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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

News & Views May 2018 Issue

Biting the Hand that Quakes

As a dog owner, you’ve no doubt observed that people who are nervous around dogs are the ones who often bring out their aggressive tendencies. It makes sense: nervous people beget nervous canines who act out by trying to work through their jitters via aggression. Now research makes the point empirically.

Investigators reporting in the British Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health surveyed 694 people in 385 households in Cheshire, England, about their history of dog bites. They also administered to the respondents a short test called the Personality Inventory. It turned out that those who scored higher for “emotional stability” had a lower incidence for ever having been bitten by a dog.

It’s hard to apply the findings in a practical way because asking a nervous stranger to calm down in front of your dog so that your pet will not become anxious and overreact will generally not work. But it pays to bear in mind that you should remain calm if you end up in a situation where someone feels afraid and your dog’s antics only up the ante. You’ll be much more likely to bring your dog back in line quickly by remaining in control of yourself and directing your pet with confident authority rather than with screaming and flailing of your own.

The person who feels afraid may not like that you don’t appear to be what he or she deems suitably alarmed at your dog’s behavior. But it falls to you to diffuse the situation as quickly as possible, even if it’s not the way someone who doesn’t understand dogs would expect.

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