Breeds Targeted By Media When Dog Bite Report Released

Breeds Targeted By Media When Dog Bite Report Released

Study highlights need for generic dog control laws

By: Patti Strand  Date: 01/8/2012 Category: | Canine Issues |

In mid-September, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published a report on dog bite fatalities1 that placed the Rottweiler at the top of the list for deaths in 1997-98, a position the breed and its mixes have held since the 1993-94 figures were released. In spite of the study's conclusion that fatal attacks "should not be the primary factor driving public policy concerning dangerous dogs" and that concentrating on dog bite fatalities does not address the serious problem of non-fatal dog bites, most print and television media picked up only on the breed-specific aspect of the work and tagged Rottweilers as even more dangerous or vicious than pit bulls.

In reporting only the narrow breed-specific aspects of the study, the media missed the following details in the report, details that present opportunities for reducing the millions of dog bites that occur each year through public education, dog training classes, strictly enforced dog control laws, and other efforts.

  • Five deaths involved unrestrained dogs off the owner's property;
  • 18 involved dogs on the owner's property but unrestrained;
  • Three involved restrained dogs on the owner's property; and
  • One involved a restrained dog off the owner's property.


The study also noted that 60 percent of the attacks off the owner's property involved more than one dog.

Of the 27 people who died from dog bites, 13 of the 19 children were less than five years old, and five of the eight adults were 70 years old or older.


Fatal bites should not drive animal control laws

The study noted that

  1. fatal dog bites are a miniscule part of the problem;2
  2. fatal bites have remained relatively constant since 19793, but non-fatal bites4 have soared; and
  3. fatal bites are extremely rare, but many communities use the apparent breed-specific numbers when considering local animal control laws.


The authors said that many factors influence a dog's propensity to bite, including heredity; sex; socialization and training; medial and mental health; reproductive status; quality of ownership and supervision; and victim behavior, and that education and generic dangerous dog laws are alternatives to breed-specific laws.


Practical issues

The study noted several practical consequences of breed-specific ordinances:


  1. Difficulty in identifying breeds;
  2. Confusion of mixed breed owners about whether their dogs are covered;
  3. Reliance on subjective observations to identify individual dogs;
  4. Vague descriptions of covered breeds or mixes;
  5. Owners who want tough dogs will simply turn to other breeds or mixes.


"From a scientific point of view, we are unaware of any formal evaluation of the effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in preventing fatal or non-fatal dog bites," the authors wrote. "An alternative to breed-specific legislation is to regulate individual dogs and owners on the basis of their behavior. ... Generic non-breed-specific dangerous dog laws can be enacted that place primary responsibility for a dog's behavior on the owner regardless of the dog's breed."

Finally, the study noted that evaluation of the effectiveness of various public and private policies is necessary to determine which ones work to reduce dog bites. In particular, it suggested that since only one fatal attack in 1997-98 involved a confined dog on its owner's property, regulations that restrict or prohibit fences altogether might actually increase the opportunities for children to interact with dogs and thus increase chances for attacks.


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