Welfare Implications of the Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention
Dog attacks can cause serious injury or even death, and when these incidents occur the media tends to lay blame on particular breeds of dog. However, painting entire breeds with a broad brush based on specific incidents can have serious implications for dogs, and has led to the creation of breed-specific legislation that prohibits the keeping of certain companion animals. This study from the American Veterinary Medical Association shows that targeting certain breeds in order to prevent dog bites is not only inaccurate, but potentially dangerous.
When it comes to keeping companion dogs, there are times when certain breeds are more popular than others. Researchers from the American Veterinary Medical Association note that “increased popularity is sometimes followed by increases in bite reports in some large breeds. There was a distinct peak in American Kennel Club registration of Rottweilers between 1990 and 1995, and they come at the top of the list of ‘biting breeds’ for the first time in studies of bites causing hospitalization in the late 90s and early 2000s.” Essentially, if certain breeds increase in popularity, they will also tend to be reported more frequently for biting. So, if people want to assess the risk posed by a dogs based solely on their breed, the prevalence of the breed in relation to the total dog population has to be taken into account. Likewise, the size of the dog is an important consideration, because, even though small dogs can be more aggressive, “owners are more likely to seek treatment for aggression in dogs that are large enough to be dangerous.”
This compilation of statistics on dog bites and attacks in North America between 1971-2005, shows that “larger dogs (regardless of breed) are implicated in more attacks on humans and other dogs,” though certain large breeds were under-represented. Perhaps most importantly, they state that though “some study authors suggest limiting ownership of specific breeds might reduce injuries (e.g., pit bull type, German Shepherd Dog) it has not been demonstrated that breed-specific bans affect the rate or severity of bite injuries occurring in the community.” What does seem to be closely associated with serious dog bite injury is the victim being a young child, and the dog being familiar to the victim. They note that “strategies known to result in decreased bite incidents, include active enforcement of dog control ordinances (ticketing).”
Concluding their study, the authors state that “it is natural for those dealing with the victims to seek to address the immediate causes.” However, all of the findings indicate that serious bites occur due to a whole range of factors, and not just the breed of the dog. Dog bites and attacks can be prevented through “dog management factors such as neutering and tethering, and child care factors such as supervision around animals.” Given that the authors state that pit bull type dogs are “implicated in controlled studies, and the potential role of prevalence and management factors,” they do not support the targeting of specific breeds in legislation.
In a range of studies, the breeds found to be highly represented in biting incidents were German Shepherd Dog, pit bull type, mixed breed, Rottweiler, Chow Chow, Jack Russell Terrier, and others (Collie, Springer Spaniel, Saint Bernard, and Labrador Retriever). If you consider only the much smaller number of cases that resulted in very severe injuries or fatalities, pit bull-type dogs are more frequently identified. However this may relate to the popularity of the breed in the victim’s community, reporting biases and the dog’s treatment by its owner (e.g., use as fighting dogs). It is worth noting that fatal dog attacks in some areas of Canada are attributed mainly to sled dogs and Siberian Huskies, presumably due to the regional prevalence of these breeds. See Table 1 for a summary of breed data related to bite injuries.