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Study suggests responsible ownership is key to preventing dog attacks

A major study backed by Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has suggested that dog attacks could be reduced through promoting responsible dog ownership.

A group of dogs on leads
Many attacks are preventable if dogs are properly socialised and taught appropriate behaviours - according to the study

The project, which highlighted how more than 7,000 people are admitted to UK hospitals annually as a result of dog bites or strikes, involved extensive consultation with the police, local authorities, animal welfare organisations and dog walkers. It included reviewing existing enforcement and legislation and analysing media coverage on dog attacks.

The relevance of this research is highlighted as the Petitions Committee recently debated potential changes to legislation in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, part of the wider debate about reforming or reviewing laws and policies to deal with dangerous dogs and dog attacks.

The study suggests that many dog attacks are preventable if dogs are properly socialised and taught appropriate behaviours, and that owners are alert to problems that could occur if dogs are placed in the wrong situations and handled inappropriately. It also points to owners who unwittingly put dogs in situations where dog attacks were likely to occur and lacked the skills to deal with these incidents when they happened.

Rather than focusing on breed in relation to behaviour, a range of situational factors should be considered, such as the proximity between larger and smaller dogs in public places, children’s interactions with poorly socialised dogs in the home, and trigger incidents including a dog experiencing fear or excitement, predatory behaviour from other dogs, being in unfamiliar settings, provocation by humans, understanding the individual dog’s needs and characteristics by owners and responsible persons.

The recommendations from the report include:

  • Dog behavioural training similar to speed awareness courses as part of sentencing/contingent order/community protection notice (CPN) enforcement regime which would be compulsory in the event of a destruction order or contingent order being imposed by the courts. The training is designed to support dog owners to understand their responsibilities and develop best practice in dog control
  • Improved recording of dog attack data and incident characteristics
  • Introduce statutory enforcement duty
  • New legal requirements on dog ownership which require all people about to own a dog to have a ‘clean’ record, i.e. there is no evidence of complaints regarding dog ownership against them

Dr Angus Nurse, head of Criminology and Criminal Justice at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, led the research. He said: “The research evidence indicates human behaviour as a key factor in dog bite incidents and that not all dog incidents should be seen as ‘aggressive’ behaviour. If we consider a range of situational factors and focus on helping dog owners to develop skills to understand their dogs and potential warning signs for incidents, this should help prevent dog attacks.”

The three-year research project was commissioned by Defra and also included Dr Carly Guest, a senior lecturer in Sociology at Middlesex University, and Dr Lilian Miles from the University of Westminster.

Download the full research report here.

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    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queens Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards). It was the University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with over 33,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 4,000 and an NTU community representing around 160 countries.

    In the past 15 years, NTU has invested £450 million in tools, technology and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2019 UCAS UG acceptance data) It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    75% of NTU students go on to graduate-level employment or graduate-entry education / training within fifteen months of graduating (Guardian University Guide 2021).

    NTU is 4th globally (and 3rd in the UK) for sustainability in the 2021 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

Published on 9 June 2022
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences