Dog Bite Statistics – Dog Training – Dog Trainer – Behaviorist

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Sam Basso
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Between 1980 and 1997, there were 122 human deaths attributable to dog attacks. Now, make this comparison:

Every year, there are just as many dog bite incidents that send people to a doctor for treatment as there are human to human bite incidents that send people to a doctor for treatment. In fact, you are more likely to get a serious, life threatening infection from a human bite than from a dog bite.

100 people a year are struck and killed by lightning in the U.S.

About 100 children a year are killed or permanently brain-injured by shopping carts that have tipped over with the child in the cart seat.

In comparison, between 1990 and 1997, more than 100 infants and children have accidentally died by strangling in looped window cords. (Consumer Digest, July/August, 1997, p. 29)

Even though every dog bite case is serious, the public reaction to dog bite incidents is overblown compared to their proportion. In response to dog biting incidents, laws are being passed to ban certain breeds of dog. Insurance companies are not writing policies for owners of certain breeds of dog. Radio and TV talk show hosts sensationalize dog bite incidents and pressure prosecutors to put every such dog owner in jail, assuming that it must be the fault of either the dog or the owner. But, we don’t see bans on mini-blinds or shopping carts in the works, or government regulations requiring a lightning rod on every tree and building in the country.

On a more rational side, I would be interested in a scientific study showing what the precipitating causes are for most dog biting incidents. It can’t be that all of these cases were because the dog was crazy or just made mean, or because of negligence on the part of the owners. How many of these cases were justified bites, when the dog was provoked to the point where it felt it had to fight back? How many were the result of negligence on the part of the person that was bitten? How many were accidents, where the dog escaped an enclosure that a reasonable person should have expected to be escape proof?

After World War II, the “demon dog” was the German Shepherd. Then it was the Doberman Pinscher. Then it was the Great Dane and Chow Chow. Then it was the Shar Pei. Then it was the Pit Bull Terrier. Now it’s the Rottweiler. New breeds being added to the list are Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Akitas, German Shepherds (again), and Saint Bernards. I know of an apartment complex where Greyhounds are banned… crazy! Are any breeds safe from being banned? The fact is that when one breed gets too much notice for biting, people just switch to owning other breeds. Any breed can be wrecked. In any breed, there will be individuals that are vicious: that is just the way genetics works. With people, there are going to be some who are just insane. There are kids as young as 5 years old that are dangerous. Do we ban having kids, or put them in muzzles, or ban them from public because there is the ocassional kid that is absolutely nuts and going to become a danger to society? Shouldn’t we instead hold owners responsible for their dogs, and focus on dealing with dangerous dogs of any breed (by the way, mixed bred dogs also bite, and sometimes kill, people) instead of banning breeds? (“Punish the deed, not the breed”).

The most puzzling dogs on the list are the Huskies, Malamutes, and Pit Bull Terriers. Each of these dogs is genetically a people-friendly dog. I’ve worked with a ton of them. You’d have to make these dogs either fearful of people, abuse them, spoil them, corner them, or tease them for these dogs to bite and seriously hurt people… the same reason most dogs of any breed bite. The reason Pit Bull Terriers aren’t widely used in real man work (protection work), is because they are people friendly dogs that were designed to work as butcher’s dogs. I remember a story I heard of an American Bulldog (similar to a Pit Bull Terrier crossed with a Bullmastiff). The dog was sent on a building search for a suspect. When the dog located the suspect, the dog was grabbed by the suspect and was being strangled. The dog didn’t fight back until the police officer instructed the dog to bite the man, which he did on command. I also knew a man in Seattle that bred Pit Bull Terriers, and some drug guys broke into his house and stole some of his adult dogs. Why weren’t these people mauled by the dogs? He even caught one of them in his house with the dog present, and the dog didn’t attack the guy. Similarly, I had a customer whose Dogo Argentino (like a Pit Bull Terrier crossed with a pointer) that was attacked by a shepherd mix. His dog fought off the other dog, but the owner was able to reach in and pry his dog off the attacking dog without being bitten by his Dogo. The Dogo is not a man working dog. They aren’t competitive in the Schutzhund sport, and they aren’t used as police dogs, because they can’t do the work. The only dogs you see doing man work are Belgian Shepherd breeds, German Shepherds (and mixed variants), Giant Schnauzers, Dobermans, and Rottweilers.

There is going to be a terrible price to pay if we don’t start speaking out about responsible dog ownership, and educating the public why breed bans are not the way to deal with the problem.. I do it all the time. Imagine what we are going to have to do if the German Shepherd, for example, is banned like the Pit Bull Terrier? Impossible, you say? Well, some of the big insurance companies are refusing homeowner’s insurance to owners of German Shepherds. The mayor of New York, Rudolph Guiliani proposed a government ordinance that required a certain amount of insurance if you owned a “dangerous” breed of dog… and I would have had a hard time voting for him for President because of that policy. I don’t know if the German Shepherd will be listed as one of those breeds, but we are well on our way to just such a result. The fact is, THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE that any breed has a higher proportion of vicious dogs than any other breed. Vicious is different than aggressive. A vicious dog is one that can’t be trained and can’t control its dangerous tendencies. All dogs are aggressive, to one degree or another. Aggression isn’t abnormal. Aggression plays a major role in all aspects of behavior, in humans, wolves, dogs, horses, fish, etc. If the law requires the insurance, but the insurers refuse to issue the insurance, then it’s a breed ban all the same.