Understanding the impact of canine reactivity on dog owners, dogs, and society


The successful student will join the Westgarth Anthrozoology Group (WAG-LAB) in the Department of Livestock and One Health, under the supervision of Prof Carri Westgarth and Dr John Tulloch. They will also be co-supervised by collaborators at the Waltham Petcare Science Institute. The student will have a keen interest in canine welfare and a background in animal, veterinary, public health or sociological sciences.


Approximately 30% of UK households own a dog, even higher in North America and Australia. It is commonly reported that dog ownership is associated with greater physical activity, lower blood pressure and stress levels, as well as making owners feel happy. However, evidence suggests that owning a dog can negatively impact depression and anxiety levels of owners, in particular due to having to manage behaviour problems. There is a subset of people whose experience of owning and walking a dog is particularly challenging, and these are likely the owners of reactive dogs. Describing a dog as ‘reactive’ is a non-scientific term for animals who are deemed to overreact to stimuli commonly found in their environment. The most common form of reactivity appears to be towards other dogs, which this project will focus on, as this has received less scientific attention than aggression towards people. Research suggests that 13% of dogs growl at, snap or bite unfamiliar dogs, 7% of puppies under 6 months bark at other dogs, and 5% of dog bites to people occur during a dog-dog fight. Due to a need to manage their environment and behaviour, owners of reactive dogs may be less likely to interact with others on their walk, be able to go on holiday, and may experience hostility if their dog displays undesirable behaviour, such as barking at or attacking another dog. Research suggests owners of reactive dogs are put off taking them to the vet when they need health care. The consequences of an attack from a reactive dog can also be highly traumatic for the target, both the dog and the owner. Thus canine reactivity is a significant canine welfare and human wellbeing issue.


  • To gather qualitative and quantitative data on reactive dogs’ and their owners' physical and emotional health
  • To explore the impact reactive dogs have on people and pets who are the target of their behaviour
  • To understand reactive dog ownership and veterinary care


This study will use a mixed methods approach to investigate the experience and consequences of reactive dogs, with a focus on dog-dog-aggression. It will use in-depth interviews, ethnography, questionnaire surveys, and electronic health records (using the SAVSNET database).


Current research primarily involving non-reactive dog owners may underserve the needs and preferences of reactive dog owners. Better understanding the experiences of this group may uncover opportunities for evidence informed and more effective market segmentation, potential for tailored products, and design of support interventions to improve the lives of people and pets and improve canine welfare.


The student will be based in-person at the Leahurst Campus in the School of Veterinary Science, on the Wirral. Some travel to the main Liverpool Campus and Waltham Petcare Science Institute will be required.


You should have, or expect to have a relevant bachelors degree. The student will have a keen interest in canine welfare and a background in animal, veterinary, public health or sociological sciences.

*Please note the English Language Requirement for EU Students is an IELTS score of 6.5 with no band score lower than 5.5.


Open to UK applicants

Funding information

Funded studentship

The project is co-funded by the University of Liverpool and Waltham Petcare Science Institute.

It will be funded at a student stipend rate of £18,622p.a. (in line with UKRI rates), in addition to cover of home rate tuition fees. Funding is for Home UK student rates only and the studentship will last for 3 years.