Are We Doing Enough To Prevent Dog Attacks?


This summer has seen a high number of reported dog attacks, particularly on children. Some of these incidents have been vicious enough to cause fatalities. Sadly, it should come as little surprise, research from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) found that the amount of people admitted to hospital due to dog bites has risen by 76% in the last ten years1, with the majority of them children under nine.

German Shepherd Barking

This rise in attacks is something we've seen reflected in our work here at Simpson Millar. We have dealt with 492 dog attack cases in the last 10 years, with nearly 100 cases coming to us in 2013/2014. We expect to see a similar number of cases again in 2014/2015.

It's not stray animals that are responsible for this alarming rise in the number of attacks, but usually dogs that are closer to home, such as family pets or dogs owned by friends or neighbours, according to the NHS.

There are around 200,000 dog attacks each year in the UK according to research for the British Medical Journal. There is limited information on dog breeds that attack, it's not always the Pit Bulls or Staffordshire terriers as we may expect. In June this year a new born baby was mauled to death by a family dog in Sunderland - a Patterdale terrier.

Why Do Dogs Attack?

It is possible that the hot weather could have a part to play in some of the incidents this summer. Children are more likely to be playing outdoors and dogs can quickly become agitated in the heat. Research shows there was a spike in attacks in July 2014, with 768 admissions compared to 446 in February of the same year.

The main areas of the UK where hospitals see a large number of admissions from dog attacks are:

  • Merseyside
  • Durham, Darlington and Tees
  • Thames Valley
  • West Yorkshire

Developing an understanding of canine body language can help determine how a dog is feeling and what they are likely to do in a particular environment and situation. After all, a wagging tail doesn't necessarily mean that a dog is happy!

With children more likely to be attacked than adults2, one explanation could be that their friendly behaviour can often scare or confuse animals. Actions such as kissing, cuddling and cornering a dog can cause fear and may result in the animal reacting by biting or scratching.

Body language is one of the main ways that dogs communicate with humans and other canines. All breeds can resort to displaying aggressive behaviour ranging from snarling, snapping and growling, to the hair on the back and neck being raised. Interestingly, 57% of respondents in an exclusive YouGov survey on behalf of Simpson Millar agreed that the public should be taught how to read canine body language3. The survey also revealed that 62% of females compared to 52% of males believe that the public need a better understanding of dog behaviour so that they can detect when a dog might attack.

Spotting the Signs of Fear

Download the free poster Recognizing Fearful Body Language from Dr. Sophia Yin's website

Body Language of Fear

"Dogs live in the here and now"

Sally Barnes is Bristol's very own dog whisperer and she has worked with hundreds of dogs and their owners over the past 30 years. Sally's work has seen her deal with owners at the end of their tether with their doggie companions as they struggle to find ways to deal with unwanted behaviours.

Sally Barnes "I've seen dogs pin their humans against the wall," said Sally. "And there are people who come to me considering options such as rehoming and/or putting the dog to sleep, as they cannot cope with them anymore.

"Most of today's dogs don't have jobs. We need to fulfil that role by getting the dog to work for us as the dog's leader, as it would be in nature. Dogs that have jobs, such as police dogs, dogs for the blind, sheep dogs, sniffer dogs, etc. are happy and fulfilled dogs, who take pride in their work.

"Dogs are unpredictable animals and however much we want to change the dog into our human/baby/toddler companion, the dog remains a dog with its innate predatory characteristics. It's down to the owner to be the dog's leader and give the dog its boundaries, rules and limitations, in order to keep it and everybody around it safe.

"We need to rehabilitate the dog and train the owner. The owner must take responsibility for their dog. Dogs live in the here and now and don't find it hard to change, but humans less so. Dogs are attuned to finding out what you want by your body language not by your words.

"Dogs are constantly assessing your every movement to see what it is you want from them. As humans, sadly, we are mostly unaware of this. It's the people that have to change and understand their dog's needs as a pack animal.

"A minefield of information in the media is resulting in misunderstood owners and confused dogs. Basically, people are not able to understand their animals and how to take responsibility for them. I have many first time owners who are bombarded with messages in the media of how to train and how to look after their animals and they have no idea which way to turn. Rather than blaming people I want to educate people."

Sally started out by working with rescued horses to find their talent and turn them into dressage stars. She has always had dogs and her career in rehabilitation began when she rehomed a dog herself. Sally applied what she had learnt from working with horses to her own dogs and great results followed through understanding, love and dedication.

To find out more about Sally and her work, please visit:

Phillip Gower, Partner, from the Personal Injury and Industrial Disease department at Simpson Millar, heads up our Cardiff office and has been with the company for more than ten years.

Mr Gower said: "In 20 years of working on dog attack cases I haven't spotted a trend in the breed of dog that attacks – it could be any breed. It's usually down to the owner as to how the dog behaves around people. Recently there has been a marked rise in the number of dogs owned as pets and unfortunately many owners aren't aware of the level of care and training required with these animals.

"We have quite a few cases ongoing at Simpson Millar and each attack is different. I've seen cases where dogs have been used as a weapon and cases where a pet has escaped its home and attacked someone.

"It can take a year or so for the case to get through court, which many people find surprising. A lot of owners don't have insurance for their dogs either, which means while we can prove the owner is at fault or the dog caused the injury, it's difficult for dog owners who lose the case and have to pay out in damages."

This is an all too familiar story for James Coles* who was attacked in 2014 after a dog escaped.

James' Story

James Coles was attacked by a Rottweiler that escaped from a house while he was delivering letters. He had recently started work as a temporary postman, delivering letters to residents when James noticed a front door open.

He didn't think anything of the situation and carried on walking back to his van. A person started shouting loudly and James turned to see what the commotion was. A large Rottweiler was running towards him at speed.

James moved quickly and managed to wedge his arm between the dog and his own throat. The dog sunk his teeth into James' arm and refused to let go.

James said: "The Rottweiler sank its teeth into my elbow and I began to bleed heavily. His owner ran over and managed to get him off me. It turned out the dog had escaped from the house and there wasn't a gate in her front garden to stop him from running into the road."

There were witnesses including a neighbour who came out with hot water to bathe James' elbow. A van driver stopped his vehicle in the middle of the road in case the dog came back to attack James again. James called the police and Royal Mail to inform them of the incident and then collapsed. He remembers an ambulance arriving, as the van driver had dialled 999 for him.

"I spent eight hours in the A&E department receiving treatment and recovering following the attack.

"Luckily the Police took a lot of photos of me while I was in hospital. Simpson Millar really helped me after the attack. I contacted them to deal with my case and the solicitor, Gary Tierney, worked on my claim. He's been very supportive, especially with keeping me up-to-date with events.

"18 months after the attack I received a payment for £1,700. The dog died recently from natural causes."

James Coles* is not his real name

In a separate incident, a neighbour's dog caused severe harm to a young boy in Cardiff, when the dog managed to get in through the fencing.

Erfan's Story

Local councillor of Cardiff, Dilwar Ali, knows only too well what effects a dog attack can have on someone both emotionally and physically. His son, Erfan was just six years old when he was savaged by the next door neighbour's Rhodesian Ridgeback - a dog bred for hunting lions yet kept in a back garden. Leaving this small child severely physically and psychologically scarred for life.

Erfan The attack took place on 2nd September 2011 when the dog had pushed through a broken fence panel and jumped into the garden. "Erfan was in the garden getting the washing in with his mum when the dog managed to get through the fence. The dog circled them and then bit Erfan on the right hand," says Dilwar.

"The dog then chased them into house and at this point Masudah, aged 13 at the time, ran into the kitchen. Despite my daughter and wife's best efforts they could not prevent the dog from entering through the back door. As a Rhodesian Ridgeback, weighing about 85kg in weight, it was just too strong."

The attack lasted for 15 minutes as the dog, named Tyson, continued to bite young Erfan's both cheeks and hands. The whole experience was traumatic for Erfan, as well as his mother who tried her hardest to fend off the dog and protect her son, while Masudah called the neighbours. There was no answer and she then called the police and paramedics. Eventually Masudah managed to get the attention of the owner.

After being rushed to hospital Erfan was then transferred to the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery at Morriston Hospital, Swansea. There he underwent emergency surgery, which took about five hours. "He's had two operations so far and we were advised that he might need further surgery. The scarring on the left side of his face is much better but on the right side he will need to use camouflage makeup, possibly for the rest of his life."

Now aged ten, Erfan doesn't only have the scars to remind him of the attack but also continues to suffer psychologically. "He is scared of animals and needs the constant support of adults to feel secure. My cousin Lutfur has been his carer since the accident, as Erfan finds it difficult to trust my wife and daughters. He worries they are not strong enough to support him, and prevent an incident like this from occurring again. He is currently seeing a psychologist every fortnight who says it will take time."

During the court case Dilwar and his family have moved from the area for safety reasons. The dog was destroyed following the incident and the owner was sentenced for four months and banned from keeping dogs for ten years.

Understandably, Dilwar has been campaigning for new legislation on dangerous dogs in Wales, and has been joined by Cardiff North Assembly Member Julie Morgan.

His current campaign Caring4k9s aims to raise awareness about responsible dog ownership, which proposes a number of recommendations, such as: teaching children and young people about how to handle and care for dogs, as well as educating dog owners about the requirements of different breeds. Dilwar says: "Any dog, large or small, can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Dog owners need to be trained and educated."

Dilwar had complained on a number of occasions to the dog owner before the attack took place, as he believed that the animal was out of control. One of the changes he would like introduced is for Dog Control Notices (DCN) to be implemented4.

In 2014 a BBC investigation revealed that there has been an 81% increase in dog attacks in Wales over the past ten years. Dilwar has also spent time gathering information about Fatal Dog Attacks in the UK and as of June 2015, 17 children and 13 adults have been killed.

To find out more about Caring4K9s visit the Twitter page

Tougher Punishments Introduced

Under the Dangerous Dogs Act it is illegal for a dog to be dangerously out of control. The legislation was updated in May 2014, to include not just public places but private property too. Dog owners can be subject to an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison if their dog is dangerously out of control.

Barbed Wire Fence

A dog is considered out of control if it injures someone or makes a person worried that it might injure them. This can also apply if your dog attacks another animal, depending on the court's decision.

Under the revised Act, dog owners can face tougher punishments, including up to 14 years for fatal dog attacks and a maximum of five years if a dog causes injury.

How can more attacks be prevented?

In a YouGov survey3 conducted by Simpson Millar, 44% of respondents believe the main reason a dog might attack is if it has not been trained or handled correctly. While a staggering 76% believe that dog training should be made compulsory for dog owners. It would seem the majority of the public have a less lenient attitude towards dangerous dogs, with 68% of respondents believing a dog should be put down after a 'severe attack on a person'.

Age is clearly a factor when it comes to giving an animal a second chance, as 18 – 24 year olds are half as likely (37%) than those aged 55 years old and over (80%) to think a dog should be put down after it has bitten someone. And when it comes to region, those in Wales are most likely (80%) to agree that a dog should be put to sleep following a serious attack.

It's become clear that dog training and ensuring the public have a basic understanding of animal behaviour are key for ensuring the issue doesn't escalate further. Interestingly, those aged 18-24 (13%) are more likely to run over to pet a strange dog, while men are twice as likely as females to whistle or make excitable noises (8% to 4%). The survey shows that those aged 55 and over are 88% less likely to avoid a dog than those aged 18-24 years old (17% to 32%).

It would also appear that females have a more sensible approach towards dogs, as they are 28% more likely than males to ask the owner if it's OK to pet an unknown dog (37% to 29%).

With so many different behavioural courses and types of trainers to choose from, the issue of finding a reputable professional can present its own set of challenges. In response to widespread concern as it became easier for people to market themselves as professional dog trainers without formal, recognised qualifications, the Kennel Club Accredited Instructor Scheme (KCAI) was launched. The other well-known organisation is APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers).

As the Kennel Club explains:

"In 2008 the Companion Animal and Welfare Council (CAWC) said the animal training and behaviour industry was confused and establishing regulation within the industry was incredibly important.

"The Kennel Club worked for over 10 years to carefully craft a professional and independent response to the confusion in the industry – the Kennel Club Accredited Instructor Scheme (KCAI). We would always recommend this scheme to dog owners looking for a trainer as it is the only scheme dedicated solely and exclusively to the canine world and the only one to achieve City and Guilds recognition. The members on this scheme have a good mix of theoretical knowledge and practical hands on experience."

In August 2014 the Kennel Club helped to develop and fund the first ever canine specific National Occupation Standards (NOS) in association with LANTRA, the UK's Sector Skills Council for land-based and environmental industries.

"We have done this to try and bring harmony to the dog training world and because we recognise the need for an industry standard in order to stamp out the charlatans and provide some coherent framework to which everybody must work."

With the popularity of Bootcamps for dogs increasing, where the dog is meant to return reformed, the Kennel Club advises exercising caution; owners should ideally be at all training sessions so that they and their dog are trained and able to learn together.

Unless owners understand how to control their dogs and understand the responsibilities of ownership the dog could still attack whilst not under its owner's control.

You can find accredited dog training clubs on the Kennel Club website.

Sadly a milestone of 30 fatalities has now been reached and 27 of those have occurred since 2005, indicating a sharp increase over the last decade.

An accredited scheme, designed to produce qualified dog trainers and behaviourists may help to prevent the rise of injuries and deaths. It could also save the lives of more dogs, especially in cases where the animal has not been taught correct behaviour through the owner's lack of time, patience or understanding.

It's become clear that further education and training should be made compulsory, not just for the benefit and safety of the public but also for the wellbeing of the animals themselves, and it would seems that the general public are in agreement.

Top dog breeds that have been the cause of a fatality since 1989:

  1. Pitbull type dog = 8
  2. American Bull dog = 6
  3. Rottweiler = 6
  4. Staffordshire Bull Terrier = 5
  5. Alsatian = 3
  6. Jack Russell = 2
  7. Bull Mastiff = 2
  8. Alsatian Cross = 2
  9. French Mastiff = 2

1 Figures from the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC)
2 Data also taken from the Health & Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC)
3 These figures are from research conducted by YouGov Plc on behalf of Simpson Millar. Total sample size was 2,044 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th - 17th November 2015. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
4 Councillors call on Welsh Government to introduce notices to help 'bring dogs under control'

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