A review of 100 attacks on guide dogs (dogs that help blind people get around) by other dogs report that there are over 3 attacks each month in the UK, with bull breeds accounting for approximately 40% of all attacks, according to a report published in this week's Veterinary Record, a BMJ publication.

The authors, two of whom work for the UK Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, examined data on 100 canine attacks on guide dogs between November 2006 and April 2009.

The researchers wanted to quantify how often attacks took place and how severe they were, as well as the impact on the handler and the dog.

61% of attacks were made on dogs that were in harness and working with their trainer or owner. 85.7% of the aggressors and 62% of the victims were male.

Breeds most likely to be attacked were: Labradors Golden retrievers Retriever cross breeds The majority of attacks took place in public places and in daylight hours between 0900 and 1500 hours.

61% of the attacking dogs were off the lead (leash) at the time. Excluding cross breeds, just under 46% of the attackers were bull breeds - mastiffs, bull terriers, pit bull types, Staffordshire bull terriers and bulldogs. This is a much higher percentage than is found in the general dog population of the UK, where bull breeds account for around 6%, say the researchers.

13.6% of the aggressors were guard dog breeds. Guard dog breeds make up just under 6% of the UK dog population.

49 guide dogs required veterinary care following the attack. In 19% of cases, either the handler or a member of the public sustained injuries, including scratching, bruising, and bites to the hands, ankle or head. In eight of these 19 cases, medical attention was required.

45% of the dogs attacked were affected in a way that subsequently altered their performance or behavior. Two guide dogs had to be withdrawn from guiding service.

There were also emotional repercussions for the owners/handlers, who received an apology from the owners of the aggressor dogs in only six cases. In eight cases, they left the scene without saying anything to the handler. This is despite the fact that many of the handlers were shaken and distressed, and unable to see if their dog needed veterinary care after the attack, say the authors.

There are approximately 4,500 working guide dogs in the United Kingdom, supported by the Association, and it costs around £50,000 ($75,000) to maintain a guide dog during its life time, they point out.

The authors wrote:

The financial implications of attacks on guide dogs should not be underestimated," they write, "especially if retraining or replacing a guide dog is necessary. Most importantly, a person in critical need of a guide dog may be without one for a period of time while waiting for a suitable replacement to be trained; this will impact on their quality of life and mobility.

Incidence and impact of dog attacks on guide dogs in the UK
A. Brooks, R. Moxon, BSc and G. C. W. England, BVetMed, PhD, DVetMed, CertVA, DVR, DipVRep, DipECAR, DipACT, FHEA, FRCVS
The Veterinary Record 166:778-781 (2010)

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