What causes a dog to bite someone

Dogs are more likely to bite fearful people

Liverpool - In the UK, more than 6,500 hospitalized patients annually after being attacked by a dog. The northwestern part of England has the highest number of hospitalizations for dog bites. Researchers at the Institute of Epidemiology in Liverpool have now found in an observational study that anxious people are at increased risk of being bitten by a dog.

Experts estimate the number of unreported cases to be around three times higher than that recorded in the official hospital reports. In order to be able to provide concrete figures on this topic, the Liverpool scientists surveyed 694 people (385 households) in the northern parish of Cheshire West. The aim of the survey was to find out how many people were bitten by dogs and whether the injuries needed medical treatment. In addition, it was investigated whether the test subjects knew the dog or whether they are dog owners themselves. The results have now been published in the "Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health".

Emotional stress on the victims

The researchers created a personality profile of the subjects using the standardized TIPI (Ten Item Personality Inventory) questionnaire. The aim was to find out whether certain character traits correlate with the likelihood of being bitten by a dog. Around a quarter of those questioned said they had been injured by a dog before.

Men were affected twice as often as women, and older participants also had a higher risk of being attacked by a dog. 28.8 percent of those surveyed said they kept a dog as a pet. Owners of multiple dogs were bitten three times more often than those who did not have a dog. This could be because dog owners are more in contact with the animals or have to intervene more often in disputes between rival animals. What surprised the researchers: 54.7 percent of those surveyed stated that they had been bitten by a dog they did not know.

The official hospital statistics showed 740 cases of dog bites per 100,000 population. In the study, however, a total of 1,873 cases per 100,000 residents could be determined. This suggests that the actual injury rate is almost three times higher. Around 33 percent of dog bites had to be treated.

New assessment of risk factors

The analysis showed that there is a connection between the personality of the subjects and the likelihood of being bitten by a dog. It found that people who were more emotionally stable and less anxious had the lowest risk of being bitten by a dog.

Three of the 48 children surveyed stated that they had already been bitten by a dog. This could indicate that children are less likely to be injured by dogs as the offspring play less and less outdoors.

Several weak points

"The previous risk factors should be reassessed as this study has shown that previous beliefs - such as those that the bites are typically from familiar dogs - are incorrect," the authors write. The researchers also address behavior in the presence of the animal: "In order to be able to better avoid dog bites, certain behaviors should be recommended for the different personality types."

The authors of the study emphasize, however, that the correlations measured do not allow a clear conclusion about cause and effect. In addition, only households in one county were taken into account, so the results cannot be applied to the whole of Great Britain. Another weak point: the scientists had not collected any data on the sex, age or breed of the dogs. (slxm, 2.2.2018)