Human-directed aggression by pet dogs: A preliminary study

Philip Birch, Peta Kennedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-161
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2016


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