Scientists at the University of Liverpool have shown that educating pet owners about canine body language may not be sufficient to preventing dog bites. They’ve published their research in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour.
At a time when data suggests dog bite incidents are increasing, the team at Liverpool interviewed victims of dog attacks to gain further understanding into their perceptions of the experience.
They found that in some cases there was no interaction with the dog before the bite occurred and therefore no opportunity to assess behaviour. There was a common tendency for victims to blame themselves for the attack, rather than the animal, or in cases where the dog was not known to them, they blamed the dog’s owner.
Even those who felt knowledgeable about dogs, perceived that a bite “would not happen to them”, and so despite the warning signs would continue acting in the same manner, suggesting that education on body language was ineffective as a preventative measure.
My comment: This particular part of the research resonates with me. I’ve seen dog trainers, working with client’s dogs, be super-confident despite the feedback that both the owners and myself would be giving them. And then, they’d do things with the dog – such as reaching for their collar – which would instigate a snap.
Working with dogs is a privilege, but we should also be humble enough to treat each dog as an individual…
“Preventing the situation from arising at all may not always be feasible. Reducing the damage caused when a dog does bite, through careful pet dog selection and training, is something we should aim for.” says Dr Carri Westgarth, a dog behaviour expert at the University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health.
The researchers highlight that there is not enough knowledge of how dog bites occur to know how to prevent them entirely. Raising awareness that ‘it could happen to you’ as often used in other campaigns such as drink-driving, will be required for successful dog bite prevention.
More work is also needed with dog breeders to supply dogs that are less likely to bite and that have inhibited bites that do less damage, moving away from a victim or owner ‘blame’ model to explain dog bite injury.