Tuesday, January 10, 2012

“Dog Bites – An Unrecognized Epidemic”

I recently came across an old research paper of the above title written in 1974 (full article here) that investigated an increase in the incidence of dog bites in New York city from 1965 to 1972.

There were a few findings I found quite interesting such as the increase in large aggressive breeds kept specifically for security being a big part of the problem, and that there were more free-ranging dogs in lower income areas, but there is one paragraph from their discussion that is worth quoting word-for-word:

“The attacks of packs of so-called stray dogs have often drawn much attention in the popular press. In many instances these packs of dogs are composed not of unowned, stray dogs but of owned dogs which are allowed to roam freely. Such animals often form packs in the morning or evening hours, particularly around a female in heat. The unowned, stray dogs are infrequently aggressive and more often than not bite only when provoked or harassed. In contrast, owned dogs which are permitted to roam the streets develop a sense of territorial possession, which includes not only the property of their owners but also the area in which they roam. A stranger walking down such a street risks being bitten by an aggressive dog which considers the street its territory.”

Apparently, blaming strays for the deeds of pet dogs was the case over 40 years ago as well as now. Even the implied cases of packs of stray dogs may actually have been pets that were never identified as such.

The authors do not attempt to explain why pets are aggressive in their territory more so than strays (which presumably also have a territory) but I believe this comes down to the effect of socializing dogs to people. Pet dogs react to people as they do to other dogs whereas dogs that have never been owned see people as people and dogs as dogs. Therefore, unowned dogs can bite a person as a physical threat but pets will also bite a person as a social threat making them much more dangerous.

This is a fundamental difference between the behavior of pet dogs and those that have never been owned. I really wish it was more widely understood as it is a key argument when trying to persuade dog owners’ to control their pet in areas that also have unowned dogs on the streets. Put simply: IT IS NOT OKAY TO LET YOUR PET DOG ROAM JUST BECAUSE OTHER DOGS ARE ALREADY OUT THERE.

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