Researchers at the University of Lincoln have launched a new study which aims to reduce the risks of children being bitten by dogs. Dr Kerstin Meints and Dr Nelly Lakestani, from Lincoln’s School of Psychology, are teaching children to interact safely with their dog. They want to recruit families with young children and pet dogs to take part in the research.
Participating families will be asked to use an educational and fun piece of software designed to teach children how to stay safe around dogs.
The Blue Dog CD was developed by an international team of experts to help parents and children under six years understand safe behaviours with dogs. It features a series of animated situations involving a dog and a child. The child can choose to see different situation outcomes, one of which is safe and one of which is not.
The software, which is available in more than a dozen languages, has already been shown to be effective at teaching basic safety principles in an evaluation by Dr Meints and Dr Tiny de Keuster, an internationally-recognised expert on dog bite prevention. Now the research team wants to assess how the interactive lessons are applied in practice in the family home.
To do this they are looking to recruit more than 200 dog-owning families from the East Midlands or East of England with at least one child aged between three and six.
Selected families will receive a free copy of the Blue Dog software on CD to use at home. Parents will be asked to complete a questionnaire and then film their child interacting with their pet dog at a few intervals over the course of a year. Children will only be asked to play with the CD game.
Dr Lakestani, a Research Fellow in the Lincoln School of Psychology, has been studying dog bite prevention for the past seven years.
She said: “The biggest problem is not the very serious injuries you hear about on the news. The biggest problem is children getting relatively minor bites from their pet dog at home. Most of these accidents happen because there is a misunderstanding between the dog and the child. Children under the age of six are most at risk of being bitten. That means we need to teach them early on about how to interact with dogs.”
The issue is not just one of child safety but also animal welfare. Pet dogs which bite children are often taken to animal sanctuaries, abandoned or even put down.
“Some accidents may be more difficult to prevent because they are due to the dog being ill or in pain. However, if people and children can learn how to interact safely with their pet, and how to understand what their pet is trying to communicate to them, then many accidents may be prevented,” added Dr Lakestani.
For more information on the study, or to express an interest in taking part in the study, please visit: www.lincoln.ac.uk/psychology/blue_dog.htm