Which dog breed is most likely to bite? You might be surprised at the answer

*** Note that this article was published in June of 2010. ***

On the CBS Early Show, Dr. Debbye Turner Bell talks to Harry Smith about how to prevent and treat dog bites. Click the photo to go to CBSNews.com and watch the video.

Pits bulls, Dobermans, Rottweilers and other big dogs have gotten a bad rap for being aggressive dogs that are more likely than other dogs to bite people. But according to the Humane Society of the United States, the Centers for Disease Control, and the American Veterinary Medical Association, no one dog breed is more likely to bite than others.



Hallelujah! Finally! Official word that should hopefully save the lives of thousands of pit bulls and other breeds deemed “aggressive”.

At one local shelter, for example, pit bulls that are impounded and not reclaimed by their owner are put down. Not put up for adoption, not sent out to another shelter or even given to a local pit bull rescue group.

Now maybe that can stop.

From a story this week at CBSNews.com (the bolding is mine):

“A study performed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the CDC, and the Humane Society of the United States, analyzed dog bite statistics from the last 20 years and found that the statistics don’t show that any breeds are inherently more dangerous than others. The study showed that the most popular large breed dogs at any one time were consistently on the list of breeds that bit fatally. There were a high number of fatal bites from Doberman pinschers in the 1970s, for example, because Dobermans were very popular at that time and there were more Dobermans around, and because Dobermans’ size makes their bites more dangerous. The number of fatal bites from pit bulls rose in the 1980s for the same reason, and the number of bites from Rottweilers in the 1990s. The study also noted that there are no reliable statistics for nonfatal dog bites, so there is no way to know how often smaller breeds are biting.”

In other words, as the story says, “Biting has more to do with circumstances, behavior, training (or lack thereof), and ignorance on the part of human beings.”

Let me put a personal emphasis on that last one.

Often when I’m out walking with my Border collies – two fluffy, happy, friendly dogs – people and children want to pet them. Sometimes the person is reaching out before I say it’s OK, pulling back their hand every time the dog’s nose touches their fingers and then reaching out again for the dog’s head. Usually when I say it’s OK to pet the dog, the person is patting the top of the dog’s head before I have the dogs in a “sit” and ready for the interaction. And much too often children are immediately nose to nose with the dog, arms wrapped around the dog’s neck.

In other words, they’ve set themselves up to get bit. And my dogs aren’t biters.

But one is a very nervous dogs, and the other likes to be in charge. So if one gets scared or the other feels challenged, the petter is at risk to get nipped, or at the very least scratched by a paw, when the dog tries to escape their grip. 

Recently, my youngest dog Bandit “bit” the mailman. It was one of those everything went wrong moments. The mailman came to the gate. The dogs were barking and Bandit was jumping. I was right there and reached out to grab Bandit’s collar just as the mailman reached over the dogs to hand me the mail.

Open barking mouth, insert arm.

If I had grabbed Bandit’s collar more quickly. If the mailman had waited just another second before reaching over the dogs. If the mailbox was on the other side of the gate so he didn’t have to reach over. If, if, if …

Fortunately the mailman wasn’t seriously hurt, but the bite had to be reported to the dog warden and the county, and Bandit was quarantined to the yard for 10 days.

Yes, there is a right way to pet a dog. And there is a right way to raise and train a dog. And if you’re not being a responsible dog owner – training your dog, focusing their energies into positive play rather than bored mischief, even interacting with a strange dog in a responsible way – you are to blame if your dog bites or you get bit.

So rather than red flagging dog breeds, I think maybe it’s time we start red flagging bad dog owners and people who treat dogs like stuffed animals put on the earth to be mauled by strangers.

You can read the entire article, and find tips on how to approach a dog – and how not to approach a dog – at CBSNews.com. 

You can read Bandit’s post, “How To Pet A Dog,” on his It’s A Dog’s Life blog, and get a dog’s perspective on being pet by strangers.


36 responses to “Which dog breed is most likely to bite? You might be surprised at the answer

  1. You are so right, it is known that all dogs problems are cause by their owners.
    Rare cases the dogs could be the problem because of illness.

    BTW, it will be nice if you could post your article on how to pet a dog on your weekly/monthly post in the newspaper (or anywhere else that you can), MORE people needs to read it, it is very good and might open more eyes, and I’m sure will save a tone of bits.


    • I just got back from my first shift as a volunteer for the city shelter. I’m working at the desk. It was an eye opener, that’s for sure. It’s city policy that any pit bull not reclaimed by it’s owner is put down. They don’t get sent to Lollypop or to the pit bull rescute. That’s because in the city the predominance of the dog bites are pit bulls. It’s really sad. But pit bull owners often train them to be aggressive for protection or whatever, and when the dog runs away or is impounded, don’t want to pay the fees to reclaim it.

      I’ll tell Bandit to submit his blog post to a few publications, LOL.

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  3. I have 3 rescued Border collies, one has chow in her. She is very protective of me and my property when I’m not there. A lady tried to get out and look at all of my day lilies while I was at work and my part chow wasn’t about to let her and the lady kept trying. She finally wised up, got my address and did a reverse look-up and called me and came back when I was there. We were sitting having a cold mocha coffee and that same dog crawled up in her lap. I can’t let UPS deliver to my house as the guy maced this dog and the next time chased her around the yard with a shock stick. Fed Ex and the post office have no trouble delivering to my house as they have been nice to the dogs.

    • OMG I would have chased that UPS driver down and maced him back! LOL

      • I was at work, Mom saw it and before she could get over to my house he was leaving. My last dog of 16 years was a very smart Aussie/Border mix, also a rescue. I lived on a corner lot in town at the time and some kids came by on bicycles and swerved and tried to run over her. When I yelled at them, one turned and gave me a smart look. I jumped in my truck and found them a few blocks over. On of them smarted off about go ahead and call the police. I yelled at him that I don’t need the police to take care of him.

  4. I just wanted to say thanks for your article/blog…. Several years ago, I rescued a pitbull that was a cruelty case. Luckily, I was in Los Angeles at the time and people there are very ANTI-KILL Shelters, or maybe I should say, Pro-Non-kill shelters.

    EIther way, I took a leap of faith and added Georgia to my pack of 2 Shih Tzu’s and a cat.

    Georgia is such an embassador for the breed, but I am constantly being harrassed and judged because of her breed (and her owners cut her ears off,*OFF*, not cropped with a pair of scissors. So she’s intimidating to some.

    She’s been attacked twice… once in Los Angeles at a dog park by a Golden Retreiver and Today by a hound mix. Georgia, the ferocious Pitbull lost both fights (I have to admitt, it’s a little embarrassing she won’t stand up for herself, but she’s SO amazing.

    I just started to blog and don’t know what I am doing, but I put a post to your page as a reference (and someone who has my back).

    Keep up the good work…. I stumbled accross your blog when I needed it most.

    Isaac Brown

    • Thanks, Isaac! We’ve had border collies for 20 years, but recently took in a pit/shepherd puppy to foster. My husband was OK with it but kept reminding me that we couldn’t keep her and he didn’t want a big, mean, aggressive pit bull in the house. That was in January; she’s since become a permanent member of the family, and guess who’s her biggest fan? My husband. 🙂

      You should check out Stanley Coren’s book “How To Speak Dog.” He talks in there about all sorts of dog communication, but especially about ears and tails, and how dogs w/cropped ears can’t communicate fully, so other dogs misread their signals. Sounds like poor Georgia is missing the ability to say in “doggish” that she’s no threat! 😦

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  6. I wish the National Media would broadcast this and print it in all major outlets. There are so many people that do not have a clue about the pit bull breeds. It truly surprises me how so many people do not realize that the term pit bull describes quite a few breeds. Amstaffs, American Bull Dog. I have shown several “haters” a pick the breed site and with all their supposed knowledge, they were unable to pick out the so called “pitt bull.

  7. you sound like you got every thing right i hate that people are so stupid that they continue to put dogs down because of what the hear instead of what they can prove

  8. I have always loved dogs, but I have to admit that I wasn’t a big fan of pitbulls…until I got one, then two, then three! All of them are rescues, and we’ve done a lot of retraining. When I say “training” I mean my husband and me; we had to learn how to be good pack leaders and to consistently control the behaviors we wanted in the dogs. They’re great dogs!

  9. I have a German Shepherd and other large dogs. Are you seriously saying that everyone in the world should automatically know how to approach your dog and it is their fault if they dont? Your mailman wasnt trying to pet your dog. It is YOUR responsibility to say, “hey, wait a second,” or “don’t come near my dog,” or something to stop them. With my dog, it’s my job to be aware of kids, adults, and other dogs to make sure my dog was in check, and relaxed. I know my dog, strangers dont. Even many dog people dont know how to read a dogs signals before it turns into a problem. Any dog that bites a person will most likely do it again. The difference is, now you know your dog is a biter so the courts will not show you much sympathy, and the lawyer for the person bit will use previous bites against you.

    I hate it when dog owners blame everyone else for their dogs aggression, especially when the dog is in a place that the public is around. If you have your dog out in public, it is up to you to keep the public safe from your dog. Even your front yard is public since someone was bit there that wasnt trespassing. Fortunately for you, it wasnt a kid. Even if the damage was minimal, the kid would probably be scared of dogs forever. there are a lot of people in the public that are a few cards short of a deck. You have to protect them too.

    I am not against any breed of dog. I love dogs. BUT I firmly believe that so many people that have large dogs, shouldnt. The people need to be train, just like you have to be trained for a firearm and to drive. There should be a competency test and basic training for the dog that has to be passed. If you are not willing to train the dog and learn how to safely handle it, you dont need to have one. So….your dog, your problem. Everyone else shouldnt have to be trained so you can own it.

    • I do not think the author is negating the owner’s responsibility to control or know their dog, but equally is the saying the public needs to consider their own actions in dealing with other people’s animals. There seems to be this idea among some that just because it is an animal that gives them the right to touch and love it without consent. I have a rescued Husky/Akita cross. In the wrong hands, both these breeds are a potential for disaster without proper exercise, discipline, socialization, and training. Thankfully, she has been trained properly and socialized to be around all kinds of animals and kids. She has never bitten a sole in her life and is controlled at all times when in public. However, that has not stopped countless of adults and kids from running up to her and throwing their arms around her neck or petting her without my consent, and they are doing so without even giving her a chance to process what is going on first. Every time this happens, I cringe a little. You would never touch another person’s personal items without asking or consequence. And, though, yes, she is a dog and not an object, in many ways she should be viewed in the same way by the public and given the proper respect. Likewise, and equally important owners should be responsible for training, knowing their breed and its needs, and be able to handle the breed they choose. I think that is what the author was trying to say. Everyone has responsibility when dealing with animals, but too many times the public does not think about it or how they act around other’s animals, and that is potentially dangerous for all involved.

    • It is also societies responsibility to teach their children how to approach dogs. I’ve had kids turn a corn and grab a hold of my dog before I could do anything. Luckily my dog just wants to lick people and jump on them. Yes people do need to be more responsible with training their dogs but people in general need to be more respectful about approaching a STRANGE dog.

      My mother taught me to wait and ask permission, I know adults who think it’s okay to just pet people’s pets even ones showing aggression! Not to mention all the people I’ve talked to who actually warn people their dog either is shy or scared, or is dog aggressive say, “It’s okay I like dogs! / MY dog is friendly so it will be fine!” One of my friends actually had some guy FOLLOW her when she tried to remove her dog from the situation. Just because your dog acts a certain way does not mean everyone’s does and EVERYONE should be aware of the proper way to greet strange animals. Animals are individuals and should be treated as such. You do not walk up and rub the hair of someone you just met.

      So yes it is everyone’s responsibility not just the owners.

    • Considering that dog’s didn’t just one day show up to man’s society and say “Hey, you guys mind if we come and live with you?” Yeah, I’d say it is the responsibility of all to know how to handle dogs. Just because people have become so self centered in their existence doesn’t excuse their ignorance. You aren’t given a break when crossing state lines for having ignorance of their local laws, why should you be given a break for not knowing some simple laws of nature and interaction. You know, the common sense sort of things that all beings should know. Especially when these concepts aren’t that odd to begin with. Would you run up to any old stranger and give them a hug because you think they’re cute? No you wouldn’t, that’s inappropriate. You would come up, say hi, get to know the person and then maybe one day you might share a hug. Not to different from a dog now is it? Same with her mailman story. If you are approaching a group of people that are shouting and one is jumping in likely a very agitated way, do you just ignore them and reach over top of them? Especially when you are on their property? No you wouldn’t, that would be truly ignorant. So in this case, the same applies. The mailman ignored the the very obvious warning signs because he has become separated from common sense and common laws of nature and interaction. Not the dogs fault or the owners. So yes, I do expect everyone to know how to act around other living things. I hate it when humans think they are the epitome of life on this planet and that everything else should bend to their whim and fancy.

  10. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more slighted article. We all know Pits should be banned, as they kill people. Quit putting dogs before people.

    • I would never put a dog before a person but you darn well better betcha that the toddler (who ran up to throw herself on a 110 lb. Akita when her mom was on her cellphone 30 feet away) is unhurt because I WAS responsible.
      What about mom? Shouldn’t she be tried for attempted murder? After all her I-phone was put before her child. Shouldn’t she be neutered and banned?! BTW- dogs should be spayed and neutered (but so should some people.)

    • With your logic, all people should be banned, as they have been known to kill other people. Let’s start with the military, they kill lots of people. You wanna be the one to tell them they need to be put down? Honestly Jack, I would put any pitbull before you.

    • are you serious what about repeat offenders should they just be put down also, so if your parents are bad we should just of shot you at birth you don’t make any sense if you’ve gotten more than one ticket maybe we should just take your lic for good you obviously don’t know how to drive

  11. When I lived in Sheffield, I had trouble with a Taco Bell chi mix sneaking up me from behind when I worked in the yard. It hated the weedeater from across the street. I have to keep one eye on what I was doing and one across the street. It would get within inches of my ankles and if it saw that I was looking at it, turn and run back home. When I lived in Muscle Shoals there was a full blooded chow that was terrorizing the neighborhood, then an Aussie. When I was on the board of a local shelter, we had more reports of chows biting folks during the time they were popular. I have 3 rescued Border collies, one is a chow mix. She is very protective of the yard when I’m not there. I just posted a several of their pictures on my blog.

  12. This article clearly states that whatever Dog Breed is popular at the time has a higher % of bites because there are simply more of the breed around so a higher % of one dog breed is going to equal a higher % of bites by that breed. Basic math!
    However it should be equal parts dog owner & dog stranger doing the right thing by the animal to get the best results. You do not walk up to a total stranger (human) & get in their face or hug them or otherwise invade their space or you very well may get punched or shoved away or otherwise assaulted. A dog can not push a stranger away but it does have a natural instinct to defend itself JUST LIKE WE DO. So it is going to do the obvious when it feels threatened & sadly the only way a lot of them know how is by nipping or biting. In this situation This is the result of fault on both sides. The humans are the ones who need to control the situation by preventing it in the 1st place. If you are a stranger to the dog, stay away unless the owner is there to introduce you properly!

  13. your article it great! & i own 2 pits & a half blue heeler/half bule tick hound- i am more afraid that my mix is gonna bite someone than my pits! all of my dogs are protective over the house but they have all done “puppy classes” & we associate well with the other dogs around… thankyou for sharen & i will keep lookin for your articles!

  14. I have a Pit that showed up at a inherited house we were remodeling. When I saw her I had two thoughts. Wow what a beautiful dog AND is she going to attack me. (I believe she is a full blooded blue). I had heard enough to “know” I would never own a Pit! She was a sweetheart! We got to really know her over the next couple of months. She didn’t have a home. We took her home and she has been with us now for almost 2 years. THE SWEETEST DOG I HAVE EVER HAD. My Cavaliers and Boxer have jumped on her several time. She won’t even defend herself! You have to judge each dog based on their OWN merits!

  15. You take a dog in public, it is 100% your responsibility, not some kid’s, not some kid’s mom, not the dog, YOU. If you aren’t 100% sure that your dog is not going to bite someone, anyone, for doing anything, then don’t take it out.

    • When you take your child out in public, it is 100% your responsibility, not some dog’s, not some dog’s owner, YOU. If you aren’t 100% sure that your kid isn’t going to run up to any random living thing and get hurt or kidnapped, then don’t take it out. Logic, it’s funny when it’s flawed.

      • I’m sorry but if I feel your dog is a threat to my kid your dog is dead. Then we let the courts and the law figure it out. Guess which way they’ll go? Your poor dog didn’t get to choose you for an owner, it’s not the dogs fault, but the dog pays with it’s life. Out here we see a dog chasing stock we shoot it, doesn’t even have to threaten a human. Your choice. Dead or live dog?

  16. To everyone who thinks that it’s is always 100% the dog or dog owners fault when some ignorant child or person gets hurt because they don’t know how to approach another living thing, remember that dogs use to be wild? I’m really curious, do people know that? If you came up to a wild….anything, would you just run up to it and pet it? No you wouldn’t. Would you run up to a “person” you don’t know and just hug on them and start kissing them? No you wouldn’t. Why is it so hard for people to understand these very simple things? I understand that humanity has done a great job at separating itself from the rest of reality (aka nature), but maybe it’s time we started reconnecting. As much as dogs might be “domesticated” that doesn’t mean they are instantly friendly to everyone. Are people instantly friendly to everyone? Heck no. So what makes you all feel that dogs should be, and if they aren’t then they should be locked up or killed? If that is your logic then a good number of the human race should be locked up for being unfriendly and put down for being able to hurt others. Seriously folks, most negative dog situations stem from humans. It’s time we started taking responsibility for our own actions. It’s time we started getting back to reality. In fact, “I think I could turn and live awhile with animals, they are so placid and self contained.” Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass.

  17. I did a search for fatal dog attacks, and according to Wiki, it looks like Rottweilers and Pit Bulls are overwhelmingly the dogs that have killed the most people. Looks like it’s mostly small children and elderly people. Unless I’m reading the data incorrectly, it looks like you’d have to be out of your mind to have one of these dogs if you have a child :


  18. for so long i thought that the biggest dogs would bite more but it seems the smallest dog is most likely to bite but bigger dogs are least likely!

  19. Pit bulls may not bite more often than other dogs but last year accounted for at least 61% of the FATAL attacks and only represent 5% of the dog population. Better to get a small bite on the ankle by a Jack Russell than to be mauled to death by a dog that was bred for superior fighting skills, strength and aggression.

  20. I think all that matters is how hard the bite is, not what breed is more likely to bite. If poodles were responsible for 99% of biting incidents, they still wouldn’t matter because poodle bites aren’t dangerous!

    A pit bull or German Shepherd bite is very strong and I wouldn’t want to feel that wrath! A yorkie or poodle or pug … meh I’d laugh it off.

    I have a German Shepherd myself, and good Lord are these pooches strong. He could easily break flesh and bone, no problem at all.

  21. I have a pit/lab mix and just recently adopted another pit/boxer mix. They are the sweetest things on the planet! Our boxer pit doesn’t even bark! We actually considered if he was mute when we got him because we never heard a sound come out of him!! My lab pit is a huge baby. We always joke that if someone were to break in she would help them steal the whole house and just ask for a belly rub in return lol! However, I unfortunately live in an area where pits are feared and I get a lot of negative feedback about my two babies. Even from my neighbors! It makes me so mad! Both these dogs were rescues and the boxer pit even looks like he may have been used in some brawls with the previous owner due to some scaring on his face….I wish there was some way to just show the world what sweet, lovable babies they can be! I read somewhere once that a rescued pit is just as good as any other family dog (be it a golden retriever, lab, anything that is viewed as “acceptable”) in only 6 months after being rescued! 6 MONTHS!!! If a dog can be rehabilitated in such a short amount of time…why is it viewed as such a horrible breed?! My boss made a comment once that he wouldn’t want to deal with someone’s homeowner’s if he was their insurance company because they have a pit bull and this person has children over running around with it all the time…..now let’s stop and think about that a moment….these small children run around with a pit bull…..and nothing has ever happened….yeah…I can see why it’s such a horrible breed….PLEASE?! As many of you previously stated, it’s the people not the dog. I can’t wait until we live in an age where that is realized and respected. Problem is….will it ever come? 😦

    –Pit Lover

  22. my ridgeback has just bit my daughter, terrible wound needed surgery, family pet for five years, has always been mega territorial, has bitten a few people but never hard! if you have a dog that has questionable behaviour, please be ultra vigilant, mia was 1 of 4 dogs i have, patterdale terrier, a whippet, and greyhound cross saluki, no problems what so ever with the latter 3. when i called for ambulance the police turned up also, i was advised to have mia destroyed by them and a vet, the police advised me that because the severity of the bite was very very serious i would be mad to take chances, so i made the hardest decision of my life, i hold no grudges to mia and love her still!
    ok my daughter came home with a big parka coat with a huge furry hood, spooked my mia, but the result was terrible, what if it was her face, throat or boob? if it were my whippet, we would have laughed it off? big dog=big bite!
    R.I.P MIA X

  23. I don’t think you are right about all breeds being equally apt to bite. I have found cockers, poms and chihuahuas much more eager to have a nip.

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