Bite Bias

We’re human, at least if you’re reading this I’m going to assume you’re human, so therefore we’re fundamentally flawed. We might not want to admit it, but it’s part of the deal. Along with groaning when we bend over, forgetting people’s names and needing an afternoon nap, as we get older we have an increasing list of social biases.


If you’re heard the phrases, ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, ‘herd instinct’, or ‘hindsight is 20-20’ then you are already well versed in the concept.

Research into human behaviour has a provided a long list of different areas of bias and while it is fascinating, life is short, so let’s have a look at these more commonly known areas.

Robert Merton describes a self-fulfilling prophecy as ‘a cultural belief that becomes true because people act as though it is true.’ For example, my fabulous Irish Auntie has always told me that ‘things happen in threes’. She has only ever said this about things that are going wrong, funnily enough! I am one hundred per cent sure that the universe is not conspiring to freak me out, but even now, if something has gone wrong in the morning, I find myself adding things up throughout the day. When three things go wrong, regardless of how tiny these things are, I smile and acknowledge my Auntie’s wisdom. If a fourth thing goes wrong, I simply dismiss it.

If a dog bites and the story reaches the media, we know what the accompanying picture will be. More often than not, regardless of what has happened, there will be a picture of a very annoyed bull breed. Sometimes it’s a sneezing bull breed, but we won’t let fact get in the way of a good story. We can read the words in the article which state ‘a dachshund was pushed too far and nipped an off-lead child’ but the words don’t filter through. Just like with my Auntie’s wisdom. Fact is dismissed for what has been installed in a flawed brain and filed under ‘truth’.

We can travel all the way back to the days of Dr Sigmund Freud to look at research in to herd instinct, where he discussed group psychology and ego, or we could turn on the television and watch supporters at a football match. There isn’t any individual thought or individual decision making, there’s a mass consciousness where people behave in the way those around them are behaving. The events around the world, not least in the UK, over recent months have highlighted the potential damage than can be caused by unthinking humans, acting on herd instinct.

It’s the lack of individual thought that I find the most frightening element of this area of bias. If the masses believe that certain dogs are dangerous and should be killed, then that must be true. Judgement based on an individual’s looks isn’t an alien concept at the moment and as terrifying as that is to the ‘thinking’ humans among us, there is an enormous power in herd instinct.

Then we have hindsight, also known as the ‘I knew that all along’ phenomenon. Even though there hasn’t been any objective bias for predicting a certain event, it is still seen as predictable. I am guilty of this. When I had finished my first book I began sending it to agents and publishers. After more rejections than I care to remember, it was accepted. In the midst of the excitement and relief I was caught saying ‘I knew it would happen’. No I didn’t. As far as I’m aware, I cannot see into the future. Believe me, I try every Friday when I buy a lottery ticket and so far; no joy.

Of course, when there’s a bite story, there’s a foregone conclusion that a bull breed has bitten; ‘we knew that would happen.’ The helpful Grandma of a client I visited recently said ‘I told them not to get that dog, I knew it was dangerous.’ The Labrador had nipped in circumstances where I would not have had the same level of self-control and the next thing out of the Grandma’s mouth was; ‘I knew there was some Staffy in it.’ It is why hindsight is apparently such a wonderful thing.

It’s not difficult to see why the ridiculous concept of Breed Specific Legislation has become law and why there is a vast amount of misunderstanding around the subject of dog bites and breeds. Any one of the areas of bias we have looked at can lead to misguided opinion becoming ‘fact’ in the mind of a flawed human. We are all flawed humans and I invite you to compassionately explore your own weird and wonderful biases. It is only with kindness that we can challenge those who have the biases that literally tear our hearts out and kill our dogs.

We categorically know that Breed Specific Legislation is wrong, but we’re challenging a physiological flaw in human wiring. To change the law, we need to change the wiring. We can do that by kindly and compassionately showing that not only do all dogs have the capability to bite, all dogs have the capability to love and be loved. Your wiring is fabulous in this respect as you know the truth, with knowledge comes responsibility, so let’s use my Auntie’s philosophy to our advantage and make a stand. Three good things are going to happen today; three acts of kindness from you that will help to change the wiring of those who need to know the truth.

What will your three acts of kindness be?

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