Guide dogs for the blind are being attacked by other dogs at the rate of three a month, a review has found.
In one in five cases, either the owner or a member of the public was injured in the attack, with scratches, bruises or bites to the hand, ankle and head.
Of 100 attacks reviewed, 41 guide dogs and eight owners or members of the public suffered injuries severe enough to require veterinary or medical attention.
The emotional impact of the attacks on both the dogs and their owners was significant. Many of the owners were shocked and distressed and unable to see how badly their dog was injured or whether it needed the attention of a vet. In only six cases did the owner receive an apology and in eight cases the owner of the aggressor dog left the scene without saying anything.
Most of the attacks happened in daylight, in the morning or early afternoon. Two thirds occurred when the dogs were in harness, leading their blind owners.
Almost half the canine aggressors were bull breeds – bull dogs, mastiffs, pit bull and Staffordshire bull terriers. Most guide dogs are labradors, golden retrievers or retriever cross breeds, which have gentle temperaments. Half of the guide dogs were so badly affected by the attack that their performance or behaviour deteriorated. Two had to be withdrawn.
The authors of the report, published in the journal Veterinary Record, say there are 4,500 working guide dogs in the UK which cost £50,000 to train and maintain over their lifetime. They say the attacks have serious implications. "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."