Dog bites are a serious problem in the United States. Each year, an estimated 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Around 17 percent of these people require medical care. And in approximately 10-20 tragic cases per year, the bite victim is killed. The CDC has labeled dog bites in America an “epidemic.”
In response to this growing problem, some communities have banned ownership of certain dogs that are perceived as dangerous, particularly pit bulls and rottweilers. Are some breeds really more dangerous than others?
It’s difficult to determine just how much a dog’s genetics determine his behavior, just like it’s hard to know how much of a person’s personality is nature and how much is nurture. It’s true that some breeds simply have more ability to injure people than others do. Though it’s no more likely to bite than a smaller dog, if it does bite, a Great Dane can do much more damage than a Maltese, for example. (Even very small breeds can be dangerous to children, however.)
A study performed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the CDC, and the Humane Society of the United States, analyzed dog bite statistics from the last 20 years and found that the statistics don’t show that any breeds are inherently more dangerous than others. The study showed that the most popular large breed dogs at any one time were consistently on the list of breeds that bit fatally. There were a high number of fatal bites from Doberman pinschers in the 1970s, for example, because Dobermans were very popular at that time and there were more Dobermans around, and because Dobermans’ size makes their bites more dangerous. The number of fatal bites from pit bulls rose in the 1980s for the same reason, and the number of bites from rottweilers in the 1990s. The study also noted that there are no reliable statistics for nonfatal dog bites, so there is no way to know how often smaller breeds are biting.
This study supports what many veterinarians have believed for years: nearly any dog can be aggressive or nonaggressive, depending on his training and environment. Owners play a big part in making sure that their pet is safe around other people. There are several steps you can take to help ensure that your dog isn’t dangerous.
If you see signs that your dog could be aggressive or dangerous, you can ask your veterinarian to refer you to a veterinary behavioral specialist. While your dog is being treated for aggression, be careful with him in public. Be sure to warn strangers to use caution if they interact with him. It may be important to wear a basket muzzle while out in public until the aggression is managed properly. A gentle leader may also be very helpful in controlling your pet when out in public.
Following these directions won’t guarantee that your dog won’t bite, but they’ll certainly make it less likely. Any dog that is well restrained and well trained can be perfectly safe, regardless of breed. The truth is, an irresponsible owner is much more dangerous than any dog.
Note: Pet owner information provided in this article and more available through the Pet Health Library at www.HealthyPet.com. Copyright © American Animal Hospital Association