Dogs more apt to bite anxious, neurotic people

Scaredy cats are more apt to be bitten by dogs.

So say University of Liverpool researchers in a study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Being anxious, nervous and irritable was associated with an increased frequency of dog bites, according to research led by Carri Westgarth, Ph.D.

“The association was between the personality factor of emotional stability and having been bitten by a dog,” Westgarth told the Daily News. “The more emotionally stable a person scored, the less likely they were to have been bitten.”

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As such, “dog bite prevention schemes may also need to target particular behaviors around dogs by different victim personality types,” Westgarth noted.

Findings are based on surveys of nearly 700 people in England. Subjects were asked if they owned a dog, who in the household had been bitten, how severe the bite was and if victim knew the dog that bit them.

Researchers included data about subjects’ traits based on Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI) surveys. TIPI measures emotional stability and neuroticism, among other things, on a scale of one to seven — with seven being the most stable.

Respondents who rated themselves as more calm or emotionally stable were less likely to report having been bitten by a dog.

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People who rated themselves as more anxious and less emotionally stable were more likely to get bitten.

“Every single point increase in score between 1 and 7 was associated with a 23% decrease in the likelihood of having been bitten,” according to researchers.

The study doesn’t account for variables such as sex, age and breed of the biting dog. And because the study is an observational one, no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect being personal anxiety and dog bites.

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Bites from unfamiliar dogs, unlike this pooch that is part of the family, accounted for 55% of bites in the new UK study.

(valentinrussanov/Getty Images)

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“Perhaps there is something about the way anxious people behave around dogs,” Westgarth tells The News. “Perhaps anxious people own more nervous dogs. Perhaps being bitten by a dog makes someone more anxious. In the absence of knowing why at this moment, it seems sensible to recommend that anyone tries to act calmly around dogs.”

The study also showed that men are nearly twice as likely to have been bitten as women and that bites from unfamiliar dogs is common and accounted for 55% of bites.

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“There are lots of other things that can be done to prevent dog bites,” says Westgarth. Her tips include:

* Pick from the litter with care. Choose a dog from parents with good temperaments, as aggression is inherited.  

* Teach new dogs socialization tricks. Make sure the dog is well socialized when young so it does not find things scary later.

* Learn about dog body language and signals of stress. “You can see when a dog is worried and back off or remove it from that situation before a dog feels the need to bite,” says Westgarth. “Dogs show many signs that they are worried before they actually bite.”

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