Are anxious people more likely to be bitten?

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There are many variables that can lead to a dog bite including but not limited to: the context, what the stimulus is doing that provokes the dog’s reaction, handling methods used, the dog’s genetics, state of health, hormones, and previous experiences.

Learning reliable bite inhibition before 18 weeks of age is important otherwise it can be difficult to instil in adolescent dogs.  However, studies suggest 44.6% of bites are provoked: that under 7 year olds are more likely to be victims (Patrick and O’Rourke, 1998) with most bites occurring during interactions with family dogs, indoors (Reisner et al., 2011).  Furthermore, Reisner and Shofer (2008) found 82% of parents felt it is appropriate for their children to kiss/hug their dog.

However, the only record of dog bites in the UK are those recorded via hospital admissions so may not reflect the true picture of just how many people are bitten each year…

To gain a more accurate idea a new study by Westgarth et al. (2018) was conducted.  The researchers surveyed nearly 700 people across 385 households in Cheshire.  The survey included questions to help categorise the respondents according to the ‘Big Five’ personality traits (extroversion, conscientiousness, openness to new experiences, agreeableness and emotional stability) (McCrae and Costa, 1985).

Previous studies have shown the dog-owner relationship can be influenced by the owner’s personality type; those demonstrating greater ‘openness’ score higher attachment to their pets, provide greater warmth in terms of communication style and enthusiasm in positive situations and reassurance such as petting the dog, in stressful situations (Cimarelli et al., 2016).  By contrast, owners who have more neurotic personalities tend to have dogs who are nervous and cope with stress less efficiently (Schöberl et al., 2017)

In this new study, Westgarth and her team found people who are more emotionally anxious were more likely to be victims of a bite.  Additionally, men were nearly twice as likely as women to have been bitten in their lifetimes: around 44% of bites occurred in childhood, and 55% of bites were caused by dogs the victim hadn’t met before – challenging previous data suggesting most bites are from dogs familiar to the victim (Reisner et al., op. cit.)

These latest findings propose that those who are less anxious, irritable or depressed are less likely they are to have been bitten.  However, it is not yet known whether a person’s stability results in a greater likelihood of being bitten or whether being bitten leads to an individual being less emotionally stable.  Consequently, the researchers conclude that further exploration is required to better understand the link between personality and prevalence for being bitten.

 

References
  1. Cimarelli, G., Turcsán B., Bánlaki Z., Range F., and Virányi Z. (2016) ‘Ownership styles: parallels with human parenting and their influence on pet dogs’ behaviour in a stressful social situation.’ http://www.isaz.net/isaz/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ISAZ-Proceedings-2016.pdf
  2. McCrae, R.R. and Costa, P.T. (1985) ‘Comparison of EPI and psychoticism scales with measures of the five-factor model of personality.’ Personality and Individual Differences 6(5) pp.587-597
  3. Patrick, G.R., and O’Rourke, K.M. (1998) ‘Dog and cat bites: epidemiologic analyses suggest different prevention strategies.’ Public Health Reports 113(3) pp. 252-257
  4. Reisner, I.R., and Shofer, F.S. (2008) ‘Effect of gender and parental status on knowledge and attitudes of dog owners regarding dog aggression toward children.’ Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 233(9) pp. 1412-1419
  5. Reisner, I.R., Nance, M.L., Zeller, J.S., Houseknecht, E.M., Kassam-Adams, N., and Wiebe, D.J. (2011) ‘Behavioural characteristics associated with dog bites to children presenting to an urban trauma centre.’ BMJ 14(5) [online] Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/ip.2010.029868.
  6. Schöberl, I., Wedl, M., Beetz, A., and Kotrschal, K. (2017) ‘Psychobiological factors affecting cortisol variability in human-dog dyads.’ PLoS ONE 12(2): e0170707. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0170
  7. Westgarth, C., Brooke, M., Christley, R.M. (2018) ‘How many people have been bitten by dogs? A cross-sectional survey of prevalence, incidence and factors associated with dog bites in UIK.’ Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 0(1-6) http://jech.bmj.com/content/jech/early/2018/01/08/jech-2017-209330.full.pdf

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