UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH RELEASE
A University of Guelph researcher is studying whether a video game can prevent dog bites by teaching children how to safely interact with them.
Psychology Professor Barbara Morrongiello has teamed up with researchers in Belgium to develop a software program called The Blue Dog, which helps children understand a dog’s behaviour and recognize when it’s friendly and wants to play or when it wants to be left alone. Many dog bites happen in the home and are triggered by an interaction initiated by the child, said Morrongiello, who is director of U of G’s Child Development Research Unit.
“Dog bites are considered a major issue because when they do happen to children, they tend to be severe, often on the face or neck.”
The game teaches children how to behave around dogs by giving them different scenarios such as a dog eating, playing with a toy or hiding under a table. The child is then asked to choose how to respond to the dog’s behaviour. If the child makes an unsafe decision, the dog shows its teeth and growls.
“We’re trying to make the child aware of the dog’s behaviour and, based on that, whether it’s a good time to interact with the dog,” said Morrongiello. “Children assume their own dog won’t hurt them, but a dog is still an animal. They need to know how to read their dog because a dog can communicate only through its behaviour.”
Before introducing the game, researchers evaluate what a child already knows about dog safety. They also act out different scenarios using a dollhouse and figurines.
The child and parent are then given a copy of the video game to play at home. When they return to the lab a few weeks later, researchers again evaluate the child’s dog-safety knowledge to see if it has improved.
If the video game is found to be effective, it will likely be distributed nationally by Safe Kids Canada to children through day cares, schools and other community sources.