Dog attacks: how can we prevent them?
Dog attacks: why are they on the rise and how can we prevent them?
In the UK, an average of 7 postmen and women are attacked by a dog each day; and in Jersey, more than 1 postman or woman is attacked each month. Is this indicative of a wider problem in which occurrences of dogs attacking both people and other dogs seem to be increasing? This is in light of the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) which, unsurprisingly, has infamously failed to tackle the problem.
A recent report from PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) revealed that in the UK, almost one in three dog owners have been bitten or attacked by a dog and 51% know someone who has.
So, why do dogs attack?
In a very small number of cases, dogs may have been deliberately trained to be aggressive but in the majority of situations, problem behaviour is not intentional. Generally, frightening experiences early in life (sometimes the case for rescue dogs) or lack of understanding by owners of how important basic training and socialisation of young dogs are the underlying causes of most behavioural issues.
What is socialisation?
Socialisation is the process of introducing puppies to everyday sights and sounds during the first few weeks and months of their lives. Considered socialisation while a dog is young helps prevent fears from developing, which can often be a cause of problem behaviour and aggression later in life. It is recommended that all owners of a young dog make a commitment to socialising and training their puppy without exception, using kind and effective methods such as puppy training classes and allowing positive interaction with other people, children, dogs and animals.
Training and unwanted behaviour
At whizzDog, we like positive reinforcement training – that is, when the dog acts out the desired behaviour correctly, reward them with a treat, play or lots of attention. Behavioural problems such as barking often stem from a lack of communication, or miscommunication, between the owner and the dog. Simply put, the dog is not aware of what is expected of him or her, which can result in unwanted behaviour such as excessive barking, jumping up on people, dog to dog aggression, running away, separation anxiety and chew problems. The PAW report found that just 21% of owners with aggressive dogs had trained them in the first six months of life.
How has legislation failed to help?
Dog attacks in England have increased by 76% between 2005 and 2015 and appear to still be rising rapidly with frequency and severity, according to the British Health & Social Care Information Centre.
This is happening in spite of The Dangerous Dogs Act (1991), which is fatally flawed in that it fails to recognise that every dog has the capacity to be aggressive and dangerous when it is not properly trained and socialised. This wastes police resources on seizing dogs of a particular breed, even when the dog has shown no aggressive behaviour, rather than focusing on dogs of any breed which are out of control. The legislation has the further unintended consequence of turning banned breeds into status symbols which result in them being taken on by the wrong people who train them to fight or be aggressive.
The law is failing in respect of genuinely preventative measures in order to break the cycle of aggression and problem behaviour. We need to better educate dog owners and future dog owners about their responsibilities. Currently, if a dog attacks a person, the dog is killed and the owner escapes with a slap on the wrist. There is no reason to ban certain types of dog – if a dog is showing aggression towards people, and arguably other dogs, there needs to be a severe threat that the owner of that dog can be punished by the law.
What can you do to help prevent and avoid a dog attack?
If confronted by an aggressive dog, the most important thing to remember is to stay calm. An aggressive dog wants you to be anxious, tense and stressed, therefore staying calm slows them down and throws them off. Avoid eye contact and stand slightly sideways, which makes you a narrower target, and if you are carrying anything such as a bag or umbrella, place it in front of yourself to appear bigger. This helps you to ‘command your space’ and protect yourself, in turn telling the dog “I don’t want your space, I just want the space I am in”. This energy creates a barrier that demands the dog’s respect by informing it you are not afraid. When the dog senses you are not threatening it or threatened by it, it will likely lose interest, but this is not always the case.
What to do if you are attacked
Particularly for joggers and runners who are blindsided by running in the opposite direction or by listening to music, a dog attack can happen before they even have a chance to avoid it. In all cases, protect your face, chest and throat, and keep your hands in fists to protect your fingers. If possible, allow the dog to attack something on you that isn’t actually you – for example, if you’re wearing a jumper, get your arm out of the sleeve and put it in the dog’s face. If you can pull it off quickly enough and the dog takes the bait, this could buy you enough time to back slowly out of the area. If you must be bitten, the safest place to be bitten is on the shin or forearm, a dog bite to the thigh can cause fatal bleeding. If you are bitten resist the natural urge to pull away as it will make the injury worse.
Dogs are not naturally inclined to attack people unless they feel a threat to themselves, their pack or territory. Unfortunately we cannot always avoid the problem because a small number of dog owners are irresponsible or negligent. However, we can arm ourselves with dog training to help prevent future problems, as well as the knowledge of what will prevent a situation from escalation and minimise damage if it does develop into an attack.
For help with training and socialisation of your dog, find your nearest dog class, trainer or behaviourist by searching here.