It’s time, we thought, to give this excellent analysis of lies, damn lies and dog attack statistics by Alison Green of DDAWatch, another airing from when it was first published a few years ago. Alison poses the question on dog attack and dog bite statistics – ‘Are we being lied to by politicians about dog attack statistics?’

But first. What prompts this re-airing of Alison’s dog attack stats analysis is the news that dog attacks in Wales are reportedly up by 81% over the last 10 years.

Research by Week In Week Out found there were 407 hospital admissions from incidents in 2012/13 alone, with 91 of those aged 14 or under.

Andy MacNab, a consultant in emergency medicine at Morriston Hospital, Swansea, said they were treating two or three dog bites a week.

Animal charities want legislation which punishes the dog’s deed, not its breed.

Although there were amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act, they want it to go further.

The RSPCA says owners would have to abide by dog control notices if their pet was a nuisance or out of control.

But the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the amendments gave more “flexibility”.

Now, I’m sure you’ll agree, 81% is one hell of a leap. Are we to believe that our domestic dogs, or at least Welsh domestic dogs, are 81% more dangerous and likely to bite us than they were in the past decade? Really?

Alison Green would suggest otherwise:

Figures released to Norman Lamb of the Liberal democrats have been splashed all over the media alongside headlines proclaiming a rise in “dog attacks”. Pictures of snarling beasts, most often bull breeds or the current “devil dog” the Rottweiler have been used to help emphasise the point.

But wait one second…STOP THE PRESS… the figures do not show a rise in dog attacks. Allow me to explain.

A few years ago I did an awful thing.

I was at a barbecue on a lovely summers day with my family and our dogs. My children where playing with the other children and one of my dogs was playing with the resident boxer, the sun was shining and all was right with the world. My dog tired of his game with the boxer, picked up his ball before dropping it in my lap and sitting down looking at me hopefully. I smiled, picked up the ball and threw it for him.

The minute that ball left my hand I realised what I had done and yelled loudly to recall my dog but it was too late. As I yelled, my dog ran straight into my daughter knocking her flying down on the hard ground. Thankfully my daughter, although bruised and sore for a while, had no broken bones. My dog didn’t know what had happened but had stopped, ball forgotten and gone over to lick at my daughter.  I was mortified and have never taken a ball to another barbecue since!

Had my daughter been more badly hurt and been admitted to hospital, she would have been included in the recent figures paraded around the media as “dog attacks”.

What the media and Norman Lamb fail to mention in any article I have read, is that the figures do not separate dog bites from dog strikes.  I know of quite a few people who have been admitted to hospital because their dogs greeted them a little too enthusiastically or accidentally knocked into them.

They will all be logged under the same code meaning “bitten or struck by a dog” yet the two meanings are often very different and certainly don’t scream “dog attack”. Many people have been struck by dogs, many have been bitten by dogs however few have been attacked by dogs. While even one true dog attack is unacceptable the media’s use of these figures to “show” an overwhelming increase in dog attacks is misleading and nothing more than scaremongering.

The media have also focused on the “rise” in certain areas but do not seem to be aware of the fact that the strategic health authority for treatment restructured at the start of 2006 which, according to Ben Bradshaw when he supplied the figures to Norman lamb as a written answer, means a direct comparison is not possible before and after 2006.

Hospital workers are also “ a bit bemused” by the figures.  It has recently been reported in one online newspaper that hospital bosses in west mids where surprised at the “findings” of an 80% increase in under 18’s being admitted due to “dog attacks”.

A spokesman for George eliot hospital in Nuneaton told a reporter for IC Coventry

Although we don’t have access to detailed statistics, we can say anecdotally that, if anything, the number of people needing treatment for dog bites is falling.

“We’re a bit bemused by these figures, to be honest. We don’t get anywhere near as many as we used to.”

The article goes on to state:

The same sentiment was also expressed by spokesmen for the University Hospital, Coventry, Warwick Hospital, and the Hospital of St Cross, in Rugby.

Maybe they are “bemused” because the figures are being stated as something they aren’t!

In recent years it has been pointed out that children 9 and under are more commonly admitted for “bites or strikes” from a dog and this is true. However over the last ten years in England, the number of children 9 and under who have been admitted to hospital for this reason, has actually risen the least of all age groups, by 4.1%. This equals just 39 more admissions when comparing 06-07 with 96-97. Using the same years comparison, the age group of 40-49 year olds show a massive increase of 136%. We rarely hear of large numbers of 40 odd year olds being attacked by dogs so would it be fair to assume we are actually looking at more strikes than bites?

Dog Attack Stats

It is not unusual for smaller children to be admitted to hospital more often than adults as a precaution. I completely agree with the reasons for doing so. Children are much more fragile and less able to tell you if there is a problem. If my children bang their heads I turn into the most paranoid mother about, constantly checking on them. Better to be safe than sorry so could this possibly explain the large number of young children being admitted? Children are also more likely to be knocked over by dogs simply walking or running past them.

There are many reasons that could contribute to any increase and could help explain why certain age groups are showing high numbers. The only thing the figures do not show is a definite increase in dog attacks.

The dog world does have problems and they are problems that need tackling. We, as dog owners, parents and members of the public, have all been let down time and time again by the law. The Dangerous Dogs Act was meant to protect us 16 years ago. It failed. Now the same people who helped bring in that law, are trying again!

Dog Bite Facts

The answer to our problems is simple. We need to look at facts and not create mass hysteria by telling only half of the story.  We need to log dog bites and strikes separately and in more detail. We need to know what the injury is, who, where and why. We need to ensure we all know how to act responsibly and safely around dogs.

We need a law that holds the owners responsible for their dog’s actions and ensure they are fully equipped to deal with the responsibility that comes with owning any dog BEFORE they obtain one.

Norman Lamb has got one thing right. He is quoted in several articles as saying

“No-one knowingly puts their child in danger but it seems that the message is not getting through.”

So lets make a Dog Ownership Test a legal requirement and force that message home.

More on dangerous dogs and breed specific legislation – DDA Watch.

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  1. I am delighted to see that there is an element of commonsense trying to counterbalance the mass hysteria about dogs
    It is high time we dog owners thought long and hard about our dogs, we do need to be aware of a dogs natiral and normal reactions ( i believe we are contravening the Animal Welfare Act if we don’t ) and we should understand our dogs, manage and train them but not expect them to be cuddly toys, fashion accessories or respond like an electronic toy- keep up the good work Mr O Meara- it s common sense and knowledge that is required!

  2. I have only once been attacked by a dog, which failed to do me any harm. I have however been bitten 4 times (to the point of drawing blood) by dogs who accidentally closed their mouths whilst my hand or arm was in the way – once separating fighting dogs, once my arm was mistaken for a stick and twice with young dogs who had not properly learned bite inhibition. Only one of these required anything more than a plaster (the fight situation). I have also been given a bloody nose and knocked out by accidental contact with dogs (as well as falling over etc). This terrible sounding catalogue has taken place over 50 years of interacting with dogs on multiple occasions every day, so is actually a very low percentage of things going wrong. None of my accidents have involved hospitalisation, so are not part of the statistics available, but I would none the less imagine those statistics could be broken down to show a very similar picture – i.e. a maximum of 1 genuine attack out of 8-10 incidents

  3. i just had my tibia broken about month ago. my Dobe and his bubby ran into me at the dog park.
    my fault, instead of sitting down on a bench or standing by a fence, i was in the middle of the dog park.
    i have seen people bring in the toddlers to the big dog park and turn the kids loose.. stupid parents,

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