Dog Bites: Why Dogs Bite & What We Can Do About It

A BBC investigation published today (8/3/23) has revealed that dog bites reported to the police (in England & Wales) have risen by a third over the last 5 years. And, predictably, much of the media coverage has centred around these bites being caused by ‘out of control’ dogs of certain breeds. But is that accurate? What is the real story when it comes to dog bites?

 breed is a poor predictor of aggression

 the vast majority (80%) of dog bites happen in the home and come from family dogs

 the risk of bites may be increased in the presence of pain or disease in the dog

 the majority of dogs that bite are motivated by fear or anxiety, not ‘badness’

 the use of physical punishment or physical force is a risk factor in creating a fear response and aggression

 the majority of accidents to children occur when there is lack of active parental supervision

So, how do we reverse this trend? Rather than relying on governments to act (after all previous legislation like the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act is both profoundly flawed & ineffective) we can all play a role to improve safety around dogs…..

 educate yourself about canine body language & behaviour

 ensure your dog’s fundamental needs, including exercise, social contact & access to species specific activities, are being met

 understand that dogs are autonomous, sentient animals and not playthings here for our amusement or social media likes

 understand your dog doesn’t know how to live in a human world and that it’s your job to teach them when you can and manage them when you can’t

 understand that your dog is allowed to proportionately express their discomfort or displeasure just as you are and that you should listen when they do

 take the time to find a responsible breeder / rescue. Poor breeding and irresponsible ‘rescue’ results in physically and temperamentally compromised dogs being placed in unsuspecting, ill equipped homes with potentially devastating results

 be realistic about your experience & skill levels when choosing a dog to join your family. Match your challenge to your skills. You don’t learn to drive in a Ferrari for good reason. Dog ownership is no different…

 follow & learn from responsible, ethical trainers who understand the roots of behaviour & not simply how to suppress it

 actively supervise (or separate) children & dogs

Every dog has the capacity to bite regardless of breed or size. And the consequences of a bite can be devastating for the dog and for the humans. But we can mitigate that risk by understanding and accepting our dogs for the amazing species they are. By choosing wisely, meeting their needs and listening to what they tell us. As dog owners, we all have it in our power to make a positive change to these statistics. The buck stops with us.