1. The Blue Dog – does the programme teach children to behave safely with dogs?
2. The Blue Dog – does the programme work in real life?
3. Why do children get bitten in the face?
4. Why do children misinterpret snarls for smiles?
5. How does children’s looking behaviour differ for angry versus relaxed dog faces?
6. Who got bitten and why? Incidents and attitudes: A dog bite survey.
7. Ongoing research: How much exposure to The Blue Dog do children need ?
8. More research that mentions The Blue Dog Programme.

How to prevent dog bite injuries

Meints, K. & De Keuster, T. How to prevent dog bite injuries? The Blue Dog.

The team carried out an empirical assessment of children’s learning success using the interactive dog bite prevention CD “The Blue Dog”.

In a cross-sectional experimental design, ninety-six 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-year-old children saw 8 different child-dog-scenes with or without verbal feedback. In the initial exposure phase children chose an outcome after 4 seconds. The clip then continued for another 6 seconds. In the training phase scenes were shown again, but now children saw all outcomes, unsafe and safe. In the testing phase different cartoon actors and dogs were used for the same scenes, interspersed with eight distracter scenes. Children again chose the outcome.
Children were re-tested after two weeks. Half the children received additional parental input before the re-test. A repeated-measures ANOVA was carried out with age, verbal feedback and parental support as independent variables and the chosen outcomes in the test phases as dependent variable.

Results show significant increases in correct responses after using the CD in all children. Children retained this knowledge after two weeks. As expected, older children exhibit more correct responses than younger children. Children who received additional parental input performed better than others, with children under 6 years profiting most from parental input. Assessment results indicate that children learn successfully from the “Test yourself” module on the CD.

Conclusion:  the Blue Dog CD helps to educate children to behave safely with dogs and helps reduce dog bite incidents in children.

Link to paper

Research funded by FECAVA, ESVCE, Dogs Trust, Companion Animal Behaviour Therapy Study Group, The Wylie Veterinary Center, Groep Geneeskunde Gezelschapsdieren.  Funding: £ 20.137.

Longitudinal assesment Blue Dog

Meints, K., Lakestani, N & De Keuster, T. A Longitudinal Assessment of the Blue Dog Bite Prevention Programme.

After is has been shown that the “Test Yourself module” on the Blue Dog dog bite prevention DVD successfully teaches children about safe behaviour with dogs (Meints & De Keuster, 2009; Schwebel & Morrongiello, Davi, Stewart & Bell, 2012), we were interested to find out if also the more general, educational Blue Dog story modules on the DVD increase children’s knowledge about safe behaviour with dogs. We were further interested to see if children use the acquired knowledge and change their behaviour with their own dog.

We carried out an empirical assessment of children’s learning using the interactive “Blue Dog” DVD. In a longitudinal with cross-sectional experimental design, thirty-three 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children were initially tested on a laptop with a set of 15 different interactive and animated child-dog-scenes. They had to choose either a safe or an unsafe outcome of the interaction. In the training phase children were allowed to watch the Blue Dog stories which inform children about what dogs like or dislike.
Then, in the second testing phase on the same day, different cartoon actors and dogs were used for the same scenes as on the first testing occasion, interspersed with distracter scenes. Children again chose the outcome. Children were again tested after 8 weeks, 6 months and 1 year. Half of the children were allowed to take the DVD and parent booklet home, the other half only took the booklet home. A repeated-measures ANOVA was carried out with Age, Blue Dog group (DVD & booklet vs. booklet only) as independent variables and scores of the chosen outcomes in the test phases as dependent variable.

Results show significant increases in correct responses after using the CD in all children. Children retained this knowledge in all testing phases with the exception of the youngest children in the condition without the DVD – younger children profit more from being able to use the DVD. As expected, older children exhibit significantly more correct responses than younger children. Assessment results indicate that children learn successfully from the Blue Dog educational stories module on the CD. Therefore, the CD helps to educate children to behave safely with dogs. First inspection of the accompanying parental questionnaires after the 8 week time point revealed that by this stage 38% of children interacted more safely with their own dog and 50% of children acted more safely with dogs in general. Also, 74% of parents found the booklet useful to teach their children safe behaviour with dogs.
Thus, we have further evidence that the Blue Dog programme helps to educates children to behave safely with dogs and can aid in dog bite prevention.

Research was funded by University of Lincoln.


Schwebel, D.C., Morrongiello, B.A., Davis, A.L., Stewart, J. & Bell, M. The Blue Dog: evaluation of an interactive software program to teach young children how to interact safely with dogs.

The authors also evaluated The Blue Dog, in a pre-post-randomized design. They tested 76 children aged 3.5-6 years on 3 different tasks to evaluate dog safety pre- and post intervention: (a) pictures (recognition of safe/risky behavior), (b) dollhouse (recall of safe behavior via simulated dollhouse scenarios), and (c) live dog (actual behavior with unfamiliar live dog). Following preintervention evaluation, children were randomly assigned to dog or fire safety conditions, each involving 3 weeks of home computer software use.

They found that children using Blue Dog had greater change in recognition of risky dog situations than children learning fire safety. No between-group differences emerged in recall (dollhouse) or engagement (live-dog) in risky behavior. Families enjoyed using the software.

Link to article

Why do children get bitten in the face

Meints, K., Syrnyk, C. & De Keuster, T. Why do children get bitten in the face?

The majority of dog bite accidents happen at home and involve children under the age of 7 (Kahn et al. 2003) and a familiar dog. The prevalence of bites in children is double as in the general population (Kahn et al. 2004) and often children suffer from dog bites resulting in facial injuries (Bernardo et al 2002, Kahn et al.2003; Schalamon et al 2006 ). 55% children suffer post-traumatic stress disorder following a substantial bite (Peters et al. 2004). According to research these bites are independent of the size of the dog (Kahn et al 2003), therefore it is unclear why young children get bitten mainly in the face and neck area.

As often children’s behaviour triggers bite injuries, we studied children’s physical distance to an object and the role of smell and mobility of an object on children’s facial proximity (leaning in) behaviour. We tested this with novel objects and toy animals in children from 2-6 years A total of 24 2-year-olds (7 females and 17 males), 24 3-year-olds (16 females and 8 males), 24 4-year-olds (15 females and 9 males), 24 5-year-olds (12 females and 12 males) and 24 6-year-olds (13 females and 11 males) participated in the item exploration study.
Children showed significant effects of intrusive facial proximity especially with moving items (e.g. animates/ toy animals) or novel items. Children at 2 and 3 years showed significantly more proximity behaviours than 4-, 5- and 6-year-old children. In addition, we also gathered first evidence that children show clear leaning in behaviour with small animals.Thus, we can now make parents aware of younger children’s intrusive inspection behaviour, integrate this knowledge in prevention message.

Link: to article

Research funded by Blue Dog Trust. £ 6000 and Waltham Trust $ 15.000.

Is the dog smiling

Meints, K, Racca, A. & Hickey, N. Is the dog smiling? Children from 4-7 years misinterpret dogs’ facial expressions.

Almost half of school children reported that they were bitten by a dog (Beck & Jones,1985; Spiegel, 2000) and in other research, 20% of dog-owning parents reported their child bitten (Wilson, Dwyer and Bennett, 2003, see also Lakestani, Donaldson, Verga & Waran, 2006). Child-initiated interactions with the dog trigger up to 86 % of injuries at home. Recently, it was found that young children do not discriminate a dog’s body signals, but look mainly at the dog’s face (Lakestani, et al., 2006). While there has been anecdotal evidence that children mistake an angry, teeth-baring dog face for a smiling one, there is to date no systematic empirical evidence on the misinterpretation of dogs’ facial expressions.
We tested 4-, 5-, 6- and 7-year-old children and adults on neutral, aggressive and friendly human and dog facial expressions.

Results show that while adults make hardly any mistakes (less than 1%) on both stimulus types (dog and human faces), the majority of 4-, 5,- 6 and even 7-year-olds make mistakes interpreting dogs’ facial expressions. For example, of the 4-year-olds 67% make mistakes interpreting angry dogs’ faces. Looking only at the angry dog faces, 40% of children misinterpret these and 30% misunderstand aggressive dog faces as “happy”. Five-year-olds show 35%, 6-year-olds 25% and 7-year-olds 16% mistakes while specific mistakes to interpret aggressive dog faces as smiling and “happy” occur at 7% in 7-year-olds. In contrast, children presented significantly better performances regarding human faces, often exceeding 90% of correct responses.
These results indicate a severe lack in interpretation abilities in children of facial expressions of dogs which could contribute to the high incidence of dog bites, especially in younger children. Given this result, we can advise children and parents to prevent injuries and inform dog bite prevention programmes to help prevent further dog bite incidents.

Link to articlemore research on children and dogs

Research funded by University of Lincoln and Blue Dog Trust.

Looking behaviour angry relaxed

Meints, K., Brelsford, V. & De Keuster, T. Teaching children and their parents dogs’ body language.

When trying to enable safe interaction between children and dogs, it is vital that children are able to interpret the animal’s signalling correctly to avoid injury and distress. However, it has been shown that children and adults often do not understand dogs’ body signalling (Reisner & Shofer  2008). Without tuition, children look mainly at the dog’s face. In addition, children often confuse a fearful or angry dog with a friendly one (Meints, Racca & Hickey, 2010). With bite figures from interview data as high as 47% (Beck & Jones, 1985; Spiegel, 2000), and with recent National Health Service statistics in the UK showing a 40% increase in dog bite figures (NHS, 2008), we are addressing a serious and wide-spread – but largely avoidable – problem.

This study investigates how 4- and 5-year-old children interpret dogs’ stress signaling. We tested 22 4-year-olds and 24 5-year-olds showing them videos of dogs according to the escalation steps of appeasement signaling (Shepherd, 2002). We investigated children’s evaluations of dogs in various situations and degrees of being distressed (e.g. licking nose, turning away, growling) or relaxed. Using a 5-point scale with faces which ranged from happy (1) via neutral to unhappy (5), we asked children to tell us which expression suited the dog’s feelings best. For stimuli that showed more aggressive dogs (e.g. growling), we showed all those videos to parents first and asked their written permission to show the stimuli to their children. Children enjoyed taking part. If children made mistakes, e.g. with misinterpreting angry dogs as happy or smiling and approachable, we included an extra session with them after testing to explain the meaning of the dog’s behaviour in more detail and in child-friendly terms using the same videos.

First analysis shows a main effect for video type (F(3.102)=29.45; p<0001). Children cannot discriminate between medium and low risk groups. Significantly lower scores were found for videos of friendly dogs – this shows that children interpreted these stimuli correctly. While scores for the high risk group are higher than for the other groups, overall, these scores are still lower (average of 3.2) than expected, possibly due to 81% of children scoring some of the dog videos as “very happy” (1). The reason for the overall low scores in the high risk condition may lie in the fact that children often chose “very happy” when dogs exposed their teeth. Furthermore, we also compared a group of children on a subset of the high risk group (i.e. growling and snarling dogs) by showing them the video stimuli with and without sound to investigate if audible sound increases children’s correct answers. While there were no age group differences, there was a significant increase in scores when stimuli were shown with sound, raising their mean scores to 3.8 (F(1.34)=19.48; p<0001)).

This research highlights the need to teach children to recognise and interpret dogs’ stress signalling appropriately to avoid future injury. Further implications will be discussed.

Research funded by NIH. 2-year-project grant. “Teaching children and parents dog signalling”. $ 99.824, May 2012 – April 2014.

Who got bitten and why

Meints, K. et al. Who got bitten and why? Incidents and attitudes: A dog bite survey.

400 students at the University of Lincoln, UK, filled out a survey on dog bite incidents and on their attitudes to dogs as well as on their interpretation of behaviours of dogs.

Results to follow soon.

Exposure to blue dog

Meints, K., et al. How much exposure to Blue Dog do children need to learn?

Groups of children from 3-6 years of age have been tested using differing amounts of exposure to a Blue Dog Safety Training programme (as in Meints, Lakestani and De Keuster, in prep.), ranging from exposure and test session on the same day to one day, two days, one week and 2 weeks delay between exposure and test session.

Results to follow soon.

Research to follow soon.