Although dogs are deeply entrenched in interactions with humans and have outstanding skills to understand human actions, gestures and emotions, it is argued, today, that too many people have forgotten that they are still animals and their cosy relationship with them can result in an increase in dog bites. It seems that some people have forgotten that they have sharp teeth and a fight-or-flight instinct. And this applies to the smallest and cutest of dogs who still believe that they are wolves.
One expert on dogs, Carri Westgarth, a lecturer in human-animal interaction at Liverpool University and the author of The Happy Dog Owner, is a co-author of a study which tells us that dog bites have risen steadily in frequency over 20 years in the UK. Most bites happen in the home. Her results debunk the idea that it is aggressive dog breeds that bite. Their study suggest that the problem is the human-animal relationship.
They analysed NHS hospital admissions between 1998-2018. They found that 80% of adults and 91% of children bitten by dogs were victims of their beloved family pet. The data indicated a 300% increase in 20 years.
The Times says that NHS data shows that more than 10,000 people a year need hospital treatment after an attack. This represents a rate of 15 cases for every hundred thousand of the population. In 2005 the rate was seven dog bite cases per 100,000. The NHS data also tells us that five UK areas have the highest hospital admissions for dog attacks per 100,000 people per year: Knowsley (24.2), Middlesbrough (21.4), Wakefield (20), Redcar and Cleveland (19.6) and St Helens at 19.5. The areas with the lowest incidence of dog bites in the UK are: City of London (1.1), Harrow (2.4), Brent (2.7), Barnet (Three) and Isle Of Wight at 3.1 hospital admissions per 100,000 people per year.
There is clearly a massive divide between the North and the South of England. Does this point to an underlying social difference between the north and the south? It certainly does to me. It points to the need for levelling up as Boris Johnson calls it. The north is poorer than the south and this encourages I guess the adoption of inappropriate companion dogs. And it probably also encourages a lack of education which includes a lack of education on how to care for a dog properly.
Although they can’t rely on a full set of data, an exacerbating factor is said to have been the Covid pandemic lockdowns and the puppy purchasing boom during these lockdowns.
A co-author of the study, John Tulloch, a specialist in veterinary health at the University, discovered a marked increase in dog-bite admissions in a local hospital after the first Covid lockdown in 2020. Alder Hey Children’s Hospital were treating 4-5 dog bites daily. Tulloch analysed their data. He found that one adult and at least five children had been mauled to death by dogs in the UK since November 2021. Conversely, between 2015-2019 there were three dog attacked deaths on average, annually.
The authors theorise that there is a danger to developing a relationship between humans and dogs which is too cosy and in which the humans forget that they are interacting with animals with sharp teeth. A recent survey discovered that UK citizens loved their pets more than their spouses!
The head of companion animals at the RSPCA, Sam Gaines, said: “We no longer recognise that dogs are dogs”. Many times, in writing about cats, I have suggested that people should remember to treat their cat as a cat and respect the cat. It is entirely understandable why cat owners forget this. They relate to their companion cat as a member of the family. But sometimes they interact with them on that basis, which can cause a cat bite or scratch. A little while ago I called out Taylor Swift on the subject because she loves cats but I think that sometimes she treats them as children or babies.
Dogs can sometimes treat human behaviour as threatening such as when people throw their arms around the dog or pick them up and hug them as if they are hugging a best human friend.
There is a TikTok trend going down at the moment with the hashtag “scare your dog”. It has 16.8 million views. It requires a people startle their dog. Sometimes dogs except this provocative behaviour and tolerate it but it is mild harassment. Dogs accept it out of their affection for their human caretakers. However, sometimes dog owners miss the signs of an anxious dog under the circumstances.
Tulloch said: “Holding it ears back, lip-smacking, panting and showing whale eye [are signs of dog anxiety]. “Whale eye” describes seeing the white of a dog’s eye.
As mentioned, the Covid lockdown made things worse because people disregarded inherited health problems of dogs and their origin. Many were imported from the continent where they had been bred in poor conditions and where they had not been properly socialised. Improperly socialised dogs are going to be much more predisposed to biting because they have not been integrated into human society.
A lawyer concerned with compensation claims for dog bites, James McNally, a solicitor at Slee Blackwell, has seen a huge increase in the past three years. He said: “We get no fewer than five inquiries a day”.
The most harm, as expected, is caused by large dogs such as huskies and American bulldogs. He said that Labradors knock people over while greyhounds chase smaller dogs. He remarked that owners sometimes lose their fingers trying to prise them apart.
A further problem is that when a person is attacked by a dog they sometimes responding incorrectly. If a person responds as if they are a prey animal it simply encourages the dog to attack further. Behaving like a prey animal means running away, shouting and screaming and waving your arms around. The experts say that you should do the following: avoid eye contact, turn your body slowly to the side, cross your arms, completely ignore the dog, be still for a short period then move slowly away and try to get to a place where there is a barrier between you and the dog.
Below are some more pages on dog behaviour.