When considering if there is a possible claim under the Animals Act one of these things that has to be considered is the dog’s behaviour at the time. Specifically you have to consider why the dog was acting in the way it did and why that led to it attacking.  One aspect of dog’s behaviour which experts are learning more about each day is something called “predatory drift”. Dog experts are quite clear that predatory drift is not to be confused with aggression. It may well look like aggression because of what follows and because it is preceded by a “prey drive reaction” but it is quite a different thing. Canine behaviourist expert Joan Klucha describes aggression as “the expression of behaviour with the intention of self preservation.” If a dog feels threatened its first instinct will be to act in a non confrontational manner and either flee or freeze. If a dog is trapped or confined it often cannot flee and so will freeze in the hope at whatever is threatening it will leave. Once it has exhausted these options it will look to act offensively and attack the threat. Prey Drive is quite different and is based upon a dog’s instinct to chase and catch. All owners know this is the chase because they see a dog chase a stick or ball or go after a rabbit or cat. Prey drive is imbedded in the DNA that dogs inherited from their wolf ancestors. A wolf must hunt and catch prey to survive and something as important as that is a significant part of their genetic makeup. Again according to Klucha, prey drive has nothing to do with breed but is related to a dog’s personality and genetics.  Predatory drift is a “glitch in the system.” Dog experts are quick to stress that it is not aggression but the expression of a latent aspect of the prey drive. Predatory drift occurs when a dog gets aroused by a high pitch sound or the energetic struggles and frenetic behaviour of an animal or even a person in distress. The dog notes all this and drifts from the prey drive to the predatory.  Research appears to indicate that any dog has the potential to develop predatory drift. There need not have been any past aggression or similar behaviour and even well socialised dogs can show it and it is behaviour which can develop instantaneously and is very difficult to prevent. There does appear to be a strong link between dogs which already have a very high prey drive and the need to subdue their prey (display predatory drift). Predatory drift needs a context to develop. Joan Donaldson in an article in Dogs in Canada Magazine gave examples of two of the riskiest contexts:

●Play or a squabble between two dogs extremely different in size, especially if the smaller dog panics, yelps and/or struggles.  The simulation of a prey item is so convincing that the roles in interaction drift from a social scuffle to predator-prey.  The greater the size disparity, the greater the risk, for three reasons.  Firstly, the likelihood of the smaller dog getting inadvertently stepped on or otherwise ouched, even in a normal play session with a reasonably gentle dog, is greater if the dog in question is really tiny.  Secondly, I would speculate that the tinier the dog, the better the simulation of a prey item to the bigger dog.  Finally, the ease with which the larger dog can grab and shake the smaller one goes up as size difference increases.  Grabbing and shaking is often present in predatory-drift incidents.  Most of us have seen dogs grab and shake toys.  Even if non-lethal pressure is exerted, a grab and shake inflicted on a small dog can break its neck.

●Two or more dogs “teaming up” during intense play, or two or more dogs acting together in a chase or squabble context with a dog that begins to panic, yelp and/or struggle.  Dogs have also been known to attack injured dogs and this effect is also facilitated by the attacking unit being two or more dogs as opposed to one.

For Dog bite solicitor James McNally the scenarios above are all to common. 

We act for a great number of clients who have been out walking their dogs when a larger dog approaches and appears to launch an almost “unprovoked” attack on their dog. My clients will often get injured trying to rescue their dog or the attacking dog will simply turn their attention from my client’s pet to my client. The attacking dog’s owner will nearly always say that they had never seen this behaviour before, that their dog had never shown any signs of aggression. From what I have read I strongly suspect that what they are experiencing is predatory drift. Too many of my clients describes the same scenario for it to be coincidence. 

Using his expertise in this area of law James has been able to succeed in a large number of dog bite personal injury claims because he is able to rely upon not just his own knowledge but some of the leading canine behaviourists and Animal Act expert barristers in the UK. Says James:

More and more solicitors seem to be professing an expertise get in dog bite claims but I have seen the advice they have given to their clients and the approach they have taken to this area of law when the same clients approach me to try and put things right and get them the compensation they deserve. I honestly believe that there is no other firm offering the same level of expertise and access to the very best minds on this subject.

If you would like a free initial case assessment then phone us on 0333 888 0435 or email us at [email protected]

The danger of predatory drift
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