Attacks on guides dogs… not by guide dogs.

The June 19th edition of Veterinary Record (Brooks et al 2010) contains a study that investigated the incidence and impact of 100 dog attacks on guide dogs in the UK. Here are some highlights:

  • 61% of attacks occurred while the guide dog was harnessed and working with an owner or trainer.
  • Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retriever/Flat-Coated Retriever crossbreeds were more commonly attacked than other guide dog breeds. This was disproportionate to the percentage of guide dogs that were these breeds, so it wasn’t just a factor of more Labs being guide dogs so there were more to be attacked. I’m not sure why these breeds would be attacked more often.
  • Most (97%) attacks occurred in public places: 26% occurred in town centres and shopping areas, and 23% occurred in public parks or exercise areas.
  • 43% of attacks were considered unprovoked.
  • Most (61%) of attacking dogs were off-leash and with their owners. The surprising thing to me is that 23% of attacking dogs were leashed and with their owners. 15% were roaming free.
  • 38% of attacking dogs were bull breeds, which is much greater than the percentage of the general dog population that is made up of bull breeds (5.9%).
  • 41% of attacked guide dogs required veterinary care.
  • In 19% of attacks, a person was also injured.
  • After 45% of attacks, the working performance and behaviour of the attacked (guide) dog changed. Over half of these were reported to be fearful, nervous and wary, or to display a lack of confidence. Two dogs had to stop working as guide dogs.
  • The attacking dog’s owner was charged in 31% of incidents.

It is clear that attacks on guide dogs can result in major problems. These include injury to the dog, injury to the handler, impacts on the performance of the dog as a guide and impacts on the emotional status of the owner. Dog bites are too common and bites from incidents like these, which occur in public places, are largely preventable with responsible ownership. Unfortunately, there are too many irresponsible dog owners out there. The threat of more serious financial penalties may be the only way to change some peoples’ behaviour.

(click image for source)