How Well Can Children Interpret Dog Body Language?

153768-157384Researchers from the University of Lincoln and the University of Edinburgh have published a study on how well children and adults recognize the emotional expressions of dogs.

Studying 430 children between the ages of 4 and 10 and 120 young adults (mostly female college students), the researchers showed the subjects video clips of dogs and asked them to indicate whether the animals were “happy”, “sad”, “scared”, or “angry”.  The study concluded that the younger children (between ages 4 and 6) had trouble interpreting dog behavior, in part because the children reported only using one or two signals (such as the facial expression) to read the animals, while older children and adults watched more of the animal’s body language and did better.

Study subjects of all ages did best at interpreting aggressive and friendly behaviors, and were least effective at interpreting fearful behavior.  Fearful behaviors were most frequently misidentified as “happy” or “friendly” behaviors.  This stands out as a potential cause for unfortunate mishaps as the combination of misidentification of behavior and a tendency to misidentify behavior as more friendly than it is may encourage smaller children to approach dogs who are displaying fearful behaviors.

There are educational resources to get your child prepared for meeting and interacting with unfamiliar dogs, including:

The original article is available here.

Nelly N. Lakestani, Morag L. Donaldson and Natalie Waran, (2014). Interpretation of Dog Behavior by Children and Young Adults. Anthrozoos, (27), pp. 65-80.

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