsibility to socialize and train a dog properly. And if said dog is intolerant or aggressive to other people, pets, or children, it's the owner's responsibility to manage that dog so that bites do not happen. Or if the dog is that unpredictable, seriously injures someone, or can't be fixed, to take the dog to the vet and humanely euthanize it.

Dog bites aren't just the result of one factor. It's a combination of genetics and how they're trained. It's also a combination of influences on the dog- was it being threatened, abused, cornered, in pain, protecting the owner, pushed beyond threshold and given no option to flee from the situation? And the responsibility of the owner in how they manage the dog plays a part too. Claiming that it's all in how they're raised is a huge disservice to dogs.

Shoot, by saying that "Goldens are genetically programmed to fetch grouse, and that's why they never kill anyone"... you're agreeing that genetics play a part in a dog's actions. Which they do. Some breeds are more protective, are more prone to guarding behavior. That's genetic. Some of the hunting/sporting/retriever breeds are genetically prone to fetching and have a reputation of being friendlier. But they're overbred, or parents are bred with weak nerves and temperaments because of the huge demand for puppies, and because temperament doesn't matter, they're genetically automaticaly friendly! It's a Golden Retriever, after all. As a result, you get aggressive or weak-tempered retrievers, because of how they've been bred. That's also genetic.

And I did not say 'it all goes back to breeding." I said "it also goes back to breeding", something entirely different- breeding is one factor, an important one, in producing dogs with good temperaments. Genetics count. So does how the owner trains and handles their dog. If you take the combination of a poorly bred dog with a bad temperament, and put it in the hands of a clueless owner who thinks the dog will be automatically friendly to everyone because their precious fluffykins wouldn't hurt a fly, then you have a recipe for a dog bite. I've heard that reasoning from a Lab owner whose dog attacked me, I've read it from pit bull owners in the media, I've listened to a GSD owner in the class I took Logan to (the one for aggressive dogs) say it.

Learn how to read your dog's signals, quit breeding ill-tempered genetic BYB hot messes, and take some responsibility for your dog. That might just bring the dog bites and fatalities down.

Last edited by River; 06-28-2014 at 07:27 PM. Reason: Spelling
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