The Blue Dog Project: Preventing Dog Bites in Children
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Lincoln
Unit of AssessmentPsychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Summary of the impact
We have carried out research into children's perception and behaviour
around dogs, which has led to the development of an effective safety
training programme, as well as improving public understanding of child-dog
interactions and risk contexts for dog bite injury in children. The `Blue
Dog' (BD — www.thebluedog.org)
project has led to changed educational and veterinary practice, public
policy change and animal welfare benefits internationally. A key part of
the project was the development and validation of an interactive DVD, with
training tools that teach children how to be safe around dogs. The results
of the research were integrated into the injury prevention messages
disseminated by the BD project. The research programme has received
publicity worldwide, and over 80,000 copies of the BD DVD have been
distributed to 21 different countries, with the accompanying BD booklet
translated into 17 different languages. The research was carried out from
2005 onwards, with the impact of the research accruing from 2008 to date.
The research programme aimed to understand what aspects of children's
behaviour and perception make them vulnerable to dog bites, and assessed
whether effective dog bite prevention tools could be used to reduce risk
of dog bites, leading to the development and evaluation of the Blue Dog
DVD. Key staff involved in the research were: Professor Kerstin Meints
(KM), project leader and director of the Lincoln Baby Lab; research
assistants Sophie Hall, Charlotte Hall, Corinne Syrnyk, and Victoria
Brelsford, and research fellow Nelly Lakestani; Tiny De Keuster, Visiting
Research Fellow at the University of Lincoln, veterinarian, and, since
2012, part-time Professor of Veterinary Science at the University of
Ghent, acted as consultant.
The research had 4 main components:
- investigating intrusive `leaning in' behaviour as a contribution to
facial dog bites in young children;
- the misinterpretation of dogs' facial expressions by children;
- the design and empirical evaluation of a dog bite prevention tool for
children under 7;
- assessing and teaching children and parents understanding of dogs'
We were the first to report children's intrusive leaning-in behaviour
as a potential trigger for dog bites. We used video-monitoring under
controlled experimental conditions to test if children aged 3 to 5 show
more leaning-in with animate, inanimate, novel, familiar, moving or static
objects of different smells, presented at different heights. Children were
found to show significantly more intrusive leaning-in behaviour with
moving or novel stimuli1. We concluded that parents need to be
aware of children's tendency to intrusively lean-in to animate/novel
stimuli, including dogs. The research was funded by a grant from the
Waltham Foundation (external peer-reviewed grant of £7,533, 2008-2009,
awarded to KM).
A further series of studies examined how children read human and
canine faces of different emotional expression2,3. We
showed children aged 3 to 7 years images of happy, neutral and angry human
and dog faces, and asked them to name the emotion portrayed in the picture
(supported by a University of Lincoln internal research award to KM,
2009-2010). Children were found to misinterpret angry dog faces, with 69%
of 4 year-olds interpreting aggressive dog faces as `smiling' and `happy'3.
It was concluded that parents and dog owners need to be aware of
children's tendency to misinterpret dogs' emotions, and that children
would benefit from training to correctly identify dog emotional signals.
Most recently, we have assessed children and parents ability to
read dogs' emotions from dynamic images. This research is funded by the US
National Institute of Child Health (2 year peer reviewed grant of $99,824,
awarded to KM in 2012). Even when viewing videos of growling dogs children
are still found to report the dogs as being happy and smiling — the
younger the children, the more frequent the mistakes (65% of 3 year-olds
and 52% of 4 and 5 year-olds think angry dogs are happy)4.
Development and evaluation of the BD DVD was funded by the Federation of
European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations and a Dutch Groep
Geneeskunde Gezelschapsdieren award (grant of £20,137, 2005-2006, awarded
to KM)5,6. Ninety-six Children aged 3 to 6 years viewed a
series of cartoons and stories depicting interactions between children and
the dog `Blue', including scenarios depicting aspects of childrens'
behaviour and perception identified by the research programme (e.g.
leaning into a dogs face; stroking an angry dog).
References to the research
1. Meints, K., Syrnyk, C. and De Keuster, T. (2010) `Why do children get
bitten in the face?', Proceedings of the 10th World Conference on Injury
Prevention and Safety Promotion, 21-24 September, London, UK, Injury
Prevention, 16, suppl 1, A172.
2. Racca, A., Guo, K., Meints, K. and Mills, K. (2011) `Reading faces:
differential lateral gaze bias inprocessing canine and human facial
expressions in dogs and 4-year-old children', PLOS ONE, 7(4):
3. Meints, K., Racca, A. and Hickey, N. (2010). `How to prevent dog bite
injuries? Children misinterpret dogs' facial expressions', Proceedings of
the 10th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion, 21-24
September, London, UK, Injury Prevention, 16, suppl 1, A68.
4. Racca A, Meints K. and Hickley, N. (2013) `Is the Dog Smiling?
Children from 4-7 Years Misinterpret Dogs' Facial Expressions, Society for
Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting, Seattle, USA, 18-20 April.
5. Meints, K. and de Keuster, T. (2009) `Don't Kiss a Sleeping Dog: The
First Assessment of "The Blue Dog" Bite Prevention Program', Journal
of Pediatric Psychology, 34(10), pp. 1084-1090 doi:
6. Meints, K., De Keuster, T. and Lakestani, N. (2010) `Children and
dogs: How the "Blue Dog" can help to prevent dog bite injuries',
Proceedings of the Canine Science Forum, 25-28 July, Vienna Austria, p.
Details of the impact
Dog bites account for tens of millions of injuries annually, with the
highest risk occurring amongst children (World Health Organisation data).
In the UK, dog bite injuries accounted for 6,450 hospital admissions in
2012 (16% of which were children), and cost the NHS around £3.3million per
year (Health and Social Care Information Centre; DEFRA).
A research programme carried out at the University of Lincoln, drawing on
the knowledge, expertise, skills and facilities in the Lincoln Baby Lab
and Evolution and Development research group, led to the creation,
development and assessment of an effective evidence-based tool for dog
bite prevention (the BD DVD and booklet), which has had international
impact on veterinary practice and injury prevention policy, enhancing the
health and wellbeing of children and dogs and improving public
understanding of the risk factors associated with dog bite injury. Other
beneficiaries include parents, teachers, veterinarians and dog trainers.
The research programme has generated impact of local, national and
Assessment of the effectiveness of the BD DVD was carried out via
questions about additional example scenarios which probed children's
knowledge before and after training. Children were found to show
significant learning about safe behaviour around dogs immediately after
training and for up to a year afterwardsa,b. Parent
questionnaire assessments indicated that 48% of parents stated that their
children behaved more safely with dogs in general as a result of the
training, and 38% said their children behaved more safely around their own
dog. In addition to the evaluations carried out at the University of
Lincoln, a recent independent randomised controlled study has confirmed a
significant improvement in childrens' ability to recognise dog bite risk
factors following BD training relative to exposure to a control
computerised training task (fire safety training)c.
Following successful evaluation of the efficacy of the tool, over 80,000
copies of the BD DVD and booklet have been distributed to 21 different
countries, with the accompanying BD booklet translated into 17 different
languages. The German Veterinary Association (GVA), German Federal Chamber
of Veterinarians, the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary
Associations (FECAVA) and the American Veterinary Association all
officially recommend the BD DVD as a dog bite prevention toold.
Rabies is a significant health concern following dog bite injuries
internationally, and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control report
recently recommended BD for use as part of rabies education and prevention
Schools and nurseries in the UK and abroad are using the BD DVD and
booklet as part of health and safety educationf. For example,
the Munich municipality, in cooperation with GVA, has used the Blue Dog
DVD as an injury prevention programme in nurseries since 2009g.
In Belgium, education policy has specified the application of the BD in
schools, and the BD is included as part of the leading Belgian teachers'
handbook and education programmes sponsored by the government of Vlaams
Examples of the impact of the BD project at a national level within the
UK are its recommendation by the National Health Service Choices website
(the `online front door to the NHS')i, and its use by the Dogs
for the Disabled charity in The National Autistic Society and University
of Lincoln's lottery-funded project, `Parent Autism Workshop and Support'
(PAWS). Significant impact has also occurred on a local scale via the use
of the BD DVD in nurseries, Sure Start Centres and schools in
Lincolnshire. The BD DVD is used by social workers and dog trainers at Pet
Respect in and around Hull, working with underprivileged families
and young offenders. The Dock House Homeless project, Domestic Violence
Project, and Humberside Police have all used BD training to enhance
understanding and reduce dog bites in children.
Public awareness of childhood dog bite injury risk factors has also been
raised by widespread international and national media coverage of the
project's research findings. In 2010 the University's dog bite prevention
research programme was chosen as one of the three key features to
represent the World Safety Conference (London 2010) to the media and
public. Other media coverage has included BBC Newsl, Sky News,
BBC Look North, TV Prague, Radio 1, Five Live, BBC Radio Scotland, Radio
Wales, Radio Teeside, Bay FM, Radio Lincolnshire, Lincs FM, Scientific
American, The Guardian, The Telegraph online, The Daily Telegraph,
Lancaster Guardian, Lincolnshire Echo, Liverpool Echo, Süddeutsche Zeitung
(one of the top 10 Germany-wide daily newspapers)j, and Partner
Hund (German dog owners magazine).
Sources to corroborate the impact
a. Meints, K. and de Keuster, T. (2009) `Don't Kiss a Sleeping Dog: The
First Assessment of `The Blue Dog' Bite Prevention Program', Journal
of Pediatric Psychology, 34(10), pp. 1084-1090, doi:
b. Meints, K., De Keuster, T. and Lakestani, N. (2010) `Children and
dogs: How the `Blue Dog' can help to prevent dog bite injuries',
Proceedings of the Canine Science Forum, 25-28 July, Vienna Austria, p.
c. Schwebel, D., Morrongiello, B.A., Davis, A.L., Stewart, J., Bell, M.
(2012) `The Blue Dog: Evaluation of an Interactive Software Program to
Teach Young Children How to Interact Safely With Dogs', Journal of
Pediatric Psychology, 37(3), pp. 272-228.
d. Recommendations from veterinary associations worldwide: German
Veterinary Association website: www.dvg.net/index.php?id=1287;
Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Association website:
American Veterinary Association website: www.avma.org/KB/K12/Pages/AVMA-Products-The-Blue-Dog.aspx.
e. Global Alliance for Rabies Control Report citing Blue Dog
programme: Lembo et al., (2011) `Renewed Global Partnerships and
Redesigned Roadmaps for Rabies Prevention and Control', Veterinary
Medicine International, Article ID 923149.
f. Evidence for BD's use in schools: www.thebluedog.org/en/blog/p/category/schools.
g. Germany-South Newspaper report on use of Blue Dog in Schools:
h. Teachers' toolbox pages for BlueDog project: www.thebluedog.org/nl/pedagogisch-pakket/pepa-de-blauwe-hond-op-school/pepa-lesplannen.
i. NHS Choices Website: NHS endorsement: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bites-human-and-animal/Pages/Prevention.aspx.
j. BBC News website: www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11382029.