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Staying Safe Around Dogs

Liverpool’s Public Health Team is working with animal behaviour experts to develop public awareness on how to interact with dogs safely and reduce harm.

People and dogs are usually a great combination – but situations can easily become overwhelming for dogs, leaving them scared and anxious – with sometimes devastating results.

The number of injuries from dog bites has been steadily increasing across England, and instances of dog bites are higher amongst family pets, opposed to unknown dogs.

Hospital admissions from dog-related injuries increased in Liverpool by more than 60% in the period 2008 to 2018. This is the equivalent to three people every week – and is more than double the national average.

While rates of dog bites in adults and children remain comparable, children are more often bit on their head or neck, resulting in more life changing injuries.

It’s important to remember that while most dogs are friendly, they can be unpredictable. Here’s some key advice for staying safe around dogs at home, or on the move.

Spotting the warning signs

Signs that a dog is stressed or uncomfortable isn’t limited to growling or baring their teeth – more subtle behaviours like folding ears back, displaying tension in their bodies, or flicking their tongue can all be signs that they are feeling anxious – which can result in unexpected aggression.

Image – “Signs your dog is feeling anxious” – The Dog’s Trust

Learning to spot these early warning signs can help prevent aggression before it escalates.

If you own a dog and notice any sudden changes in your dog’s behaviour, consider visiting a vet who can check for any underlying health issues or refer you to an animal behaviourist.

Dog training is also a really important part of dog ownership and is a way of bonding with your dog. It helps build confidence and provides mental stimulation – reducing stress and helping to keep your dog happy.

Sharing a space with a dog

If you live with a dog – or are visiting a home of someone who has a dog – it’s important to understand how to share that space safely.

Recognise that normal childhood activities like running, shouting and energetic play can sometimes be overwhelming for dogs – so look to create a ‘dog zone’ where they can go if it gets too noisy.

Try not to disturb a dog when it’s eating or sleeping and show older children how to interact with a dog – and that they shouldn’t grab at their tails or ears, or give prolonged cuddles

Avoid leaving babies or small children alone with a dog – even a trusted family pet.

Remember even the best-behaved dog may bite if it feels scared or threatened.

Meeting a dog outdoors

Dogs are social creatures, but always ask the owner if it’s okay before approaching or stroking a dog – and respect boundaries if the answer is no.

If an unknown dog approaches, and you don’t feel comfortable, try and stay still and calm – and avoid making any sudden movements.

Don’t look the dog in the eye, and if you’re holding food or a toy – drop it. If the dog loses interest in you, slowly walk away.

Concerned about a dog’s welfare?

If a dog is on their own — be aware that they may be lost or scared and could be more likely to bite out of fear.

If you need to report a stray or abandoned dog in Liverpool, contact Animal Wardens Limited on 0151 374 2174 between 8.30am and midnight.

You can make direct reports to the RSPCA regarding animal cruelty, but always report dangerous dogs or dog fighting to Merseyside Police on 0151 709 6010.

If you need to report nuisance barking, or dog fouling visit our website.

Under the Animal Welfare Regulations, selling animals as pets or offer boarding/day care services requires special licences – so if you think someone is operating without a licence you can also report this online.

To help residents and dogs live more harmoniously, Liverpool City Council introduced the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) last autumn, which prohibits dogs from entering children’s play areas, ensures dogs are kept on a lead in all of the city’s cemeteries and targets owners who fail to dispose of their dog mess responsibly.

Mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, lead Cabinet member for Neighbourhoods said:

“The UK is definitely a nation of animal lovers – but the worrying increase in dog bites within people’s homes, alongside the tragic case over weekend reminds us that animal behaviour can sometimes be unpredictable – and that any dog can bite – even your family pet.

With higher than national rates of hospitalisations and potential life changing injuries occurring locally, Liverpool City Council is now working with partners to raise awareness of this issue and help prevent further tragedies from occurring.”

Director of Public Health for Liverpool, Professor Matthew Ashton said:

“There are lots of health benefits to having a pet at home, including companionship and getting people outdoors and experiencing our wonderful city.

Whilst most dogs are well trained and socialised, it’s important to remember that they can sometimes feel overwhelmed, which can result in unexpected aggression.

Liverpool’s Public Health Team are working with animal behaviour experts at The University of Liverpool to develop public awareness on how to interact with dogs safely and reduce harm.”

Dr John Tulloch, Specialist in Veterinary Public Health at The University of Liverpool said:

“Despite sustained education and preventative campaigns across large parts of society, the issue of dog bites continues to grow and is a huge public health issue.

It is important to remember that any dog can bite regardless of how well you know the dog, and most bites will occur in the owner’s home.

Dog bites to children can be very severe, so ensure that you observe children and dogs closely and intervene when necessary. Dogs do not want to bite you, it is a last resort response for them, so watch out for any warning signs of them being uncomfortable in a situation and remove yourselves, or them, from it.”