Dog Bite Risk and Prevention: The Role of Breed

Literature Review

April 17, 2012

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BREEDS IMPLICATED IN SERIOUS BITE INJURIES

 In a range of studies, the breeds found to be highly represented in biting incidents were German Shepherd Dog,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16 pit bull type,5,9,13,16,17,18,19,20,21 mixed breed,1,4,6,8,10,11,12,22 Rottweiler,15,19,21,23 Chow Chow,7,20 Jack Russell Terrier,18,23 and others (Collie,3 Springer Spaniel14 Saint Bernard,17 and Labrador Retriever2 ). If you consider only the much smaller number of cases that resulted in very severe injuries or fatalities,17,19 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 dogs17). It is worth noting that fatal dog attacks in some areas of Canada are attributed mainly to sled dogs and Siberian Huskies,43 presumably due to the regional prevalence of these breeds. See Table 1 for a summary of breed data related to bite injuries.

CONTROLLED STUDIES

The prevalence of particular dog breeds can also change rapidly over time, often influenced by distinct peaks of popularity for specific breeds. It seems that increased popularity is sometimes followed by increases in bite reports in some large breeds. For example there was a distinct peak in American Kennel Club registration of Rottweilers24 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.21,23,15,45 While it must be noted that other fad breeds such as Dalmatians and Irish setters do not seem to make similar appearances, any estimate of breed-based risk must take into account the prevalence of the breed in the population at the time and place of serious biting events.25

For example, researchers may compare well-documented bite cases with matched control households. Using this method, one study found that the breeds disproportionately involved in bite injuries requiring medical attention in the Denver area (where pit bull types are not permitted) were the German Shepherd Dog and Chow Chow.51

Other studies use estimates of breed prevalence that do not relate specifically to the households where the bites occurred, such as general community surveys, breed registries, licensed dogs or animal shelter populations (See Table 2.). These studies implicate the German Shepherd Dog and crosses47,48,49,50,51 and various other breeds (mixed breed,49,50 Cocker spaniel,48,52 Chow Chow,51,52 Collie,48 Doberman,47 Lhasa Apso,35,52 Rottweiler,38 Springer Spaniel,34 Shih Tsu,34 and Poodle49).

AGGRESSIVE BREEDS

Based on behavioral assessments and owner surveys the breeds that were more aggressive towards people were small to medium-sized dogs such as the collies, toy breeds and spaniels.26,27,28,29 For example, a survey of general veterinary clientele in Canada (specifically practices in New Brunswick, Novia Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) identified Lhasa Apso, Springer spaniel and Shih Tsu as more likely to bite.34

 While small dogs may be more aggressive their size means they are less likely to inflict serious bite injury except on vulnerable individuals or as part of a pack attack.30 Referrals for aggression problem more closely approximate the breeds implicated in serious bite attacks, probably because owners are more likely to seek treatment for aggression in dogs that are large enough to be dangerous. Larger dogs (regardless of breed) are implicated in more attacks on humans31 and other dogs.32

Certain large breeds are notably under-represented in bite statistics such as large hounds and retrievers (e.g., Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers)28,34—although even these breeds may have known aggressive subtypes.33 Results relating to German Shepherd Dogs are mixed,29,34 suggesting there may be particularly high variability in this breed, perhaps depending on regional subtypes or ownership factors.

PIT BULL TYPES

Owners of pit bull-type dogs deal with a strong breed stigma,35 however controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous. The pit bull type is particularly ambiguous as a "breed" encompassing a range of pedigree breeds, informal types and appearances that cannot be reliably identified. Visual determination of dog breed is known to not always be reliable.36 And witnesses may be predisposed to assume that a vicious dog is of this type.

It should also be considered that the incidence of pit bull-type dogs' involvement in severe and fatal attacks may represent high prevalence in neighborhoods that present high risk to the young children who are the most common victim of severe or fatal attacks. And as owners of stigmatized breeds are more likely to have involvement in criminal and/or violent acts37—breed correlations may have the owner's behavior as the underlying causal factor.

BREED BANS

While some study authors suggest limiting ownership of specific breeds might reduce injuries (e.g., pit bull type,38 German Shepherd Dog39) it has not been demonstrated that breed-specific bans affect the rate or severity of bite injuries occurring in the community.8 Factors that are reliably associated with serious dog bite injury (requiring hospital treatment) in the United States are the victim being a young child and the dog being familiar (belonging to the family, a family friend or neighbor).40,41 Strategies known to result in decreased bite incidents include active enforcement of dog control ordinances (ticketing)42.

CONCLUSION

Maulings by dogs can cause terrible injuries40 and death—and it is natural for those dealing with the victims to seek to address the immediate causes. Serious bites occur due to a range of factors in which a dog's size and temperament are known to be the risk factors. Also important are dog management factors such as neutering and tethering, and child care factors such as supervision around animals.
 
Given that pit bull-type dogs are not implicated in controlled studies, and the potential role of prevalence and management factors, it is difficult to support the targeting of this breed as a basis for dog bite prevention. If breeds are to be targeted a cluster of large breeds would be implicated including the German shepherd and shepherd crosses and other breeds that vary by location.

 

See Also:
National Animal Control Association Guideline Statement: "Dangerous and/or vicious animals should be labeled as such as a result of their actions or behavior and not because of their breed."

Summary Tables

Table One

Studies of Serious Dog Bite Injury by Breed
Period Data Source N Country Top Two Breeds Identified Ref
1971 US Dept. Health 843 United States (VA) mixed breed
German Shepherd Dog
1
1971-1974 Hospital records 50 South Africa German Shepherd Dog
Labrador Retreiver
2
1973-1976 US Dept. Health 2618 United States (AL) German Shepherd Dog
Collie
3
1979-1982 Health Dept.
Severe attacks
16 United States (SC) pit bull type
Saint Bernard
17
1981-1983 US Reservations 772 United States mixed breed
unspecified pedigree
22
1982-1989 Hospital records 146 United Kingdom pit bull type
Jack Russell Terrier
18
1987-1988 HASS 487 United Kingdom mixed breed
German Shepherd Dog
4
1979-1998 Fatalities 27 United States pitt bull type
Rottweiler
19
1989 Hospital records 168 United States German Shepherd Dog
pit bull type
5
1989 Hospital records 75 United Kingdom German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
6
1991 Animal control records 357 United States German Shepherd Dog
Chow Chow
7
1991+1994 Hospital records 198 United Kingdom German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
8
1989-1996 Hospital records 1109 United States (CA) pit bull type
German shepherd
9
1990-2007 Fatalities 28 Canada mixed breed husky
"sled dog"
43
1995 Patients receiving rabies post-exposure prophylaxis ~8000 United States (PA) German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
10
1991-2000 Hospital records 654 Spain German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
11
1996 Hospital records 1916 Australia German Shepherd Dog
Bull Terrier
44
1995-1997 Animal control ? United States pit bull type
Chow Chow
20
1997 Hospital records 385 Canada German Shepherd Dog
Cocker Spaniel
1145
1998-2002 Hospital records 72 Canada Rottweiler
German Shepherd Dog
46
1991-2004 Hospital records 25 South Africa pit bull type
German Shepherd Dog
47
1994-2005 Hospital records 341 Austria mixed breed
German Shepherd Dog
12
1997-2003 Hospital records 11 United States Rottweiler
German Shepherd Dog
15
2001-2002 ACC claims 3020 New Zealand German Shepherd Dog
pit bull type
13
2000-2004 Hospital records 593 United Kingdom Rottweiler
Jack Russell Terrier
23
2001-2005 Hospital records 551 United States pit bull type
Rottweiler
21
2002-2005 Veterinary referral 111 United States (PA) Springer Spaniel
German Shepherd Dog
14

Table Two

Studies of Serious Dog Bite Injury by Breed taking into Account Breed Prevalence
Period Data Source Prevalence estimate N Country Breeds Identified as Higher Risk Ref
1974-1975 Animal control Licensed dogs ? United States (MD) German Shepherd Dog and shepherd crosses
Doberman Pinscher
48
1976-1977 US Bases Relative risk versus mixed breed 529 United States (IL, MO) Collie
German Shepherd Dog
Cocker Spaniel
49
1982 Pediatric practice Non-biting pets of other patients 194 United States (MO) German Shepherd Dog and shepherd crosses
mixed breed over 30lb
Poodle
50
1986-1987 Health Unit Licensed dogs 318 Canada German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
51
1991 Plastic surgery cases Prevalence in community 146 Australia German Shepherd Dog 39
1991 Animal control Case controls 178 United States (CO) German Shepherd Dog
Chow Chow
52
1990-1993 Hospital records Survey 356 Australia Doberman Pinscher
German Shepherd Dog
Rottweiler
38
1993 Shelter animals quarantined for biting General shelter admissions 170 United States (WI) Chow Chow
Cocker Spaniel
Lhasa Apso
53
1996 Owner self-report (biters) Owner self-report (non-biters) 3226 Canada Lhasa Apso
Springer Spaniel
Shih Tsu
34

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