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Biting Dogs and Dangerous Breeds

Some breeds bite more often, but other factors are important.

Is your dog, potentially a lethal weapon? Every time there is a media report of someone being mauled by a dog this question arises again in the minds of many people. Specifically, the public is now worrying about the possibility that there might be certain breeds of dogs which are "bad" or at least potentially unsafe to keep in the city.

Image licensed from Clipart
Source: Image licensed from Clipart

The reasoning goes that dogs have been bred for many purposes, and some, like Doberman pinchers and German shepherds have been selected for watchdog and guarding services. Since these duties could require them to bite people, the concern is that they might be predisposed to bite everybody.

Gathering statistics on dog bites is difficult. Many bites are innocuous, such as those that result from an over-eager dog that took a chunk of your thumb when you offered him a treat. Others are more severe but may be treated at home. Of those bites that actually require medical treatment, many do not end up in any accessible data bank and are thus lost to researchers. Even when bites are recorded there is often no information on the breed of dog involved.

Fortunately, a study commissioned by the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, which was published in 2000, does provide some information. It is based upon the one class of dog bites that must be registered, namely those resulting in death. The study spanned a period of 19 years and found that there were 238 dog bite related deaths during that time--roughly 12 per year. In many cases the biters are mixed breed, so some estimate had to be made of the breeds that went into them.

The results clearly show that certain breeds are more likely to do this kind of damage as can be seen in the accompanying table. Pit bulls or pit bull-type dogs, and Rottweiler or Rottweiler crosses, appear as the culprits most often. Together these two groups account for half of all of the dog bite fatalities.

Image from SC Psychological Ltd
Source: Image from SC Psychological Ltd

While this list makes it clear that dog breeds do matter, the study also found that some other factors are important--such as the dog's sex and sexual status. Male dogs were 6.2 times more likely to fatally bite someone, and sexually intact dogs were 2.6 times more likely to be involved in attacks than are neutered dogs.

Who the victim is and what he does also plays a role. Sadly, more than half of the victims of dog bites are children, aged 12 or younger. However the victims of many of these dog bites often play a part in precipitating the tragedy. In 53% of dog bite fatalities, there was some suggestion that the dog was provoked by being struck, poked in the eye, having things thrown at it etc.

The behavior of the dog's owners was also important. Dogs that are chained, or kept confined in a small yard, are approximately 3 times more likely to fatally bite people. One important statistic that confirms the owner's role in their dog's actions is that only 11.2% of dogs that bite have ever been given any obedience training.

Although all of this may sound frightening you should not go out and shoot your pet dog to protect your family and neighbors from imminent death or injury from his teeth. According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics in the U.S., your chance of dying from being struck by a bolt of lightning is nearly 8 times higher than your chance of being killed by Lassie or Rover.

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events, How Dogs Think : Understanding the Canine Mind, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome.

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.