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12 February 2018

Dog bites more common in anxious people

Afraid of dogs? You might have a higher risk of being bitten.

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Maybe there's some truth in the long-standing belief that dogs can sense fear in a human.

According to a new British study, anxious people may be at increased risk for dog bites.

The finding came from a survey of nearly 700 people in northern England, done by researchers from the University of Liverpool.

Emotional stability

As part of the study, participants were asked if they were ever bitten by a dog, whether they knew the dog that bit them, and the severity of the bites. They also took a 10-item personality test.

The more emotionally stable and less neurotic the participants were, the less likely they were to have been bitten by a dog, the study found. As a person's emotional stability score increased by a single point, between one and seven, their likelihood of having been bitten fell by 23%.

"Dog bite prevention schemes may also need to target particular behaviours around dogs by different victim personality types," wrote the authors led by Carri Westgarth, from university's Institute of Infection and Global Health.

Overall, one in four participants had been bitten by a dog. Men were nearly twice as likely to have been bitten as women.

Risk factors reassessed

More than half of the participants – 55% – had been bitten by a dog they didn't know. Also, people who owned several dogs were three times more likely to have been bitten than those who didn't own dogs.

Dogs' characteristics – sex, age and breed – were not taken into account. The study only found an association between human personality traits and frequency of dog bites.

The study results were published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

"It is essential that previously assumed risk factors are reassessed as this study has revealed that prior belief – such as bites typically being from familiar dogs – are contested," the study authors said in a journal news release.

Manage your anxiety around dogs 

While dogs are considered best friends for most of us, the fear of dogs is very common. There are ways to overcome your fear of dogs. 

  • Understand your fear – ask yourself if you are scared of an attack, or the actual animal.
  • Never approach a dog without asking the owner if it's okay first.
  • Be calm around dogs – take deep breaths.
  • Confront your fears by spending time with a friend's calm dog. 

How to avoid a dog attack

There are some ways you can avoid being attacked by a dog:

  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Don't scream and shout.
  • Turn your body sideways slowly.
  • Try to find a barrier between you and the dog.

If you walk with your dog and you are petrified of other dogs attacking, here are some tips on how to stave off an attack between two dogs:

  • Stay calm and attempt to move your dog away.
  • Always keep control over your dog's movements.
  • Use loud, firm commandments such as "sit" or "go" towards the other dog.
  • Never lurch between the two animals, as this might trigger an aggressive response.

Image credit: iStock

 
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