A leading academic has warned that Britain is in the midst of a public health crisis as the number of deadly dog attacks continues to rise.
Dr John Tulloch, a veterinary public health expert at the University of Liverpool authored a 2021 research paper that revealed a startling rise in the number of dog bite incidents over the past 20 years.
He told MailOnline that although wider research into the cause of this explosion in these attacks was limited, there had been an emergence of ‘worrying’ trends that he has witnessed in more recent dog ownership.
Possible explanations include broader changes in society, with more dogs now being bought from unregulated or overseas breeders, or the way in which people interact with their pets – fuelled by TikTok trends or videos hoping to garner likes online.
Schoolboy Jack Lis, 10, was mauled to death by an XXL Bully breed in November 2021
Little Bella-Rae Birch was just 17 months old when she was killed after suffering serious injuries from a bite caused by an American Bully XL breed
Ann Dunn, 65, was another victim of a brutal dog attack, described by police as an American Bulldog-style breed
Muscles bulging, this is the dog nicknamed ‘Beast’ that took seven rounds to kill after mauling schoolboy Jack Lis to death
Dr Tulloch told MailOnline: ‘In the last 20 years or so there’s been a definite rise in cases of severe dog attacks, it has been creeping up and up and up and we should be calling it what it is, a growing public health problem.
‘In most cases, it’s a dog that is known to the victim as these events are occurring behind closed doors.
‘Children still account for around 25 per cent of hospital admissions due to dog bites, but we need to understand why adults are being attacked more now, it’s a striking problem.
How to spot aggression in a dog – and its cause
Aggression in dogs is almost always a case of fear – using their bite as a last resort method of self-defence or to get a frightening or unpleasant experience to stop.
Such fears can arise due to early years puppy socialisation or past experiences.
Owners need to be able to recognise and establish how a dog is feeling, with many giving off warning signals before an attack.
There are several signals that your dog may give to indicate they are worried, fearful or feeling stressed and these include: yawning or licking lips, crouching with their tail between their legs, wagging tails and growling.
If a dog is showing any signs of aggression, a vet should be consulted to determine if there is a medical cause, such as pain or discomfort.
Failing that, speaking to a behavioural expert could help tame a more aggressive animal.
‘And more deprived areas of the country have higher dog bite hospitalisation rates compared to the least deprived communities, which had the lowest.’
Responding to the rising number of fatalities last year, Defra said it was ‘exploring measures to reduce dog attacks and promote responsible ownership’.
James McNally, dubbed Britain’s ‘dog bite solicitor’ and a personal injury claim expert with Slee Blackwell Solicitors, has said he’s seen a rise in the number of dog bite claims in recent years.
He told MailOnline how he currently has more than 180 clients and his inbox is ballooning with fresh enquiries every day.
Mr McNally said: ‘Some of the worst injuries we’re seeing are by those beloved household pets; Collies, Jack Russells, Huskies. Any dog can cause injury at any time.
‘We’ve had a lady who lost the tip of her nose, delivery drivers missing fingers. There are cases we’re dealing with where a child has been scalped by the dog and suffered serious facial injuries – they’re all horrible.
‘In a lot of the cases we’re seeing, the way I see it is that it’s the family dogs.
‘I think the pandemic puppy boom has probably contributed to the rising number of dog bites, experts have raised huge concerns about puppy farms and I think a lot of us are just not aware of this entire world of dog breeding.
‘Ultimately, it’s a bit of a Wild West out there. We had the wrong dogs, being bred by the wrong people, going to the wrong homes.
‘It’s a recipe for disaster and was fuelling the fire.’
Little Alice Stones was savaged by the animal in her back garden in Broadlands, Netherfield, last night.
Armed police cornered the dog and destroyed it. Thames Valley Police has said no arrests have been made as they investigate the attack in Buckinghamshire.
Daniel Twigg, three, was ‘a happy, kind and caring little boy who was loved by all who knew him’ before being killed in a dog attack last year
Jack Lis was attacked by the XL bully dog while playing with a friend at a house after school in Pentwyn
American Bully-type dog Cookie was put down by a vet at the scene after he bit Keven Jones, 62, and he bled to death
Dog behaviourist and clinical animal behaviour student Kyra Algazi-Floden insists the boom in puppy ownership could be contributing to the number of dog attacks in the UK.
Fatal dog attacks in the UK in 2022:
10 people died from dog attacks in the UK last year. They are:
John William Jones
John William Jones, 68, known as William, was found dead at his country cottage in Lampeter, West Wales, on Jan 10. Police sedated three bulldogs Milo, Tia and Abbie after arriving at the scene.
Kyra Leanne King
Three-month-old Kyra Leanne King died on March 6, at Ostler’s Plantation, near Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire.
A 40-year-old woman and a 54-year-old man were arrested on suspicion of being in charge of an out-of-control husky and remain under investigation.
Bella-Rae Birch was just 17 months old when an American Bully XL mauled her to death at her home in Blackbrook, St Helen’s on March 21.
The dog had been bought by her father ‘for buttons’ just one week earlier and was ‘humanely destroyed’ following the shocking attack, Merseyside Police said.
Two-year-old Lawson Bond was savaged at home in the village of Egdon, Worcestershire, on March 28. Lawson suffered a cardiac arrest as a result of his horrific injuries and died two days later on March 30.
Three-year-old Daniel Twigg was mauled to death in a dog attack on a farm on May 15. Paramedics rushed to the area in Rochdale shortly after 1pm on Sunday to reports the youngster had been injured. Daniel was taken by ambulance to hospital where he was sadly pronounced dead.
Ms Robinson, 43, was killed by an American bully XL in West Melton, South Yorkshire, on July 15.
34-year-old dog trainer Ian Symes was attacked in a park in Portsmouth on August 10. He died from his injuries after being bitten by an American bully XL.
62-year-old Mr Jones died after being mauled by a dog at a house in Wales.
Police were called to a property on Holt Road, Wrexham, north Wales, at 11.44am on Monday, May 23.
The Welsh Ambulance Service said Mr Jones was having a heart attack after being bitten by the dog, but died at the scene despite efforts of paramedics.
Ann Dunn, 65, became the ninth victim of a fatal dog attack on October 3 after being mauled by multiple American bulldogs. Her body was found after she did not arrive to collect her grandson from school, neighbours say.
Pensioner Shirley Patrick, 83, died from her injuries two weeks after being attacked by an American Bully XL breed in Caerphilly, South Wales.
‘Like with kids, not everyone is equipped to be a parent, and not everyone is equipped to be a dog-owner,’ she told MailOnline.
‘A dog is an animal and it can always bite as a last resort. It’s not just a toy, it needs to be looked after and I don’t think enough people realise that.
‘The first 4-8 months of raising a puppy are very important. Puppies need the right amount of exercise, food, sleep, socialisation and care. Those that have not been bred and raised under the right circumstances will have fewer coping mechanisms in life which could, for example, make them more withdrawn or aggressive.
‘Each case [fatal dog attack] needs to be looked at individually, and we should be also looking into what the people are doing wrong, not always the dog.’
She also had strong words for cash-hungry dog breeders who were cutting corners during the pandemic.
‘Dog breeding is such an unregulated profession, and I think a lot of people just don’t know enough about dogs.’
It’s a similar fear among academics and experts, with dog ownership increasing by an estimated 10 per cent in the UK during the pandemic.
Dr Tulloch adds: ‘There is some regulation in place but there are certainly cases of unscrupulous breeding activities going on.
‘It’s so easy to go online, go out today with cash in hand a get a dog on a whim. That’s without checking their environment, how the mother is looked after, for example.’
The shock research comes after a spate of fatal dog attacks in 2022, which saw a record ten people killed.
Four of those killed in deadly dog attacks were children, with the case of schoolboy Jack Lis shocking the nation after he was mauled by a near-7st Bully XL dog called ‘Beast’.
Emma Whitfield, mother of little Jack, revealed her heartache as she spoke out for the first time six months after her son’s death.
Recalling his last day, she told Panorama: ‘He wanted to go out to play and take his skateboard. The last thing I said to him was be careful.
‘Jack had met his friend straight after leaving the house. His friend said do you want to come and see my new dog?
‘Within maybe 10-15 minutes of that, my door knocked. There was a lady saying he’s been attacked by a dog.
‘I jumped in the car, pulled up outside the house, you could hear the dog barking. The dog tried running through the door and that was how I saw the dog’s face. He had only attacked one part of Jack and it was here up [pointing to the neck].
‘They kept saying they’re working on him, they’re working on him. Then the paramedic walked away and came back with a blanket. I knew, but I couldn’t say out loud what I saw because I don’t want other people to have to picture it either.
‘Every time I shut my eyes, I try and tell myself that’s not the last image I have of him.
‘I try and tell myself it was when he shut the door with the skateboard in his hands. But that’s not true.’
The rise in dog attacks in recent years, which has ballooned from around 3,300 in 2002 to more than 8,800 in 2021, has sparked some calls for a revamp of the Dangerous Dogs Act.
That 1991 law saw a blanket ban imposed on four specific ‘fighting-style’ breeds in the UK; the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasiliero.
But some experts say the legislation itself is problematic, and has created a misguided sense of comfort that all remaining dog breeds are safe.
Alice Stones, four, was pronounced dead at the scene after being seriously injured in the attack in the back garden of her home in Broadlands, Netherfield
Officers and paramedics responded to the home in Broadlands, Netherfield, just after 5pm yesterday after receiving reports that a dog had attacked a child in the back garden
Dr Sam Gains, the RSPCA’s head of companion animals, science and policy, said: ‘It [The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991] has the potential to lead to the public thinking that only those four are dangerous and that any other dog is safe.
‘So there becomes this perception that any other type of dog is friendly which then leads to situations where people engage in high-risk behaviour without realising that any dog, if they feel stressed or frightened, has the potential to be aggressive.
‘We have long been calling for a complete reform of dog control laws and strongly believe we need a different approach to keeping the public safe and the welfare of dogs protected.
‘Any dog has the potential to bite and so we want to see effective breed neutral legislation and enforcement which focuses on early intervention so that incidents can be prevented from occuring or escalating, but they must be evidence-based and proportionate.’
Dr Tulloch is also wary of the perceived influence of the Dangerous Dogs Act. He told MailOnline how continuous debate around which dogs should be banned, or unbanned, was counter-intuitive.
‘If we ban a swathe of new breeds, all that would happen is that those training dogs to be more aggressive would just move to the next breed of dog.
‘Look at other countries, the Staffy is banned in a lot of them. Here in the UK, it’s a beloved family pet.
‘I think the debate on dangerous dog breeds is endless. I don’t think we have any clear evidence that one breed is more dangerous than the other, as we don’t fully understand the make-up of our dog population in this country.
‘A lot of energy is spent talking about breeds and nothing is being done to clarify the situation.’
What is the Dangerous Dogs Act? Which dogs are banned? And why is it controversial?
WHAT IS THE DANGEROUS DOGS ACT?
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 bans or restricts certain types of dogs and makes it an offence to allow a dog of any breed to be dangerously out of control.
It was introduced 30 years ago by Home Secretary Kenneth Baker ‘to rid the country of the menace of these fighting dogs’ after a string of attacks.
WHICH DOGS ARE BANNED IN THE UK?
It is illegal to own four breeds of dogs without an exemption from a court. They are:
- American pitbull terriers
- Japanese tosas
- Dogo Argentinos
- Fila Brazileiro
The law also criminalises cross-breeds of the above four types of dog – meaning that whether a dog is prohibited will depend on a judgement about its physical characteristics and whether they match the description of a prohibited ‘type’.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE’S A DOG ATTACK?
You can get an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to six months if your dog is dangerously out of control.
You may not be allowed to own a dog in the future and your dog may be destroyed.
If you let your dog injure someone you can be sent to prison for up to five years or fined. If you deliberately use your dog to injure someone you could be charged with ‘malicious wounding’.
And if you allow your dog to kill someone you can be sent to prison for up to 14 years or get an unlimited fine.
WHY IS THE ACT CONTROVERSIAL?
Both the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the British Veterinary Association have protested against the ban, insisting there is no scientific evidence that all individuals of a breed are dangerous.
However, Met Police data suggests that in incidents involving ‘dangerously out of control dogs’, banned breeds account for about a fifth of offences.