New Study Confirms Preventable Factors in Dog Bites, Breed Not Relevant

December 20, 2013  


As advocates, we are all too familiar with the dog bite fatality report that was published in 2000 titled “Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998.”  This data set has been used incessantly to support breed discriminatory laws, even though the authors of this report themselves have made several statements explaining why the report does NOT support these ineffective and costly laws.  This data set was based mostly on unreliable media reports and its authors concluded that their research did not support the idea that one kind of dog was more likely to bite someone than another kind of dog.  Nevertheless, proponents of discriminatory laws have pointed to this data set to support their positions.

This was the only study of its kind, until earlier this month when the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) published the “Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite–related fatalities in the United States (2000–2009).”  The objective of the study was to “examine potentially preventable factors in human dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) on the basis of data from sources that were more complete, verifiable, and accurate than media reports used in previous studies.”  Instead of relying on news accounts like in the previous study, the researchers used reports by homicide detectives and animal control agencies, and interviews with investigators.

The study found that the major factors in the fatalities studied include: the absence of an able-bodied person to intervene (87.1%), incidental or no familiar relationship of victims with dogs (85.2%), owner failure to neuter dogs (84.4%), compromised ability of victims to interact appropriately with dogs (77.4%), dogs kept isolated from regular positive human interactions versus family dogs (76.2%), owners’ prior mismanagement of dogs (37.5%), and owners’ history of abuse or neglect of dogs (21.1%). Four or more of these factors were present in over 80% of the dog bite related deaths.  Considering that over 75% of dog bite related deaths were caused by resident dogs (a dog not kept as a family pet, but isolated from positive human interactions and usually kept for protection and/or chained outside), reducing this practice is a huge factor in preventing dog bites, as is neutering male dogs.

Most dog bite related fatalities had the above preventable factors in common, but no where was breed found to be a factor.  The authors of this new report found that breed could not be reliably identified in over 80% of the cases, as news reports often differed from each other or from animal control reports.

Dog behavior experts have been recommending prevention techniques based on improved ownership practices, such as learning to read and understand dog behavior signals, teaching children how to safely interact with dogs, and providing dogs with proper socialization and veterinary care, for decades.  Now, we have a JAVMA article in support of these practices.  We all want to live in safe communities, and focusing our animal control laws on the preventable factors identified, is the road to get there.

To read more about this study from the National Canine Research Council, click here.


The full citation for the report is:

Gary J. Patronek, Jeffrey J. Sacks, Karen M. Delise, Donald V. Cleary, and Amy R. Marder. Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite–related fatalities in the United States (2000–2009). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, December 15, 2013, Vol. 243, No. 12 , Pages 1726-1736.  (doi: 10.2460/javma.243.12.1726)

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17 Responses to “New Study Confirms Preventable Factors in Dog Bites, Breed Not Relevant”
  1. Audrey Mascali says:

    You didn’t mention any breeds. Do you have the stat’s on what kind of dogs did the attacks. You just don’t hear about poodles or shit-zus attacking and killing people. Do you know what the ratio is among
    the various dogs. I really would like to know. I do agree that the humans have a lot to do with the dogs behaveier. Thank you for the opportunity to voice my opinion.

    • Mitzi Bolanos says:

      The researchers’ conclusion was that breed was irrelevant, as there was no breed type as a common denominator among the bites. You don’t “hear” about certain breeds being involved in attacks because they simply don’t make the news. Not all breeds sell papers. All dogs are individuals, regardless of breed. Both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Center for Disease Control have said that any ratio (which would be off anyway because visual breed identification is unreliable) would be skewed because we don’t have the number of dogs for each breed in the country. For example, in Denver, labs have one of the highest bite rates, but they are also one of the most popular breeds, so it makes sense that because there are more of them, then there will be proportionately more incidents.

  2. Jack Pitt says:

    No question about it!individuals total lack of understanding of dogs as a pack animal,dna and genetic makeup. Lack of boundaries,socialization is not breed specific.Not understanding dog body language is critical in knowing when and how to “distract” the focus the dog is showing toward many possible behaviors!no understanding of what really is aggression, which comes in many “forms”, territorial, fear, possession. We must be educated on how to interact with dogs within their language not human language and emotions.

  3. Dog hero says:

    nice read

  4. Dawn Walker says:

    Brilliant article!
    Thanks for the first sensible, accurate piece I’ve read about dog bites and breeds.

  5. Rose says:

    Now if we can just get the insurance companies to read this and adjust their rules about insuring so called dangerous dogs, maybe we can set into the 21st century.

  6. emily says:

    It sounds like an interesting study, but why were they not able to gather data on breed? even owner reported info gathered from dog licensing would be a start, and if there is no license I would take into account the judgement of animal control officers.

    • Mitzi Bolanos says:

      It is very difficult to gather reliable data on breed, as more than half of the dogs in the country are “mutts” and breed is just a guess. Even animal control officers and veterinarians are unable to reliably identify breed by appearance. For an article that explains this issue in more detail, see:

    • ash_gel says:

      Dog licenses would not be reliable. I work at a vet clinic and most individuals are not truthful about the breed strictly because their home insurance would be affected. This article is a great read and hopefully will open some eyes to how unfair bsl actually is.

  7. tony says:

    Finally an educated study! I totally agree with the other comments. The insurance industry and every aspect of BSL needs to get with the program and base their regulations on fact and true research. BSL is wrong and based on nonsense rather than education I can see where it does not work. Insurance Companies basing their rules and regulations on outdated and false assumptions have really hurt many good dogs being able to go into loving and stable homes.

  8. A. Wright says:

    We all know certain breeds can be more dangerous than others due to their strength, etc. But that again comes from the owner and how the dog was raised, socialized and cared for. It seems every decade there’s a different breed that idiot yahoos latch onto and it’s those idiots that give the dog breed a bad name.

    The main point of this study is sound… “Dog behavior experts have been recommending prevention techniques based on improved ownership practices, such as learning to read and understand dog behavior signals, teaching children how to safely interact with dogs, and providing dogs with proper socialization and veterinary care, for decades.”

    Now, can we ban idiot yahoos who want to look tough but have no clue how to own a dog of any breed?

  9. marie beck says:

    The breed is not important. All dogs can bite. Smaller dogs bite but rarely reported, less damage. The smaller dogs bite for the same reasons as the big ones. Fear, territory, protecton, etc. The owners need to be screened and trained.

  10. Jackie says:

    I work in a ER we get children with dogs bites from all breeds, poodles, spaniels,labs, pits. All kinds of dogs

  11. Marianne says:

    I volunteer at an animal shelter and worked with many types and breeds of dogs. The smaller dogs are more likely to bite out of fear and lack of socialization. We have had many puppy mill dogs rescued and they are the hardest ones to rehabilitate. No human contact for years and many were sick and neglected. Some of the sweetest, lovingest dogs have been the big and so called bully breed dogs. I adopted 3 myself.

  12. karen says:

    I have been running a rescue for nearly 10 years and have dealt with large, strong breeds. I had never been bitten or even had any close calls until I took in a 4 lb Chihuahua from a puppy mill. Saw the signs but thought I could get her in a crate. Wrong. I have handled many dogs and the breed IS NOT the issue.


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