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Victims’ Roles in Dog Bites

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)

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Dog bites have always been a public health concern; however, there is increasing awareness because of media attention. Despite prevention programs aimed at educating people about how to assess dogs’ body language and recognize risk, dog bites appear to be on the rise. In this study, detailed interviews were conducted with 8 female dog bite victims to ascertain their perceptions of how and why the bite occurred. 

Victims differed in their definitions of a bite (eg, whether skin was broken, if it was during play). All victims stated clearly that they did not blame the dog; they blamed themselves and/or the dog’s owner. In some cases, there was
no interaction with the dog prior to the bite and thus no opportunity to employ preventative strategies as commonly taught. All participants felt they were knowledgeable about dogs and had “I didn’t think it would happen to me” attitudes. Another shared perception was that it was “just one of those things.” Reactions were affected by the victims’ relationship with the dogs and general attitudes toward dogs. One victim made up a cover story—blaming her mother’s cat—to prevent the perception of her dog as dangerous. 

These perceptions are not unique to the human-canine bond but rather are similar to those found in other areas of injury-prevention (eg, drunk driving, fires). The authors concluded that dog bite-prevention programs should consider additional strategies, including awareness programs and damage mitigation.


Veterinarians and their team members are important sources of behavioral information for dog owners. This article adds to the resources available by introducing new perspectives on dog bite-prevention education. It appears that communicating the actual risk of a bite and the ability to prevent one are possibly more important than teaching behavioral cues. Veterinarians can educate dog owners and the general public about risks and preventative strategies. Additionally, because veterinary team members are often victims of dog bites, this article provides an interesting discussion topic for a clinic safety meeting. —Elizabeth Layne, DVM


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