Service dogs spend their days dedicated to their people, so intensely focused on their every need. This faithfulness also makes them especially vulnerable.
A study recently published in the journal Veterinary Record found that the number of reported dog attacks on guide dogs in the United Kingdom has risen significantly in the past few years. A total of 629 attacks were reported between 2010 and 2015, an increase from an average of three per month in 2010 to eleven attacks per month in 2015.
The study was a collaboration between researchers from the Guide Dogs charity and the University of Nottingham. They aren't sure if the numbers reflect higher levels of reporting or an actual trend, but nonetheless they want to better understand the problem.
55 percent of the victim dogs were officially working in their harnesses when attacked, but the incidents weren't always unprovoked.
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More than a quarter of the attacks were attributed to a lack of control, even though both owners were present in 77 percent of the incidents. This led researchers to believe that many of the attacks could've been prevented if the aggressor dog was put on leash when the owner saw the guide dog in their working harness. While the causes and circumstances of the attacks varied, this seems like a simple solution.
As you can imagine these attacks have a significant effect on the guide dogs and those who rely on them for mobility and independence. Over 40 percent of the attacked pups experienced a negative impact on working ability. And 70 percent of the dog handlers reported an affect on their emotional well being.
In 2014, attacks on guide dogs became an aggravated offense in the U.K., punishable with sentences of up to three years for the attacking dog's owner. Between this new law and awareness, the Guide Dogs and the University of Nottingham hope the numbers will begin to swing in the opposite direction.