If you are around dogs, try not to be nervous.
Because showing anxiety significantly raises the risk of suffering a dog bite.
Animal lovers have warned for centuries that dogs can sense someone’s fear, but new research definitively establishes a link between personality type and dog bite risk.
Researchers at Liverpool University, whose results are published in the BMJ Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, questioned 694 people living in Cheshire, both dog owners and non-dog-owners.
Researchers at Liverpool University interviewed dog and non-dog owners to test their emotional stability. They found that people who were more secure and less neurotic were least likely to be bitten by a dog. The team also found people who were insecure had insecure dogs
A quarter of the participants said they had been bitten by a dog at least once in their life.
The scientists assessed their emotional stability using a psychological test called the ten-item personality inventory, which measures confidence, nervousness and anxiety.
They found people who were more stable and less neurotic were the least likely to get bitten.
For every additional point on a seven-point scale of emotional stability, the chance of being bitten went down by 23 per cent.
The research team, which includes experts from Liverpool’s institute of infection and institute of veterinary science, believe insecure people have insecure dogs.
Another suggestion may be that people with conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD – provoke their dogs with their behaviour.
They wrote: ‘Previous research has outlined mental disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children as risk factors for dog bites.
‘This adds strength to our finding that personality may be associated with dog bite incidence.’
They added: ‘These studies suggest that nervous/anxious owners may have nervous/anxious dogs, which may be another explanation for increased bite risk.
‘Much more research into the possible association with personality is now required, especially in order to understand if and how this knowledge could be used in dog bite prevention.
‘Dog bite prevention schemes may also need to target particular behaviours around dogs by different victim personality types.’
The scientists found that dog owners were three times more likely to have been bitten than those who did not own a dog.
But they also found it was more common for participants to have been bitten by dogs completely unknown to them than familiar dogs.
The said: ‘It is essential that previously assumed risk factors are reassessed as this study has revealed that prior beliefs, such as bites typically being from familiar dogs, are contested.’
The researchers also found dog bites were more common than thought.
Hospital records show the rate of dog bites is 740 per 100,000 of the population, but the survey responses indicate a rate of 1873 per 100,000 – nearly three times the official figure.
One in three dog bites required treatment, but only a small proportion – 0.6 per cent – required hospital treatment.
While this is reassuring, even minor bites can cause significant distress, the researchers said.