Why do dogs attack people?


Recently, the incident of a 2-year-old girl in Chengdu, China, who was bitten by a fierce dog and fell into a coma is heart-wrenching. The history of dogs and humans living together is the longest among all mammals. Companion dogs as pets are often considered to be domesticated species. So why do we still get attacked by dogs in seemingly unexpected situations? Is the breed of a dog a decisive factor in aggression?

In fact, the aggressive behavior of companion dogs has always been one of the research topics of animal behaviorists. Although the number of studies is limited, there is evidence that there may be some misunderstandings in our understanding and judgment of "aggressive dogs."

Myth 1: Avoid “aggressive dogs” and you won’t get bitten

When a dog appears in our field of vision, most people may immediately start to judge whether it is an "aggressive dog" or a "good dog". Some people may be able to tell "based on experience" whether the dog opposite is bad-tempered or well-behaved and harmless from a few dozen meters away. If it's the former, avoid it as soon as possible and you'll be safe.

Fact 1: Dogs can bite people

Unfortunately, dog aggression is not a "fixed trait." Rachel Casey, an animal behavior and welfare scientist at the University of Bristol, UK, and her colleagues obtained questionnaire data from nearly 4,000 residents who keep pet dogs in their homes, and analyzed how companion dogs react when faced with their owners or strangers. Risk factors for aggressive behavior in humans. The study found that dogs living with humans are not "safe" or "unsafe" and whether they exhibit aggressive behavior depends more on the specific situation than who they are facing.

Researchers said there has been an assumption in the field of animal behavior that dogs' aggression occurs when they feel a certain threat in a specific situation and cannot be regarded as an overall characteristic of the animal. The study's findings support this idea, including that a pet dog may bark, growl or even bite when its owner approaches its food or toys, but is calm when faced with strangers in the household. ; There are also some pet dogs that are out-and-out "devils" in the eyes of their owners, but they can wag their tails when facing strangers walking on the street.

However, this does not mean that we cannot grasp the behavioral patterns of dogs: when they feel stressed or threatened, their aggression will increase step by step. Kendal Shepherd, a British veterinary surgeon and clinical animal behaviorist, summarizes dog aggression in a clear diagram in a handbook on canine behaviour. Shepherd points out that while sniffing, turning the head away, squatting, or walking away (green and yellow in the picture) may appear to be benign canine responses, we cannot rule out that these behaviors may be due to the dog's own feelings. If it continues to struggle due to some kind of discomfort, its aggressive behavior may escalate, and in the most severe cases, it may lead to violence and wounding.

In this regard, Casey said: "We need to understand that in certain situations, any dog can be aggressive, and this is the key to avoiding being hurt by a dog." She advises not to approach the owner without first understanding the situation. An unfamiliar dog - even if it is dressed up and dressed up, there is no chance of it being aggressive.

Myth 2: Certain breeds of dogs equal aggressive dogs

After a dog injury incident occurs, the breed of the dog is often the focus of public opinion. Certain breeds (particularly large dogs) or hybrids with impure bloodlines are particularly dangerous.

Fact 2: There is no evidence that a dog’s breed or pedigree endorses aggression

Certain breeds of companion dogs do have more recorded injuries than others, but this may be due to the breed's greater popularity within the victim's community, the way it is treated by its owners (for use as fighting dogs), and reporting bias.

The American Veterinary Medical Association conducted a literature review in 2014 on dog breeds associated with serious bite injuries and found that German shepherds, crossbreeds, bulldogs, Rottweilers, Jack Russell terriers and other breeds were the most prominent. . However, the review pointed out that the increase in injuries to specific dog breeds is related to factors such as the peak popularity of the breed and the regional prevalence. For example, the American Kennel Club's registration of Rottweilers had a significant peak between 1990 and 1995, followed by the number of hospitalizations caused by dog bites in the United States in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Na was "topped" on the bite list. Mastiffs are considered the most dangerous breed in Rome, Italy, but the region has not seen a disproportionate increase in bites. In some parts of Canada, sled dogs have become the culprit of fatal attacks...

Casey's research also supports this idea. She and her colleagues compared the aggression of different breeds of companion dogs in three situations: facing their owners, strangers in the home, and strangers outdoors. They found that dog breed affects the risk of aggression, but it is inappropriate to make assumptions about a specific dog's risk of aggression based on breed alone because of the dog's origin, neuter status, age, training experience, socialization history, etc. A variety of factors can influence dog aggression. The researchers emphasized that aggression is not necessarily directly related to the characteristics of the dog itself, but may also be affected by the owner's breed selection preferences and treatment methods.

Sadly, children, especially young children, are often the biggest victims of dog bites. According to the BlueDog Trust, a non-profit organization active in the United States and Europe, approximately 75% of dog attacks on children occur at home, with the victims ranging in age from 3 to 7 years old. Another study showed that in Australia, children aged 0 to 4 years are the age group most likely to suffer serious bite injuries.

In addition to size factors, the inability to correctly judge dog aggression is an important reason why children are more likely to be injured by dogs. A study from PLOS ONE found that 4-year-old toddlers interpreted a picture of an angry dog showing its teeth as a friendly smile when identifying pictures of dogs, but adults and 6-year-olds did not. Other studies have pointed out that children's inability to correctly identify dogs' stepped aggression and their tendency to lean on dogs when interacting with dogs can lead to an increased risk of being attacked. Therefore, any interaction between children and dogs should be done under the close supervision of an adult.

It is undeniable that the breed of a dog determines their size and strength, and even if there is no evidence that large dogs are not more aggressive than other types of dogs, they can cause more damage if a bite occurs. In this regard, most countries have banned or restricted the breeding of certain breeds of dogs.

But some animal welfare researchers think otherwise. They argue that deciding a dog's fate based on skull width and leg length, rather than behavioral performance, ignores animal rights. What’s more, dog bans are not effective in reducing canine attacks. If the government issues a ban on certain breeds, it may increase the appeal of such dog breeds - the more people are prohibited from raising them, the more people will want to keep them. Being raised in this environment only makes dogs more dangerous, as they may be treated more harshly, making aggressive behavior more likely.

Casey believes that the responsibility for "vicious dogs hurting people" actually lies with us. The animal behaviorist used a very apt metaphor: In a car accident, high-speed cars are more likely to cause greater damage, but we have not banned high-speed cars from taking to the road. In reality, society's approach is to reduce the risk that drivers may pose, regardless of the type of car they drive. Everyone who drives must receive driving training and can only go on the road after passing the theory and road test; we also have a complete set of driving behavior rules to reduce the risk of accidents, and a series of legal provisions to ensure the implementation of this set of rules. This logic can be applied to dog attacks.

Humans choose to bring dogs into their lives, and they should be responsible for it.