It’s true what they say: dogs can smell fear. If you’re afraid of dogs and approach one with anxiety, you’re more likely to get bit.
That’s according to a new study published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) that found that anxious people are more likely to be bitten by dogs, especially ones they’re not familiar with (i.e. not a family pet).
Published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers looked at data from 694 people and compared the number of bites with demographic, overall health, and emotional stability (determined by a survey known as the Ten Item Personality Inventory, or TIPI). Participants were also asked if they owned a dog.
According to the study, “People who owned several dogs were more than three times as likely to have been bitten as those who didn’t own dogs, and more than half (just under 55%) of respondents said they had been bitten by a dog they didn’t know. 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.”
Lead study author Carri Westgarth tells Live Science:
The only official statistics collected on dog bites in the U.K. are hospital admissions, not even visits to emergency rooms for treatments. We have no idea how many people are actually bitten by dogs and how many bites require medical treatment.
Results showed that the more emotionally stable and less neurotic an individual was, the less likely they were to be bitten by a dog.
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Researchers say it’s 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.”