Robotic dog at Four Oaks primary school

Animatronic dog gives children paws for thought

A robotic dog is helping to give primary school children in Liverpool interactive lessons on how to behave around dogs.

Merseyside Police has launched a campaign aiming to reduce the number of children who become victims of dog bites ahead of the summer holidays.

Figures show more people are bitten in the summer months than any other time of year and that children aged 5-9 are among the most likely to be the victims of dog bites.

In February 2014 there were 21 victims of dog bites while in August there were 69 – nearly three times as many. Parks and open spaces have been identified as hot spots for incidents – in Sefton Park alone there were 18 incidents in 12 months. But incidents can happen anywhere, including in the home. And since last May, dog bite offences happening in private can be prosecuted.

Stuart Davidson, a dogs officer from Merseyside Police has worked with Kate Scott, a teacher at Liverpool College to create a hands on activity to teach children the best way to conduct themselves around dogs.

Stuart is taking a robotic golden retriever, Fred, into schools across Merseyside so the youngsters can learn about the best ways to act in the presence of a dog, and has recently visited Four Oaks Primary School in Anfield.

Fred responds positively to being stroked and angrily if the children are too enthusiastic.

After a successful pilot at Liverpool College, the initiative is being rolled out to school across Merseyside and this week Fred and Stuart will be dropping in at schools in Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral all week.

Inspector Gareth Phelps, from the Dogs and Mounted Section at Merseyside Police, said: “We are absolutely determined to reduce the numbers of children in Merseyside being hurt by dogs. It is crucial that we educate youngsters at an early age about how to be around dogs.

“We use very simple messages, such as asking how they would feel if someone bothered them while they were eating their dinner and to imagine how a dog would feel if their mealtime was interrupted.

“How dogs would like to be treated during meal times, to convey to children the importance of being calm and respectful toward all dogs.

“So far, pupils have really enjoyed meeting Fred and have taken on board all of our advice. We look forward to taking the initiative to other schools around Merseyside.”

Sara Robinson, headteacher at Four Oaks Primary School, said: “It was great to see the children interact with Fred. The safety of our pupils is of paramount importance so we welcome the efforts of Merseyside Police to help educate them on their behaviour around dogs.

“They really enjoyed meeting Fred and Stuart, the dog handler, but more importantly, they were very attentive to what the dog handler had to say and took on board the safety messages. I am sure that in future they will be better equipped to deal with dogs.”

Katherine Scott said: “Liverpool College are delighted to be working alongside Merseyside Police and Alder Hey to produce a dog awareness lesson. The thinking behind the programme was to target children in a formative stage of development. Research supports our vision that at five to six years, children go through a critical period when they are especially receptive to learning or mapping different forms of information.

“We believe at this age children have not yet fully formed their judgments and perceptions of dogs as adults have. By delivering a programme specifically designed to target each learning style we hope to reach every child with our safety messages.

“As an early years practitioner it is my responsibility to ensure the safety of the children within my care so safeguarding is paramount for me. When I was offered the opportunity to develop a programme to increase the awareness of our children I viewed this as an opportunity to highlight prevention. Changing our response from reactive to proactive, providing our children with simple yet effective messages that empower them to safeguard themselves.”

Pictured is Merseyside Police Constable Stuart Davidson showing pupils at Four Oaks Primary School in Anfield how to behave around dogs using animatronic retriever, Fred.