A qualitative investigation of the perceptions of female dog-bite victims and implications for the prevention of dog bites

Article English OPEN
Westgarth, Carri ; Watkins, Francine (2015)
  • Publisher: Elsevier BV
  • Journal: Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, volume 10, issue 6, pages 479-488 (issn: 1558-7878, eissn: 1878-7517)
  • Related identifiers: pmc: PMC4659589, doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2015.07.035
  • Subject: Canine Research | veterinary(all) | risk/determinants | qualitative research | animal bites | dog | public health | risk perception
    mesheuropmc: parasitic diseases

Preventing dog bites is an increasingly important public health and political issue with implications for both human and animal health and welfare. Expert opinion is that most bites are preventable. Intervention materials have been designed to educate people on how to assess the body language of dogs, evaluate risk, and take appropriate action. The effectiveness of this approach is rarely evaluated and the incidence of dog bites is thought to be increasing. Is the traditional approach to dog bite prevention working as well as it should? In this novel, small scale qualitative study, the perceptions of victims regarding their dog bite experience were explored in-depth. The study recruited 8 female participants who had been bitten by a dog in the past 5 years. In-depth, one-to-one interviews were conducted, transcribed, and analyzed using thematic analysis. The findings indicate that dog bites may not be as easily preventable as previously presumed, and that education about dog body language may not prevent some types of dog bites. The reasons participants were bitten were multifaceted and complex. In some cases, there was no interaction with the dog before the bite so there was no opportunity to assess the situation and modify behavior around the dog accordingly. Identifying who was to blame, and had responsibility for preventing the bite, was straightforward for the participants in hindsight. Those bitten blamed themselves and/or the dog owner, but not the dog. Most participants already felt they had a theoretical knowledge that would allow them to recognize dog aggression before the dog bite, yet participants, especially those who worked regularly with dogs, routinely believed, “it would not happen to me.” We also identified an attitude that bites were “just one of those things,” which could also be a barrier prevention initiatives. Rather than being special to the human-canine relationship, the attitudes discovered mirror those found in other areas of injury prevention. A new approach to dog-bite prevention may now be required, drawing on other injury prevention strategies including awareness-raising and minimizing the damage caused by a bite when it happens.