Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada
September 1982 to January 31, 2012
It is not my intention to bash any one particular breed or breeds, but the facts speak for themselves. If you are not fully qualified to take on the task of one of the “dangerous breeds” it is best for everyone involved if you steer clear.
38 U.S. fatal dog attacks occurred in 2012. Despite being regulated in and over 600 US cities, pit bulls contributed to 61% (23) of these deaths. Pit bulls make up less than 5% of the total U.S. dog population. From 2005 to 2012, pit bulls killed 151 Americans, about one citizen every 19 days.
In 2012, dogs referred to as a “rescues” accounted for at least 13% (5) attacks that resulted in death. Children suffered the brunt of these attacks with 3 deaths. The adults afflicted, 2 adult females, were killed by their own pack of “rescued” dogs.
There is a persistent allegation by pit bull terrier advocates that pit bulls are over represented among reported dog attack deaths and maimings because of misidentifications or
because “pit bull” is, according to them, a generic term covering several similar types of dog.
However, the frequency of pit bull attacks among these worst-in-10,000 cases is so
disproportionate that even if half of the attacks in the pit bull category were misattributed, or
even if the pit bull category was split three ways, attacks by pit bulls and their closest relatives
would still outnumber attacks by any other breed.
There is also a persistent allegation by pit bull terrier advocates that the use of media
accounts as a data source is somehow suspect. Reality is that media coverage incorporates
information from police reports, animal control reports, witness accounts, victim accounts in
many instances, and hospital reports. Media coverage is, in short, multi-sourced, unlike
reports from any single source.
Breed …Attacks…Child… Adult… Deaths
Akita 65 42 19 8
Boxer 48 14 15 5
Bull mastiff (Presa Canario) 76 30 28 11
Cane Corso/Italian mastiff 12 1 7 1
Chow 54 36 15 7
Doberman 15 8 7 7
German shepherd 93 59 26 13
German shepherd mix 40 26 11 7
Golden retriever 10 8 2 2
Great Dane 31 9 7 3
Greyhound 1 1 0 0
Husky 66 41 4 22
Jack Russell terrier 4 2 1 2
Labrador 45 32 11 3
Pit bull terrier 1985 832 693 217
Pit bull/Rott. mix 48 10 7 2
Rottweiler 481 272 126 78
Weimaraner 2 2 0 1
Wolf hybrid 84 69 5 19
Totals of dogs attacking humans in fatal & disfiguring cases:
3521 1713 1077 470 2004 .329
Totals of humans attacked by dogs in fatal & disfiguring cases:
3394 1664 1048 456 1945 .329
Pit bulls & close pit mixes:
2113 884 726 215 1181 .050
60% 51% 67% 46% 59%
Pit bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios, Cane Corsos,
Dogo Argentinos, Fila Brasieros, and their mixes:
2725 1214 901 314 1519
77% 71% 84% 67% 76%
Pit bulls, Rottweilers, their close mixes, & wolf hybrids:
2708 1246 872 317 1521
77% 73% 81% 68% 76%
The tallies of attacks, attacks on children, attacks on adults, fatalities on the above data sheet must be evaluated in three different contexts. The first
pertains to breed-specific characteristic behavior, the second to bite frequency as
opposed to the frequency of severe injuries, and the third to degree of relative risk.
Of the breeds most often involved in incidents of sufficient severity to be listed,
pit bull terriers and their close mixes make up only about 3.3% of the total U.S. dog
population, according to my frequent surveys of regionally balanced samples of
classified ads of dogs for sale, but they constitute 29% of the dog population in U.S.
animal shelters at any given time, according to my 2011 single-day shelter inventory
survey, which followed up similar surveys producing similar results done in 2004, 2008,
Pit bulls are noteworthy on the chart above for attacking adults almost as
frequently as children. This is a very rare pattern, also seen in the bull mastiff/Presa
Canario line. Children are normally at greatest risk from dog bite because they play with
dogs more often, have less experience in reading dog behavior, are more likely to
engage in activity that alarms or stimulates a dog, and are less able to defend themselves
when a dog becomes aggressive. Pit bulls and the bull mastiff/Presa Canario dog
category (whose ancestry partially overlaps pit bull ancestry) seem to differ behaviorally
from other dogs in having far less inhibition about attacking people who are larger than
they are. They are also notorious for attacking seemingly without warning, a tendency
exacerbated by the custom of docking pit bulls’ tails so that warning signals are not easily
recognized. Thus the adult victim of a pit bull attack may have had little or no
opportunity to read the warning signals that would avert an attack from any other dog.
Rottweilers by contrast show a fairly normal child/adult attack ratio. They seem
to show up disproportionately often in the mauling, killing, and maiming statistics
simply because they are both quite popular and very powerful, capable of doing a great deal of damage in cases where bites by other breeds might be relatively harmless
German shepherds are herding dogs, bred for generations to guide and protect
sheep. In modern society, they are among the dogs of choice for families with small
children, because of their extremely strong protective instinct. They have three
distinctively different kinds of bite: the guiding nip, which is gentle and does not break
the skin; the grab-and-drag, to pull a puppy or lamb or child away from danger, which
is as gentle as emergency circumstances allow; and the reactive bite, usually in defense
of territory, a child, or someone else the dog is inclined to guard. The reactive bite
usually comes only after many warning barks, growls, and other exhibitions intended to
avert a conflict. When it does come, it is typically accompanied by a frontal leap for the
wrist or throat.
Because German shepherds often use the guiding nip and the grab-and-drag with
children, who sometimes misread the dogs’ intentions and pull away in panic, they are
involved in biting incidents at almost twice the rate that their numbers alone would
predict: approximately 28% of all bite cases, according to a recent five-year compilation
of Minneapolis animal control data. Yet none of the Minneapolis bites by German
shepherds involved a serious injury: hurting someone is almost never the dogs’ intent.
In the German shepherd mauling, killing, and maiming cases,
there have almost always been circumstances of duress: the dog was deranged from
being kept alone on a chain for prolonged periods without human contract, was starving,
was otherwise severely abused, was protecting puppies, or was part of a pack including
other dangerous dogs. None of the German shepherd attacks have involved predatory
behavior on the part of an otherwise healthy dog.
Every one of the wolf hybrid attacks, however, seems to have been predatory.
Only four of the fatality victims were older than age seven, and all three were of small
stature. The first adult fatality was killed in the presence of her two young sons, whom
she was apparently trying to protect. The second was killed while apparently trying to
protect her dog. Most of the victims were killed very quickly. Some never knew the wolf hybrid was present. Some may never have known what hit them. Some were killed
right in front of parents, who had no time to react.
Unlike German shepherds, wolf hybrids are usually kept well apart from
children, and from any people other than their owners. Yet they have still found more
opportunity to kill and maim than members of any other breeds except pit bull terriers
and Rottweilers, each of whom may outnumber wolf hybrids by about 10 to 1.
What all this may mean relative to legislation is problematic. Historically, breedspecific legislation has proved very difficult to enforce because of the problems inherent
in defining animals for whom there may be no breed standards, or conflicting standards.
Both pit bull terriers and wolf hybrids tend to elude easy legal definition; neither can
they be recognized by genetic testing.
The traditional approach to dangerous dog legislation is to allow “one free bite,”
at which point the owner is warned. On second bite, the dog is killed. The traditional
approach, however, patently does not apply in addressing the threats from pit bull
terriers, Rottweilers, and wolf hybrids. In more than two-thirds of the cases I have
logged, the life-threatening or fatal attack was apparently the first known dangerous
behavior by the animal in question. Children and elderly people were almost always the
Any law strong enough and directed enough to prevent the majority of life threatening dog attacks must discriminate heavily against pit bulls, Rottweilers, wolf
hybrids, and perhaps Akitas and chows, who are not common breeds but do seem to be
involved in disproportionate numbers of life-threatening attacks. Such discrimination
will never be popular with the owners of these breeds, especially those who believe their
dogs are neither dangerous nor likely to turn dangerous without strong provocation.
Neither will breed discrimination ever be acceptable to those who hold out for an interpretation of animal rights philosophy which holds that all breeds are created equal.
One might hope that educating the public against the acquisition of dangerous dogs
would help; but the very traits that make certain breeds dangerous also appeal to a
certain class of dog owner. Thus publicizing their potentially hazardous nature has
tended to increase these breeds’ popularity.
Meanwhile, because the humane community has demonstrated a profound
unwillingness to recognize, accept, and respond to the need for some sort of strong
breed-specific regulation to deal with pit bulls and Rottweilers, the insurance industry is
doing the regulating instead, by means which include refusing to insure new shelters
which accept and place pit bulls. That means a mandatory death sentence for most pit
bulls, regardless of why they come to shelters.
Individual dog owners are also getting clobbered, either with liability premiums
so high that no one can afford to keep pit bulls or Rottweilers, or by inability to find an
insurer willing to cover anyone who has such a dog–or any other dog breed with a bad
reputation, whether or not the reputation is deserved. (Compare attacks by pit bulls with
attacks by Dobermans on the chart above.) This in turn means more pit bulls,
Rottweilers, et al being surrendered to shelters, when their people cannot find rental
accommodations or even buy a house because of their inability to obtain liability
The humane community does not try to encourage the adoption of pumas in the
same manner that we encourage the adoption of a good ol’ house cat because even though a puma
can also be box-trained and otherwise exhibits much the same indoor behavior, it is
clearly understood that accidents with a puma are frequently fatal.
I see many people posting pictures of pit bulls, etc on Facebook in cute poses with other dogs or children and that seems to be the “in thing” to do nowadays, but the numbers do not lie, and encouraging someone to go to a shelter or anywhere else and take on the task of adopting one of these type dogs is treading on thin ice and could possibly put some unsuspecting, but well meaning person or their children in harms way.
For the same reason, it is sheer foolishness to encourage people to regard pit bull
terriers and Rottweilers as just dogs like any other, no matter how much they may
behave like other dogs under ordinary circumstances.
Temperament is not the issue, nor is it even relevant. What is relevant is
actuarial risk. If almost any other dog has a bad moment, someone may get bitten, but
will not be maimed for life or killed, and the actuarial risk is accordingly reasonable. If a
pit bull terrier or a Rottweiler has a bad moment, often someone is maimed or killed–
and that has now created off-the-chart actuarial risk, for which the dogs as well as their
victims are paying the price.
Pit bulls and Rottweilers are accordingly dogs who not only must be handled with
special precautions, but also must be regulated with special requirements appropriate to
the risk they may pose to the public and other animals, if they are to be kept at all.
When in doubt…Go Greyhound
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