On the surface, it would seem like a no-brainer that dogs like Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and other large breed guarding dogs would be at the top of the list.
But are those breeds more likely to bite than, say, a Chihuahua?
To simply pull numbers of attacks does not give an accurate representation of a breed necessarily. For example, by reviewing a study that states there have been five attacks by golden retrievers in a community and 10 attacks by pit bulls in that same community it would appear that pit bulls are more dangerous. However, if you look at the dog populations in that community and learn that there are 50 golden retrievers present and 500 pit bulls, then the pit bulls are actually the safer breed statistically.
The truth is that any dog is likely to bite when provoked. And while some breeds may be more excitable or temperamental than others, it’s questionable whether we can condemn an entire breed as being more dangerous.
We can, however, get a sense of what might provoke a dog to bite and why some breeds get labeled dangerous.
According to AmericanHumane.org, an “estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year; nearly 800,000 dog bites require medical care.”
That sounds like a lot of bits, but the ASPCA reports:
The risk of fatal injury directly due to a dog bite is miniscule compared to human fatalities caused by other accidents, such as those caused by cars (43,730 deaths annually), falls (14,440), choking (5,555), fires (3,410), drowning (3,334), guns (791) and bicycles (774). Even among the most rare causes of accidental deaths—including lightning, forklifts and dog bites—lightning fatalities occur five times more often than dog-bite fatalities. Among children, 10 fatalities occur annually from dog bites, compared to 826 from injuries inflicted by parents and other caregivers.
That’s not to minimize the hurt, pain and trauma of a dog bite. But it is important to put those statistics into perspective. Dogs that are deemed “dangerous breeds” are put down every day; many of these are dogs that could make great pets if they were trained properly.
So we can’t always predict what breed of dog will bite. But if you could predict when a dog will bite, you might consider these statistics:
- At least 25 different breeds of dogs have been involved in the 238 dog-bite-related fatalities in the U.S;
- 82% of dog bites treated in the emergency room involved children under 15 years old;
- 70% of dog-bite fatalities occurred among children under 10 years old;
- Approximately two-thirds of bites occurred on or near the victim’s property, and most victims knew the dog.
Young children often don’t know the proper way to approach a dog, so are more likely to unintentionally provoke a bite.
I cringe when I’m out with Scout and Bandit and I see children coming. They come toddling over or are crouched down to the dogs at eye level, looking them in the eye (which a dog considers a challenge), hands flailing as they try to pet the dog on the head and then pull away when the dog tips his head back to sniff their hand (which dogs hate and consider a challenge), or throw their arms around the dog to hug his neck (dogs hate being restrained).
I have lovely, sweet dogs trained for therapy. But if they’ve just been running around at the park and are worked up, they could easily jump or nip if startled or provoked.
Children don’t understand – and let’s face it, neither do most adults – that just because you pet a dog yesterday doesn’t mean it’s safe to pet him today. A dog’s temperament can be just as quirky as a human; if it’s tired, hot, not feeling well, or excited, a dog that let your child snuggle it yesterday will easily nip or bite today.
And that’s any dog.
So how can you keep your dog from biting?
1) Train your dog. It doesn’t matter what kind of dog you have or how sweet you think it is. Training helps to build a bond between dog and owner; the more you and your dog can clearly communicate with each other, the more your dog will be able to control his emotions and look to you in a stressful situation.
2) Teach your children to never pet a strange dog, and to not even pet a dog they know unless the owner is right there and gives permission.
3) Understand the proper way to approach a dog. Don’t look the dog in the eye, don’t reach over his head, and by all means never put your face up to his. Put your hand out slowly and let the dog sniff you; he’ll come closer to you if he wants to interact more. My dog Bandit wrote a blog post about the right way to pet a dog, from a dog’s perspective.
You can learn more about dog bites and the proper way to approach a dog on these websites:
- Humane Society of the United States
- Reading Canine Body Language
- Bandit blogs about the best way to pet a dog
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