Human-directed aggression by pet dogs: a preliminary study

Published date11 July 2016
Date11 July 2016
AuthorPhilip Birch,Peta Kennedy
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace
Human-directed aggression by pet dogs:
a preliminary study
Philip Birch and Peta Kennedy
Philip Birch is a Lecturer at
the School of Social Sciences
and Psychology, University of
Western Sydney,
Sydney, Australia.
Peta Kennedy is based at the
School of Social Sciences,
University of New South Wales,
Sydney, Australia.
Purpose Human-directed aggression by pet dogs is of significant concern (Klausz et al., 2013), and while
there is evidence to suggest that public awareness surrounding this social problem has occurred,
the academic literature is limited (Martinez et al., 2011). The emerging research in this area has shown that the
seriousness of a dog attack can lead to negative physiological, psychological and social consequences and
in some circumstances, fatalities (De Munnynck and Van de Voorde, 2002). A small-scale preliminary study
was conducted in New South Wales, Australia to enhance the knowledge of dog attacks towards humans,
as well as contribute to the development of larger scale studies focusing on human-directed aggression by
pet dogs. The paper aims to discuss these issues.
Design/methodology/approach Utilising a qualitative approach, this preliminary study examined the lived
experience of victims who had been attacked by a dog. Eight semi-structured interviews with participants
were conducted and a thematic approach was adopted as the analytical framework for data analysis.
Findings The findings offer a useful insight into the context, setting and effects of a pet dog attack on
humans. This study contributes further evidence towards the need for larger scale studies in this area.
The results offer evidence for further research into victims of dog attacks, as well as exploring the relationship
between a dog owner and the aggression displayed by their dog.
Practical implications Evidence of the physical, emotional and psychological impact on victims of a dog
attack is provided through this study and as such can be used to develop initiatives to support victims.
The similarities between human-directed pet aggression and other forms of aggressive behaviour is
highlighted, as such initiatives used to prevent and reduce other forms of aggressive behaviour could be
applied to victims of dog attacks. This study also recognises that different breeds and size of dog are capable
of human-directed aggression, therefore increasing knowledge and awareness of the potential risk to
potential victims. Education programmes focusing on dog ownership are suggested in order to support
owners in the care and treatment of their pets.
Originality/value This study contributes to a neglected area in the academic literature compared to other
forms of aggression more heavily researched. Evidence for the development of prevention and reduction
techniques for this type of aggressive behaviour emerges. Implications for further research are also revealed
through this preliminary study.
Keywords Aggression, Social impact, Dog attacks, Human victims, Physical impact,
Psychological impact
Paper type Research paper
Human-directed aggression by pet dogs is a neglected topic compared with other forms of
aggression that are researched within the academic community. However, the extent of pet dog
attacks is shown to be a severe social problem (Klausz et al., 2013; World Health Organisation,
2013). Drawing on existing aggression literature, with a focus on domestic and family violence
(DFV), possible explanations and insights into aggression by dogs can be sought. For example,
in relation to DFV research Dobash and Dobash (2004) evidenced mens violence towards
Received 16 December 2015
Revised 27 February 2016
28 March 2016
30 March 2016
Accepted 30 March 2016
DOI 10.1108/JACPR-12-2015-0202 VOL. 8 NO. 3 2016, pp.151-161, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599

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