Preventing Dog Bites: It’s Not Only About The Dog
While dog bites pose a health risk to humans, misunderstandings about the correlates of dog bites perpetuate fear of dogs and improper prevention of dog bite incidents. For example, there is a longstanding belief that certain breeds of dogs are more likely to bite humans than others (fingers tend to point towards Pit Bull Terriers and other misunderstood breeds). People also tend to think that feral dogs are responsible for most bites, and that dog bites are entirely the fault of the dog. These beliefs obscure what really motivates dog bite incidents, and hamper proper prevention of such incidents.
In this 2020 study, researchers sought to resolve such inconsistencies in beliefs about dog bite risks. Using 8 years of data from Detroit, the researchers analyzed the circumstances of dog bites to draw conclusions about the correlates of these incidents, with a special focus on answering the following questions (pulled verbatim from the text):
- Are bites more likely to come from owned [sic] dogs, unknown roaming dogs, or neighborhood dogs not owned [sic] by the victim?
- In the context of feral roaming dogs, do bites appear be caused by groups of such dogs?
- Does presumed or estimated breed of dog appear to be related to bite incidents?
- Are there common sets of circumstances surrounding bites, such as tethering/chaining dogs in yards, harassing a dog, or other unintentional victim behavior that can be interpreted by dogs as threatening?
Regression analysis revealed that many assumptions about dog bite risks are false. For example, neighborhood dogs are more likely to bite than feral dogs, the breed of the dog is not a good predictor of bite risk, dog bites frequently occur when the guardian improperly contains the dog and deprives the dog of needed socialization, and when the victim deliberately harasses or provokes the dog.
The implications for policy are that stricter enforcement is needed to make sure guardians do not leave their dogs tethered in yards for extended periods of time, as this both deprives the dog of socialization, making them more likely to engage in deviant behavior such as biting, but also increases the risk of the dog escaping the premises and wandering the neighborhood, which poses a threat to others. Furthermore, the public should be informed that dog bites often result from provocation on the part of the victim, and that there is no reason to assume that dogs of certain breeds are more prone to attacking than dogs of other breeds.
Remedying these faulty assumptions is the first step towards ensuring that dogs are properly cared for and socialized, and that people are accurately informed and less fearful about dogs in their neighborhood. For dog advocates, countering such negative stereotypes and biases is vital work that clearly needs to be advanced in every way possible.