FAQ on kids and dogs

Why do young children get bitten in the face more frequently?
What is the most common age of children who get bitten?
What is the most dangerous dog?
Are there any warning signs to indicate when a dog is likely to snap?
Is a dog a safe pet?
Can you tell what a dog is feeling by looking at its facial expression?
Will my pet dog bite?
I know my dog will never bite – why should I do this Blue Dog programme?
Where can I get a copy of the Blue Dog Cd and Parentguide?
If a dog has bitten once, is it more likely to do it again?
Can I take my dog to socialisation and training classes instead of using the Blue Dog CD?
Which dogs make the best family pets?
What should I do before I get a dog – what things should the family consider?
Is it safe to get a rescue dog?
How can I find a reputable dog breeder?
Are there any other resources available other than the CD?
Why is the dog blue?
How do I know if the Blue Dog is a good product?
This doesn’t answer any of my questions, what should I do next?
Where can I get more information?

Why do young children get bitten in the face more frequently?

It is true that young children are more likely to be bitten within their own homes by a familiar dog and tend to suffer more bite injuries to the head and neck. This is irrespective of the size or breed of the dog inflicting the bite.

Research has shown that young children explore new objects (especially those that move) with their face. Children also get most clues about the dog’s mood from its facial expression rather than body posture (hence the body shape of the Blue Dog) and so it seems reasonable that they are drawn towards the dog’s face during their exploration. Recent studies have indicated that young children can misinterpret a snarling dog as if it were smiling. All these factors probably contribute to the higher incidence of facial bites in young children.

A smaller proportion of bites occur in public places by an unfamiliar dog. Injuries to the limbs are more common in this case and older children are more commonly affected.
Find out more about the research projects mentioned above as well as many more in the Research / Abstracts section of the website.

What is the most common age of children who get bitten?

Statistics indicate that the majority of bites (approx 75%) occur in children within their own home by a dog that is familiar to them. Within this group, the commonest age range of the child is 3 – 7 years of age (mean 5yo).
A smaller proportion of bites occur in public places by an unfamiliar dog. Injuries to the limbs are more common in this case and the children tend to be older (mean 10yo).

What is the most dangerous dog?

There is no evidence that any one breed or type of dog is more or less likely to bite. All dogs have the potential to bite, and indeed this is part of the dog’s normal behavioural repertoire. The ladder of aggression indicates a range of behaviours a dog might exhibit if stressed – biting may occur if the more benign efforts do not resolve the stressful situation.

Unfortunately media attention following some bite incidents focuses on a number of breeds and re-enforces the erroneous concept of “dangerous breeds”. This has led to the development of breed specific legislation in many parts of the world, which invariably has been shown to be ineffective, impossible to adequately enforce and has resulted to significant welfare problems for the dogs.

There is a major problem in the UK at the moment with “status breeds” where certain types (eg Staffordshire Bull Terriers) are kept to enhance the owner’s image. This is a serious social problem with welfare implications to the dogs concerned – it is not, however, the most significant source of bites in children – this remains the family pet within the home.

Are there any warning signs to indicate when a dog is likely to snap?

It is generally in a dog’s interest to resolve conflicts without fighting, as this reduces the risk of injury to them. The ladder of aggression indicates a range of behaviours a dog might exhibit if stressed. If the stress is not resolved, the level of arousal is increased and the behaviours exhibited go up to the next level of the ladder. So if a dog is already showing behaviours consistent with the higher rungs of the ladder as a response to stress (eg growling, vocalisation), then biting may be the next response.

There may be individual variations in the responses to stress of different dogs, so it is important to interpret the concept of the ladder of aggression in the context of knowledge of your own dog’s behaviour.

Is a dog a safe pet?

The quick answer is yes – indeed there are many benefits to human health and child development of having a dog within the family.

However, as with most things in life, these benefits have to be balanced by risks. There are diseases that can transmitted from animals to humans, and these are called zoonoses. In the case of dogs this involves worms and some skin parasites, as well as diseases such as rabies. There is also the risk of physical injury  from dog bites.

In the case of diseases, an understanding of how the diseases are transmitted, regular and effective worming and reasonable personal hygiene (hand washing etc) will reduce the risk to very low levels.

In the case of bites, recognition that bites occur in the home and are more often associated with recognised risk situations will help reduce the risk of bites by teaching children (and parents) to recognise these and so modify their behaviour.  The Blue Dog CD has been specifically designed as an educational tool to facilitate this.

Can you tell what a dog is feeling by looking at its facial expression?

It is likely that a dog’s mood is reflected in its facial expression, and some behaviours are discussed within the ladder of aggression. However, there is a lot of individual variation and this is further complicated by the wide range of facial shapes within dog breeds (consider the facial folds of the Sharpei, the flat face of the Bulldog and the long snout of the Rough Collie), and the fact that long coats may mask facial expessions.

It is known that many owners mis-interpret the signs and postures shown by their own dogs. Further to this, recent studies have also indicated that young children (as many as 70% of 3yo), when shown the picture of a snarling dog, misinterpret it as if it were smiling. Relying on the interpretation of the dog’s expression alone to avoid bite injuries is therefore very dangerous.

Will my pet dog bite?

Hopefully not! But the reality is that all dogs have the potential to bite and this is a normal response to stressful situations if more benign actions have not resolved the situation.

A study in the USA looked at factors related to the dogs involved in bite incidents in children. A significant proportion had been neutered and many had attended dog training classes. So many of these dogs were from “normal” homes where the family had taken responsible actions to make life “safer”. The bites were triggered by the child acting in a particular way in a situation when the risk was particularly high. To find out more about risk situations click on the link.

A dog’s level of arousal, and hence response to stress, may be influenced by other factors such as pain.  If a dog is sick or injured, or has recently had a surgical operation, the associated pain or discomfort may increase the risk of an aggressive response to interactions. This seems reasonable and your veterinarian will usually supply pain killers to reduce this effect. However, children must learn to have empathy with their dog in these situations.

I know my dog will never bite – why should I do this Blue Dog programme?

This is a common myth. All dogs have the potential to bite if an inappropriate interaction is made during a risk situation. There is no evidence that one particular breed is more or less likely to bite than any other. Neutering or dog training has not been shown to significantly influence the incidence of bites.

The fact that the dog may behave well for 99% of the time perhaps helps to reduce the perceived need to modify your child’s own behaviour. However, one study indicated that in 86% of cases the dog-child interaction that triggered the bite was initiated by the child. Any measure that can help modify the behaviour of the child therefore has the potential to significantly reduce the risk of bites to children. This applies to all families with dogs. One only has to consider the consequences of a single bite! – So all families have potentially something to gain from the Blue Dog.

Where can I get a copy of the Blue Dog CD and Parent guide ?

If a dog has bitten once, is it more likely to do it again?

Not necessarily as the bite was a response to a particular interaction in the context of a particular risk situation.
However, if one considers the ladder of aggression the dog will learn what responses are successful in resolving stressful situations. If the range of more benign behaviours are consistently ignored, and biting proved to be successful (from the dog’s point of view) further biting will be encouraged.

Can I take my dog to socialisation and training classes instead of using the Blue Dog CD?

It is certainly recommended that you take your dog to socialisation and training classes. It is important these are run by an approved trainer using positive re-enforcement methods as inappropriate training methods may in fact encourage aggression so increase the risks of bites.

Puppy socialisation and obedience training are both valuable ways to influence the behaviour of the dog and so help them integrate into your family. However, they will not totally prevent the risk of bites. One study indicated that in 86% of cases the dog-child interaction that triggered the bite was initiated by the child. So the need to modify child behaviour remains and any measure that can achieve this has the potential to significantly reduce the risk of bites to children.

So you should take your dog to socialisation and obedience training classes but also use the Blue Dog CD to educate your child!

Which dogs make the best family pets?

Having a dog in the family is a two way relationship in which all family members and the dog should benefit. All types of dog can potentially make a good family pet. However, different types of dogs have varied requirements in terms of exercise, space, feeding etc and so it is best to select one that best matches your family expectations. Follow the link for information to help you choose wisely.

Socialisation and obedience training are very important to modify the behaviour of the dog. It is essential to use the correct techniques, and expert guidance from an approved behaviourist or trainer is essential.
The behaviour of the dog is not the only consideration, however. To live in harmony the parents and children must also behave in a consistent and appropriate way. The Blue Dog programme helps parents and children identify situations in which the dog may feel stressed or threatened and so might respond to interactions in an unexpected way.

What should I do before I get a dog – what things should the family consider?

This is a good question – for a dog to make a good family pet, its particular requirements must be matched by the life-style and expectations of the family. So the more you can find out before you get the dog, the more likely you will make a wise choice.
Questions like: How much exercise will the dog need? How much will it eat? What is the cost of routine health care procedures? Is it too big to handle if sick or injured? Etc are all very important and are considered in the what your dog needs section.

Is it safe to get a rescue dog?

Generally yes. Dogs end up in rescue centres for many different reasons. The quality and philosophy of the rescue centres themselves may also vary.
We are fortunate in the UK in having a number of good quality organisations with well run re-homing centres. It is important for them to match a dog to the appropriate family so that the adoption process is successful in the long term – failure to do this may result in further abandonment which will achieve nothing. To facilitate this you may be asked many questions about your own life style – this may seem an intrusion initially but is very important to ensure the right choice is made.

How can I find a reputable dog breeder?

The majority of breeders are responsible. They care about their dogs and the puppies they produce and want them to find the right homes. A reputable breeder would ensure the good health of puppies by providing appropriate balanced nutrition, worming and vaccination, etc in addition to considering socialisation from an early age.  In some breeds, potential breeding stock is selected as a result of screening programmes for genetic diseases. The UK Kennel Club keeps a register of responsible breeders .
Your veterinarian may keep a list of local recommended breeders.
Unfortunately, not all breeders are responsible. Dogs from “puppy farms” have often been reared in sub-optimum conditions which often results in poor health and socialisation. Genetic disease surveillance is rare in these cases.

Are there any other resources available other than the Blue Dog CD?

Yes. The Blue Dog CD was the first resource that was developed. However, as the programme has evolved, more resources have been developed to help different target groups and are available as downloads from the website. The target groups include:

  • Parents
  • Children
  • School teachers
  • Veterinary and medical health professionals
  • Research workers

Why is the dog blue?

Blue was chosen because blue dogs do not exist – so it is an abstract concept. It was considered important that children did not consider the risk situations confined to “black dogs” or “white dogs”.
There are some other interesting features about the design of the blue dog character. Children get most of the clues about the dog’s mood from the face rather than body posture. Hence Blue has a large face with a small body and short tail. Also, although he may be happy, the teeth are always visible – conveying the message that there is always the potential to bite.

How do I know if the Blue Dog CD is a good product?

The Blue Dog programme has been developed by a team of professionals from multi-disciplines (including veterinarians, dog behaviourists, paediatricians, child psychologists, teachers, artists, accident prevention professionals, and website and communication professionals). It is administered by the Blue Dog Trust which is a registered non-profit organisation.

The Blue Dog has been endorsed by recognised experts in the field of dog behaviour throughout Europe and the USA. There is no commercial gain to be made from promoting the programme.

The efficacy of the programme as a teaching tool was assessed by testing a selection of the Blue Dog scenes using children of the target age groups at the Child Psychology Unit, University of Lincoln. Research to test if the use of the programme will reduce the incidence of bites is on-going.

This doesn’t answer any of my questions, what should I do next?

If you have any further questions please contact the BLUE DOG TRUST on bluedog.admin@tiscali.co.uk or go to the interactive section of the website. The answer to your question may be of value to others and so may be added to this FAQs section.

Where can I get more information?

If you want further information or have any questions please contact the BLUE DOG TRUST on bluedog.admin@tiscali.co.uk or go to the interactive section of the website.

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