Dog Bite Risk and Prevention: The Role of Breed

Literature Review

April 17, 2012

PDF version


 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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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
1971-1974 Hospital records 50 South Africa German Shepherd Dog
Labrador Retreiver
1973-1976 US Dept. Health 2618 United States (AL) German Shepherd Dog
1979-1982 Health Dept.
Severe attacks
16 United States (SC) pit bull type
Saint Bernard
1981-1983 US Reservations 772 United States mixed breed
unspecified pedigree
1982-1989 Hospital records 146 United Kingdom pit bull type
Jack Russell Terrier
1987-1988 HASS 487 United Kingdom mixed breed
German Shepherd Dog
1979-1998 Fatalities 27 United States pitt bull type
1989 Hospital records 168 United States German Shepherd Dog
pit bull type
1989 Hospital records 75 United Kingdom German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
1991 Animal control records 357 United States German Shepherd Dog
Chow Chow
1991+1994 Hospital records 198 United Kingdom German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
1989-1996 Hospital records 1109 United States (CA) pit bull type
German shepherd
1990-2007 Fatalities 28 Canada mixed breed husky
"sled dog"
1995 Patients receiving rabies post-exposure prophylaxis ~8000 United States (PA) German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
1991-2000 Hospital records 654 Spain German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
1996 Hospital records 1916 Australia German Shepherd Dog
Bull Terrier
1995-1997 Animal control ? United States pit bull type
Chow Chow
1997 Hospital records 385 Canada German Shepherd Dog
Cocker Spaniel
1998-2002 Hospital records 72 Canada Rottweiler
German Shepherd Dog
1991-2004 Hospital records 25 South Africa pit bull type
German Shepherd Dog
1994-2005 Hospital records 341 Austria mixed breed
German Shepherd Dog
1997-2003 Hospital records 11 United States Rottweiler
German Shepherd Dog
2001-2002 ACC claims 3020 New Zealand German Shepherd Dog
pit bull type
2000-2004 Hospital records 593 United Kingdom Rottweiler
Jack Russell Terrier
2001-2005 Hospital records 551 United States pit bull type
2002-2005 Veterinary referral 111 United States (PA) Springer Spaniel
German Shepherd Dog

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
1976-1977 US Bases Relative risk versus mixed breed 529 United States (IL, MO) Collie
German Shepherd Dog
Cocker Spaniel
1982 Pediatric practice Non-biting pets of other patients 194 United States (MO) German Shepherd Dog and shepherd crosses
mixed breed over 30lb
1986-1987 Health Unit Licensed dogs 318 Canada German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
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
1990-1993 Hospital records Survey 356 Australia Doberman Pinscher
German Shepherd Dog
1993 Shelter animals quarantined for biting General shelter admissions 170 United States (WI) Chow Chow
Cocker Spaniel
Lhasa Apso
1996 Owner self-report (biters) Owner self-report (non-biters) 3226 Canada Lhasa Apso
Springer Spaniel
Shih Tsu

1 Morton C. Dog bites in Norfolk, VA. Health Seru Rep, 1973;88:59-65.
2 Chait LA,Spitz L. Dogbite injuries in children. S Afr Med J 1975;49:718-720.
3 Maetz, M. Animal bites, a public health problem in Jefferson County, Alabama. Public Health Rep 1979;94: 528-534.
4 Levene S. Dog bites to children. BMJ 1991;303:466.
5 Avner JR, Baker MD. Dog bites in urban children. Pediatrics. 1991;88:55-57.
6 Jarrett P. Which dogs bite? Arch Emerg Med 1991;8:33–35.
7 Patrick GR, O'Rourke KM. Dog and cat bites: epidemiologic analyses suggest different prevention strategies. Public Health Rep 1998;113:252257.
8 Klaassen B, Buckley JR, Esmail A. Does the Dangerous Dogs Act protect against animal attacks: a prospective study of mammalian bites in the accident and emergency department. Injury 1996; 27: 89-91.
9 Meade, P. Police and domestic dog bite injuries: What are the differences? What are the implications about police dog use? Injury Extra 2006;37:395-401.
10 Moore DA, Sischo WM, Hunter A, et al. Animal bite epidemiology and surveillance for rabies postexposure prophylaxis. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;217:190–194.
11 Mendez Gallart R, Gomez Tellado M, Somoza Argibay I, Liras Munoz J, Pais Pineiro E, Vela Nieto D. Dog bite related injuries treated in a pediatric surgery department: analysis of 654 cases in 10 years. An Esp Pediatr. 2002;56:425–429.
12 Schalamon J. Analysis of dog bites in children who are younger than 17 years. Pediatrics 2006;117:374–379.
13 Wake AF. The Aetiology of Dog Bites in New Zealand, [MSc thesis], Palmerston North: Massey University, 2005.
14 Reisner, IR. Assessment, management, and prognosis of canine dominated-related aggression. The Veterinary Clinics of North America Small Animal Practice 1997;27:479–495.
15 Benson LS, Edwards SL, Schiff AP, et al. Dog and cat bites to the hand: treatment and cost assessment. J Hand Surg [Am] 2006; 31: 468-473.
16 Ashby K. Dog bites. Victorian Injury Surveillance System. Hazard 1996; 26: 7-13.
17 Wright JC. Severe attacks by dogs: characteristics of the dogs, the victims, and the attack settings. Public Health Rep 1985;100:55–61.
18 Shewell PC, Nancarrow JD. Dogs that bite. BMJ 1997;303:1512–13.
19 Sacks JJ, Sinclair L, Gilchrist J, Golab GC, Lockwood R. Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000; 217: 836–840.
20 Blocker DE. Dog bite rates and biting dog breeds in Texas, 1995-1997. Masters Thesis 2000.
21 Kaye AE, Belz JM, Kirschner RE. Pediatric Dog Bite Injuries: A 5 Year Review of the Experience at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 2009;124:551-558.
22 Daniels TJ. A study of dog bites on the Navajo reservation. Public Health Rep 1986;101:50-59.
23 Thompson P. Aggression Effects - From a Human Perspective and Solutions. Urban Animal anagement Conference Proceedings 2004.
24 Herzog H. Forty-two Thousand and One Dalmatians: Fads, Social Contagion, and Dog Breed Popularity. Society and Animals 2006;4:383-398.
25 Cunningham, L. The Case Against Dog Breed Discrimination By Homeowners' Insurance Companies. Connecticut Insurance Law Journal 2004;11:61.
26 Fatjó J, Amat M, Mariotti VM, Torre JLR, Manteca X. Analysis of 1040 cases of canine aggression in a referral practice in Spain. J Vet Behav 2007; 2:158-65.
27 Duffy, DL., Hsu, Y. Serpell, JA. Breed differences in canine aggression. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2008;114:441–460.
28 Draper, T.W., Canine analogs of human personality factors. J Gen Psyc 1995;122: 241–252.
29 Lund JD, Agger JF, Vestergaard KS. Reported behaviour problems in pet dogs in Denmark: age distribution and influence of breed and gender. Preventative Vet med 1996;28:33-48
30 Kneafsey B, Condon KC. Severe dog-bite injuries, introducing the concept of pack attack: A literature review and seven case reports. Injury. 1995;26:37–41.
31 Harris D, Imperato PJ, Oken B. Dog bites—an unrecognized epidemic. Bull NY Acad Med 1974;50:981–1000.
32 Roll, A., Unshelm, J. Aggressive conflicts amongst dogs and factors affecting them. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 1997;52:229–242.
33 van den Berg, L., Schilder, M.B.H., Knol, B.W. Behaviour genetics of canine aggression: behavioural phenotyping of Golden Retrievers by means of an aggression test. Behav Gen 2003;33:469–483.
34 Guy, N, Canine household aggression in the caseload of general veterinary practitioners in Maritime Canada, Master of Science thesis, Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, 1999
35 Twining, H., Arluke, A. Patronek, G. Managing stigma of outlaw breeds: A case study of pit bull owners. Society and Animals 2001;8:1-28.
36 Voith VL, Ingram E, Mitsouras K. Comparison of adoption agency breed identification and DNA breed identification of dogs. J Appl Anim Welf Sci 2009;12:253–262.
37 Ragatz L, Fremouw W, Thomas T, McCoy K. Vicious dogs: the antisocial behaviors and psychological characteristics of owners. Journal of Forensic Sciences 2009;54:699-703
38 Thompson PG. The public health impact of dog attacks in a major Australian city. Med J Aust 1997;167:129-32.
39 Greenhalgh C, Cockington R, Raftos I. An epidemiological survey of dog bites presenting to the emergency department of a children's hospital . J Paediatr Child Health 1991; 27: 171-174.
40 Loewe CL, Francisco JD, Bechinski J. Pitbull mauling deaths in Detroit. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 2007;28:356-360.
41 Monroy A, Behar P, Nagy M, Poje C, Pizzuto M, Brodsky L. Head and neck dog bites in children. Otolaryngol. Head Neck Surg 2009;140:354–357
42 Clarke NM. A survey of urban Canadian animal control practices : the effect of enforcement and resourcing on the reported dog bite rate, Master of Science – MSc 2009
43 Raghavan M. Fatal dog attacks in Canada, 1990–2007. Can Vet J. 2008;49:577–581.
44 Ashby K. Dog bites. Victorian Injury Surveillance System. Hazard 1996; 26: 7-13.
45 Flores J, Brown J,Mackenzie SG. Innovative CHIRPP project focuses on dog bites. CHIRPP News 1997;11:3–7.
46 Lang ME, Klassen T. Dog bites in Canadian children: a five-year review of severity and emergency department management. Can J Emerg Med. 2005;7:309–314.
47 Dwyer JP, Douglas TS, van As AB. Dog bites injuries in children—a review of data from a South Africa paediatric trauma unit. 2007;97:597–600.
48 Berzon DR. The animal bite epidemic in Baltimore, Maryland: review and update. Am I Public Health. 1978;68:593-595.
49 Hanna, TL, Selby LA. Characteristics of the human and pet populations in animal bite incidents recorded at two Air Force bases. Public Health Rep. 1981;96:580-584.
50 Lauer EA, White WC, Lauer BA. Dog bites: a neglected problem in accident prevention. AJDC. 1982;136:202-204.
51 Szpakowski NM, Bonnett BN, Martin SW. An epidemiological investigation into the reported incidents of dog biting in the Cityof Guelph. Can Vet J 1989;30:937–942.
52 Gershman KA, Sacks JJ, Wright JC. Which dogs bite: a case-control study of risk factors. Pediatrics 1994;93:913-917.
53 Castelein C, Klouda J, Hirsch H. The bite case scenario—it is not what you think. In: WFHS newsletter. Madison, Wis: Wisconsin Humane Society, 1996;Sep:12–14. Cited in: Overall KL, Love M. Dog bites to humans: demography, epidemiology, injury, and risk. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:1923-1934.

This information has been prepared as a service by the American Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Welfare Division.  Mention of trade names, products, commercial practices or organizations does not imply endorsement by the American Veterinary Medical Association.