With the increasing number of publicized dog bite incidents (fatal or not), there are many people spewing out factoids and numbers blaming certain breeds for being man-eaters. These people will quote any number of “studies” and Center for Disease Control statistics that say certain breeds are dangerous. Other people quote other “studies” that say that other breeds are responsible for more bites or that there are no specific breeds more likely to kill/maim/attack than other breeds that it’s all about individuals. So what’s the deal? What’s the truth?
Well, I think the truth lays somewhere in the middle. Are there some dogs who, if they decide to bite could easily do more damage than others with a single bite–sure (this isn’t to say that a small dog can’t do some serious damage). Are there some breeds of dogs who are more likely to show some type of aggression than others–probably (I mean protection, aloofness, and guarding can all be found in breed descriptions or standards).
I won’t sit here and quote statistics and numbers from various studies or publications because I think the vast majority of them are extremely flawed and biased.
How are they flawed and biased, you might ask. Well, I think there are a few big problems with dog bite statistics (not studies).
1. There are a large number of bites that are never reported. These are often bites from small breed dogs that do not require a visit to the emergency room. These bites may result in wounds but are not serious enough for people to visit a doctor. I also think that many bites that happen within a family are never reported. I know none of the dog bites I sustained during my life (from childhood on up) have ever been reported. With many bites going unreported and so many of them likely being from small dogs, the ‘data’ we do have is likely quite skewed.
2. Breed identification inaccuracies are ridiculously common (and deciphering mixed breed dogs is not a science). Let’s be honest, even animal control officers–professionals–have problems properly identifying breeds let alone a lay person. There are so many dogs that are mislabeled as being “pit bull type” that it borders on the ridiculous. There was a bite incident locally a few years back where a purebred Rottweiler was labeled as a pit bull in all the news stories and the initial incident reports (it was later corrected in a two sentence “correction” in the newspaper). When people file reports at the ER or with the CDC, they offer breed labels that are often far from accurate. So when researchers reference the hospital reports, CDC reports, police reports to collect data for their study, they are getting false data and drawing conclusions based on false breed IDs.
3. The vague definition of dog bite. A dog scratch that breaks the skin can be reported as a bite. A puppy nipping can be reported as a dog bite. Any incident where a tooth or a nail breaks the skin of a person can be reported as a bite to most public health and animal services. So if a big Lab scratches a child it is going to ‘look’ the same as if a Doxie latches on to a child’s face when people look at the data. The individual incident report may have the circumstances explained but the data will still look like a dog bite.
So what the heck does this have to do with preventing dog bites? Well… regardless of the fear mongering done by the media, regardless of what some cities/counties/states may say with their breed restrictive legislation, and regardless of the flawed/biased studies that people may cite…. ALL dogs are capable of biting. ALL dogs can leave some serious wounds on a person. People mistakenly believe that only a few breeds of dogs can be aggressive or are willing to bite so they don’t think twice when interacting with other breeds. When walking a friend’s rottie mix I’ve had people cross the road, people snatch their children away, or ask if he bites–his looks and breed make people wary of him. Meanwhile with my small border collie mix, I have to stop people from trying to pet her without even asking, they rush up behind her to pet her, or lean into her face to say hi–because of her breed mix and appearance, people just assume she’s friendly and don’t think when interacting with her…they are lucky she’s no longer terribly fearful and is tolerant (and lucky that I’m generally polite and nice when I tell them what they did was dangerous or tell them to stop bothering my dog).
People need to learn to respect dogs–all dogs. The best way for people to prevent bites with any dog (regardless of breed, age, sex, and state of reproductive organs) is to make good choices in how we choose to interact with dogs. Getting caught up in deceptive statistics, fake numbers, and fear inducing claims is not helpful and will not prevent dog bites.