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