Putting Dog Bites Into Context
Dog bites cause significant harm to both humans and dogs. For humans, a bite can result in a severe medical situation or emotional trauma. For dogs, biting a human can land them at a shelter or lead to euthanasia. As such, reducing dangerous biting behavior in dogs is an important animal advocacy issue.
To minimize biting behavior, we must understand the context in which it happens. Through a survey of 400 dog bite victims in Slovenia, researchers collected data on human and dog characteristics, what was happening beforehand, where the bite took place, and what happened to the dog after the bite. Their goal was to reveal some of the risk factors associated with biting incidents.
In contrast with existing research, the authors did not find that men were more likely to be bitten by dogs. However, they confirmed prior findings that children and teenagers between the ages of 10 and 19 are most at risk. Dog caretakers and strangers were likelier to be bitten than people the dog regularly sees. Most dog bite victims were usually around other people or dogs when the bite occurred.
During a biting incident, similar numbers of respondents claimed to be purposely, and not purposely, interacting with the dog in question. Among those who were intentionally interacting with the dog, most were petting or attempting to pet them. Among those whose encounters were unintentional, most were simply in close proximity to the dog. Purebred dogs had the highest dog bite risk overall. German Shepherds were the most common biters, and Golden Retrievers were the second most common.
Most dog-biting occurred on roads or public squares. In private places, dog bites were most common around the house, in areas such as yards or driveways. Dogs who lived exclusively outdoors were the most likely to bite a human. Biting dogs also tended to have a history of aggressive behavior. Dog biting was more common in rural contexts, possibly because urban dogs are more often restrained.
Most bite injuries were caused by large, healthy, adult male dogs, although smaller breeds (especially Chihuahuas and Malteses) were common. The majority of the dogs were unneutered. According to the authors, small dogs usually cause less severe bite damage, and guardians may have a higher tolerance for their aggressive behavior.
For most dogs, after the bite occurred, there was either no action (66% of bite incidents) or the bite victim did not know the outcome (11%). When action was taken, most commonly, there was a separation or verbal punishment (7.5%). Around 6% of dogs were killed afterward.
The authors emphasize that women were overrepresented in their responses. They also point out that there were over 59 breeds represented in the survey results, suggesting that breed may not be a good predictor of bite likelihood.
For animal advocates, it’s important to address some of the factors that may lead to an increased risk of dog bites — for example, educating guardians to neuter their dogs, to supervise the animal when around children and other adults, and to make sure dogs aren’t kept permanently outside. Finally, humane education focused on how to act around familiar and unfamiliar dogs may help children protect themselves (and dogs) from biting incidents.