a teenager cuddling a dog in bed
Industry News,  Research News

Dog owners ‘underestimate’ how cuddles compromise freedom of choice, research finds

New research has revealed that many dog owners with children in the home underestimate how a child cuddling the dog can compromise the animal’s freedom of choice, which could lead to bites and other negative reactions.

In a paper published in the journal CABI Human-Animal Interactions, and funded by the charity Dogs Trust, a group of families with at least one child aged 7-12 years old and a family dog in a wide range of breeds, were recruited to participate in a whole family semi-structured interviews.

Findings showed that family dogs in the study who were given freedom of choice to move to the child, or move away when they wanted to, often behaved as if they enjoyed the cuddle with the child, however, when these interactions were initiated by the child with the dog having no choice in the matter, often the dogs would growl, snap or show distress.

According to the paper, these results suggest that children are likely to be safer if they understand that dogs need to have a choice in an interaction, for example children should know to call a dog over to them, allowing them to choose to not approach for a cuddle if they do not want one.

Previous studies have shown that dog bites in the home have been increasing in recent years, but is unclear why this is occurring.

There is also growing scientific interest in the benefits for children of interacting with and engaging with domestic dogs, so ensuring safe interactions is paramount.

The study explored the lived experiences of family units supervising interactions between children in middle childhood (between the ages of 7 and 12) and the family dogs.

As well as looking at the emotional and mental effects of interactions with dogs, it explored the animal’s behaviours in these interactions and how to avoid harmful behaviour from interactions with dogs and what might trigger it, to prepare families to look for signs, especially in situations where a child is continually interacting with a dog when it doesn’t want to.

Anna Baatz, PhD candidate from The University of Salford who led the research, said: “As a parent and dog owner myself I was driven to this research to look at dog behaviour and sought out to answer a question that has been posed by my son multiple times: ‘Do dogs like being cuddled?’

“I was unable to provide him with an adequate answer. but wanted I to do so. And the answer really is ‘it depends’.”

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