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London - If you’re terrified of dogs, this may not do much to help matters.

Showing anxiety when you encounter a dog significantly raises the risk that it will bite you, scientists have found.

Animal lovers have insisted for centuries that dogs can sense fear. Now, researchers have discovered a link between nervous personalities and the risk of being bitten.

The Liverpool University study found that people who act anxious or insecure are more likely to be bitten by the animals. The research, published in the BMJ Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, questioned 694 people living in Cheshire, including those who owned dogs and those who did not. A quarter of participants said they had been bitten at least once.

Researchers assessed the emotional stability of those surveyed using a psychological test known as the "ten-item personality inventory". This measures confidence, nervousness and anxiety. 

For every point on a seven-point scale of emotional stability – with seven representing the least nervous personalities – the total chance of being bitten went down by an additional 23 percent.

The research team suggested one possible explanation was that insecure owners create insecure dogs.

But although they found that dog owners were three times more likely to have been bitten than those who did not own a dog, they also found it was more common for participants to have been bitten by dogs unknown to them than familiar dogs. 

The researchers wrote: "Previous research has outlined mental disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children as risk factors for dog bites…This adds strength to our finding that personality may be associated with dog bite incidence."

They added: "These studies suggest that nervous/anxious owners may have nervous/anxious dogs, which may be another explanation for increased bite risk.

"Much more research is now required… to understand if and how this knowledge could be used in dog bite prevention."

Daily Mail