Dog bites: Perception and Prevention

Owczarczak Garstecka, Sara
(2020) Dog bites: Perception and Prevention. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Traditional approaches to studying dog bites have predominantly used epidemiological methodology to understand risk factors and prevention centred on education about dogs’ body language. Instead, in this project dog bites are explored from the perspective of those directly affected, as a victim or a dog owner. The objectives of this study included understanding how dog bites are perceived and experienced and how the context of individual lived experiences influences these perceptions and practices around dogs. The project also aimed to learn how impact of bites could be reduced. The project used a mixed research methods approach: a) qualitative methods (in-depth interviews, participant-observations, focus group discussions, and analysis of documents and comments) were used to explore individual experiences and perceptions; b) Statistical analysis of a health and safety database was used to explore patterns of dog bites and remedial actions within occupational contexts. This research highlights that victims or dog owners (but rarely dogs) were blamed for bites and felt stigmatised due to their experience, which hindered prevention by impacting on their motivation to seek help. Two most common scenarios in which bites at work occurred were: entering or delivering a parcel to a property, or handling dogs in a veterinary practice or dog shelter. In many occupational bite scenarios, dogs were not seen before a bite. Risk in interactions with dogs was identified and managed by drawing on three overlapping strategies: through routines and procedures; emotions and intuition; and trust and sense of responsibility for the dog. At work, the formal, co-dependent procedures for risk management were modified in response to individual experience and relations with colleagues and dogs. Trust was used as a proxy for risk identification, but also paradoxically, led to taking risk in interactions with some dogs. Trustworthiness was assessed by scrutinising a dog’s reputation, character or appearance (including breed), performance, and the dog’s owner. Most participants believed that the emotional contagion between humans and dogs was a risk as well as a tool for negotiating safety. Risk management was consequently discussed in terms of ability to regulate emotions, and in so doing, controlling one’s own body and bodies of dogs. Prevention required practical skills to control dogs, which owners often lacked. Dog bites often had a long-lasting impact on individual physical and mental health. This research indicates that dog bite prevention requires more than knowledge of dog behaviour: it was embedded within social relations and necessitated co-operation with colleagues or family, and it was shaped by the physical environment in which the interaction took place, social norms, and perceptions of dogs and possibility of preventing bites. While dog bites cannot always be prevented, their impact could be feasibly reduced through provision of muzzles as well as return to work policies, mental health care and social support which could reduce the long-term damage to the injured person. More broadly, dog bite prevention can be improved by expanding efforts to be more ‘system-wide’ so that there are multiple opportunities for intervention.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2021 15:21
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2022 08:15
DOI: 10.17638/03109081