A Study of Dog Bites and their Prevention
Lakestani, Nelly N
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Previous studies have suggested that children are more at risk of suffering from serious dog bite injuries than adults. In order to generate an overview of characteristics of dog bite victims in Europe, different organisations collecting data on injuries at a national level were contacted in a number of European countries. The incidence of child victims was found to be higher than that of adults. A study was undertaken, at European level, to investigate whether the reason why children are more at risk is due to their poor ability to interpret the behaviour of dogs and therefore to appropriately interact with them. Children aged 4 - 10 years old (n=430) and university students (mean age= 21.3 years, n=120) in Milan, Barcelona, and Edinburgh, were shown videos of dogs performing simple behaviours (friendliness, fear, aggression) and asked to interpret the state of dogs (happy, sad, scared, angry). The participants were also asked to describe which features of the dogs they were attending to in order to interpret the state of the dog. The ability to correctly interpret the state of dogs was found to increase with age. Moreover, older children and adults reported looking at the dog features necessary to make a correct judgement on the dog state more than younger children. There were no differences in the performances of the participants in the different countries. Two short questionnaires were created, one to evaluate children’s attitudes to dogs and another one for adults. These were distributed to the participants of the experiment described above. Pet owners had more positive attitudes to dogs independently of age and country. Surprisingly, victims of dog bites had a more positive attitude to dogs. Overall, and independently of the country, the participants had positive attitudes to dogs, suggesting that banning dogs may not be an appropriate solution to the problem of dog bites. A short educational intervention was created to teach young children how to interpret the state of dogs. The aim was to train children before they are most at risk of suffering dog bites in order to prevent accidents. The intervention was therefore aimed at educating 4 year old children because they were found to have the lowest ability to correctly interpret dog states and previous studies had suggested that children are most at risk of suffering from dog bites between the ages of 7 and 9 years old. The intervention was successful in increasing the children’s ability to interpret the state of dogs and to attend to the appropriate dog features in order to evaluate the state of the dog. These results suggest that prevention programmes aimed at preschool children may be an effective way to reduce dog bite accidents. Moreover, the same programme could be used in several European countries since children and adults in Italy, Scotland and Spain appear to have very similar attitudes to dogs.