As a general rule, we try to keep things light and fun when it comes to learning about dogs. But at the same time, there's a reason the Zara DogDog Club exists; we truly believe that educating children and families about how to live safely and respectfully alongside dogs is essential.
As part of our continued learning on the topic, our Founder, Anna Crichton attended the first in a series of talks about how to prevent dog bites.
It was organised by Hannah Molloy (who you may have seen on Ch4 Puppy School) as part of the All Parliamentary Dog Welfare Group (APDAWG) and featured talks from leading UK experts John Tullock, Vetinerary Public Health expert from the University of Liverpool, Dr Andrea Jester Paediatric plastic surgeon at Birmingham Hospital who deals with dog bites on children every week (I don't know how she does her job!), Carri Westgarth, Senior lecturer in Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Liverpool and it was co-hosted by Marc Abraham aka Marc the Vet.
Most of the data in this blog post relates to the research presented by John Tullock. Setting the scene, he explained that over the past 20 years, the average number of deaths from dog bites has been three. A sad loss of life (both human and dog) but relatively low number overall. Compare this with nine deaths already in 2022.
Is this a blip? Or the start of a worrying trend?
Like us, you may assume that this is a direct consequence of the increasing popularity of dogs as pets since the first lockdown. But interestingly, the rate of dog bites is occurring faster than the increase in dogs.
So what's driving this increase in bites?
The data shows that most dog bites happen in the home. And they are more common in rural areas than urban. There has also been an increase in adults being bitten. But the biggest insight is that over a third of bites occur in the 20% most deprived communities.
This isn't a social problem. It's a community problem.
So how can we help?
Carri Westgarth talks about a system approach. Data shows that accidents are from a chain of events that provide multiple opportunities for prevention. Remove any link in the chain and we have a chance at preventing dog bites.
Below are some ways we've thought of where each of us as parents, guardians or teachers can help to remove a link in the chain and prevent the increase in dog bites.
Educate: we need to show children and families the right way to behave and to treat dogs. Initiatives like the RSPCA's Generation Kind are essential for this. More education at school can change mindsets and behaviour.
Speak up: if you see a neighbour or friend doing something that could increase the chance of their dog biting, tell them. In a nice way of course but without course correction, unhelpful behaviour can lead to negative consequences.
Be open: engage in discussions, join the next session in the APDAWG series on preventing dogs
Volunteer: APDAWG have SO much more data to analyse but they are all volunteers and aren't funded for their time. If you think you could help then get in touch.
Be the voice of your dog: if you have a dog and you can see they are uncomfortable or feeling unsafe around others then explain to them how your dog is feeling. They can't talk so we need to speak up on their behalf. We demonstrate this to children in our book Zara DogDog on the school run.
There are many, many more things we can do as a community to help change this situation and prevent dog bites.
So what ideas do you have? We'd love to hear them.