Why do dogs bite? Reasons behind dog aggression

Polo, G., Calderón, N., Clothier, S., & Garcia, R. de C. M. (2015). Understanding dog aggression: Epidemiologic aspects. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 10(6), 525–534

This paper summarises the epidemiologic aspects of dog aggression and dog bites. It also suggests necessary components for the development of dog aggression preventative programmes worldwide.  

Dog bite incidences are a widespread problem and pose a serious risk to public safety, yet there is little information publically available on how to recognise or prevent them from occurring. This review of the epidemiology of dog aggression and bites followed a workshop held in Brazil in 2011. The workshop involved many interdisciplinary participants, including vets, physicians, teachers, government officials and animal behaviourists. The aim was to understand the reasons why dogs bite, and subsequently to use this knowledge to improve dog aggression preventative programmes worldwide. They discussed many components which are needed for a successful bite prevention programme: education, legislation, surveillance and diagnosis of aggression, and treatment and rehabilitation of aggressive dogs. It was decided that each component is equally important and integrated frameworks are necessary to create successful programmes.  

Collaboration needed for aggression prevention programmes

Education programmes should be provided to those who interact with dogs and those who are of high risk of being bitten (e.g. vets and children), but they should also to be tailored for those who can educate others about dog bite prevention (e.g. nurses, parents and dog breeders).  Surveillance and diagnosis of aggression relies on accurate descriptions of dog behaviour and body language prior to an incident, and needs cooperation between vets, owners and behaviourists. Similarly, the treatment of aggressive dogs needs compliance from vets, owners and dog trainers to follow a behaviour modification plan designed by an experienced animal behaviourist.  Knowledge of relevant legislation is needed by all involved in regards to laws specific to dog bites. For example, euthanasia following dog bite attacks is mandatory in some countries but prohibited in others. Veterinarians should know what is expected of them in these cases and should involve animal behaviourists in the decision making. 

Importantly, the literature review revealed that the prevalence and pattern of dog bites varies worldwide and the authors recommend that cultural and regional differences should also be considered when implementing an aggression preventative programme. 

World Animal Protection’s view 

This paper shows the importance of multidisciplinary cooperation in developing a dog aggression preventative programme. We agree with this strategy, and collaborate with many local and national groups worldwide to implement our Better Lives for Dogs campaign. Additionally, we work to reduce the amount of dog bites that occur, and have produced an educational pack for primary school teachers and children. 

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