Interpretation of dog behaviour by children and young adults

Nelly N. Lakestani, Morag Donaldson, Natalie Waran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigates people's ability to interpret dog behavior. Inability to interpret dog behavior correctly may be a factor contributing to young children's higher likelihood of being bitten by dogs. Children (4- to 10-year-olds) and adults (total n = 550) watched videos of dogs displaying friendly, aggressive, and fearful behavior. They were asked to interpret the dogs' behaviors and to describe which features they had attended to in making their decision. Four- and 6-year-old children were unable to identify fearful dogs, while participants in all age groups were capable of identifying friendly and aggressive behavior (p < 0.001). Misinterpretations of fearful behavior were significantly associated with reports of attending to the dog's face rather than other features (χ2 = 80.2, df = 1, p < 0.001). Four-year-olds were particularly likely to report looking at the dog's face and together with 6-year-olds they focused more on one feature rather than multiple features in order to make their decisions. The results show that younger children are less good at interpreting dog behavior, and that they are particularly poor at recognizing fear in dogs, while aggression is the most readily recognized behavior. Children's lower ability to interpret dog behavior seems to be due to the features they focus on. Younger children appear to focus on the dogs' most salient features and not the features that would allow them to correctly interpret the dogs' behavior. For example, 4- and 6-year-olds tended to report attending to the fearful dog's face rather than its tail and general posture. The results suggest it would be beneficial to include information about how to interpret dog behavior in dog-bite prevention programs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-80
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • Children
  • Dog
  • Dog-bite
  • Prevention
  • Emotion Recognition


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