As adults with a little more experience of pet parenting, we know that not all pups want to be approached. While some dogs are nervous around those they don't know, others prefer to be left alone, period. However, while we know the signs to look out for, including trembling, a rigid body, flattened ears, and bared teeth, children simply don't have the capacity to understand such concepts.
A recent study conducted by British academics from Staffordshire University discovered that, while children could usually identify an aggressive dog, they were unsure when it came to nervous and frightened dogs – putting them at an increased risk of being bitten.
Sarah Rose, the study's co-author, revealed that children were confident in their decisions not to approach an obviously aggressive dog, but were as likely to attempt to play with a nervous dog as they were a happy one: "Young children are relatively good at accurately identifying the emotion that a dog is displaying. However, children's understanding of safety around dogs is lacking, as they only demonstrated caution about approaching angry dogs. They appeared to be unaware that there might be problems approaching frightened dogs. This finding should help inform dog bite prevention campaigns."
As a parent, it’s imperative that you teach your children how to behave around dogs, and explain the kinds of signs to look out for in angry, frightened, or excitable pets – regardless of whether you have a dog of your own or not. Advise your child never to approach a dog when you're out and about, regardless of how small or friendly they seem, and always seek approval from the pet parent before giving your little one the go-ahead to pet a dog. Pups have their off days just as humans do, so learn to recognize signs of distress, impatience, and anger in your own pets and those you come into contact with regularly. Such actions may prevent you or your child from being bitten in the future.
Check out our Dog Aggression 101 to find out more about the types of behavior that a dog may display, and our guide to dominant dogs to learn how to handle such a pet. Familiarizing yourself with canine behavior will ensure that your own children come to recognize, and respect, all types of four-legged friends.