AVMA Collections: Canine Aggression


Single-topic compilations of the information shaping our profession

April 2012


In this collection:




Dog bites to humans-demography, epidemiology, injury, and risk
SUMMARY: An extensive review of the literature concerning dog bite injuries revealed that the data support the following conclusions: there is a substantially greater injury and fatality rate for children when compared with adults; male children are injured and killed more often than female children, indicating that human behavior may be a major factor; and there is a preponderance of owned family dogs involved in bites and fatalities. Little is known about the actual behaviors of dogs involved in bites, regardless of breed, and much work remains to be done to understand why dogs bite and to minimize morbidity and mortality.


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 Karen L. Overall, Molly Love   
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:1923-1934. June 15, 2001. 
Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998
SUMMARY: At least 25 breeds of dogs have been involved in 238 human dog bite-related fatalities during the past 20 years. Pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers were involved in more than half of these deaths. Of 227 reports with relevant data, 75% involved dogs on their owners' property. Although fatal attacks on humans appear to be a breed-specific problem (pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers), other breeds may bite and cause fatalities at higher rates. Because of difficulties inherent in determining a dog's breed with certainty, enforcement of breed-specific ordinances raises constitutional and practical issues. Many practical alternatives to breed-specific ordinances exist and hold promise for prevention of dog bites.


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 Jeffrey J. Sacks, Leslie Sinclair, Julie Gilchrist, Gail C. Golab, Randall Lockwood   
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;217:836-840. September 15, 2000. 
National survey of owner-directed aggression in English Springer Spaniels
SUMMARY: English Springer Spaniels have been identified in at least 2 studies as the purebred dog most frequently referred to behavioral specialists because of aggressive behavior. A mail survey was sent to 2,400 randomly selected owners of English Springer Spaniels to determine the prevalence of owner-directed aggression and identify associated factors. Owner-directed aggression was reported in 48% of dogs and was associated with a number of environmental, sex-related, and inherited factors. To reduce the risk of aggression, prospective owners might seek a female, hunting-type English Springer Spaniel from an experienced breeder. However there are limitations to the extent to which behavior can be predicted and further study is needed of the inheritance of aggression in this breed.


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 Ilana R. Reisner, Katherine A. Houpt, Frances S. Shofer   
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005;227:1594-1603. November 15, 2005. 
A community approach to dog bite prevention
SUMMARY: Dog bites are a serious public health problem that incurs immeasurable hidden costs to communities. The information contained in this report, created by the AVMA's Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions, is intended to help leaders find effective ways to address their community's dog bite concerns. Subjects addressed include identifying the scope of the problem in the community, identifying potential partners in dog bite prevention, establishing an infrastructure for addressing dog bites, bite data reporting, and education of the public and the media. A key point throughout is that reducing the incidence of dog bites requires active community involvement.


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American Veterinary Medical Association Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions  
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:1732-1749. June 1, 2001.  
How anticipating relationships between dogs and children can help prevent disasters
SUMMARY: Bite prevention efforts too often focus on legislation that restricts or condemns dogs, rather than approaches that foster relationships between dogs and children that are based on mutual deference, respect, and communication. Little or no research has been conducted concerning the characteristics of children's and dogs' behaviors associated with most dog bite incidents. Anticipating interactions between dogs and children is possible only with an understanding of age-specific dog and child behavior. Once the norm of age-specific responses has been defined, factoring in environmental variables may enable us to predict what may actually happen between a specific dog and a child.


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 Molly Love, Karen L. Overall  
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;219:446-453. August 15, 2001. 
Effects of gender and parental status on knowledge and attitudes of dog owners regarding dog aggression toward children
SUMMARY: There is little information on how knowledgeable dog owners are about factors associated with dog aggression toward children, even though children are the most common victims of reported bites to people. Results of a survey of 804 dog owners who had brought their dogs to a university-based veterinary referral hospital indicated that there was a general lack of knowledge regarding dog behavior and safety practices for dog-child interactions and that respondents were often unaware of factors that increased the risk of dog bites to children. Women were more knowledgeable than men, regardless of parental status, and mothers were more knowledgeable than fathers and female nonparents regarding interactions with young children.


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 Ilana R. Reisner, Frances S. Shofer  
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2008;233:1412-1419. November 1, 2008. 
Effect of dietary protein content and tryptophan supplementation on dominance aggression, territorial aggression, and hyperactivity in dogs
SUMMARY: L-tryptophan is a biosynthetic precursor for the neurotransmitter serotonin. It has been hypothesized that decreased concentrations of this amino acid would lead to reduced formation of serotonin and possibly more aggressive responses to stimuli in dogs. Three groups of dogs with dominance aggression, territorial aggression, and hyperactivity respectively were fed diets differing in protein and tryptophan levels. It was found that, for dogs with dominance aggression, adding tryptophan to a high-protein diet or changing to a low-protein diet may reduce aggression. For dogs with territorial aggression, a low-protein diet with added tryptophan may be helpful in reducing aggression. The behavior of hyperactive dogs was not influenced by dietary protein content or addition of tryptophan.


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 Jean S. DeNapoli, Nicholas H. Dodman, Louis Shuster, William M. Rand, Kathy L. Gross   
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;217:504-508. August 15, 2000. 
Association of pruritus with anxiety or aggression in dogs
SUMMARY: In humans, mood and anxiety disorders have been associated with pruritic skin disease. Similarly, physical discomfort associated with disease in dogs is assumed to increase irritability and aggression. However, in a cross-sectional survey of 238 dogs between 1 and 8 years old, there was no significant difference between pruritic and nonpruritic dogs with regard to aggression or reactivity to being alone; thunderstorms or noises; or unfamiliar people, animals, or objects. Post hoc analysis revealed significantly more reactivity to thunderstorms or noises in dogs treated with glucocorticoids. Findings suggested that dogs with a behavioral disorder and pruritus require primary treatment for both conditions.


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 Mary P. Klinck, Frances S. Shofer, Ilana R. Reisner   
J Am Vet Med Assoc 2008;233:1105-1111. October 1, 2008