The current study aimed to investigate the extent to which young children’s risk of being bitten by a dog is explained by their inability to recognize the dog’s emotion and to behave appropriately around dogs. One hundred and seventeen children, aged 4 to 7 years, were shown 15 images and 15 video clips of happy, angry, and frightened dogs. After each image or clip, questions were asked to assess children’s accuracy and confidence in recognizing the emotional state and their inclination to approach the dog. Results indicate that children were least accurate when presented with frightened dogs, with only just over half of 4- to 5-year-olds accurately recognizing them. Children were inclined to approach frightened and happy dogs, but not angry ones, and this was true regardless of whether they had correctly identified the emotion or not. Therefore, the results suggest that although some children struggle to recognize when a dog is frightened, the more concerning issue is their lack of understanding of how to behave appropriately around dogs, especially those that are frightened. Learning how to behave appropriately around dogs should be key in any dog bite prevention program aimed at young children.
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