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So - Called "Dangerous" Dogs

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Any Dog,
Any Breed,
Raised Wrong,
 Can Be Dangerous!

Today’s media is filled with sensational headlines of dog attacks. Routinely quoted in these newspaper accounts are dated statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. The last CDC study released documented which breeds of dogs caused the most human fatalities from 1979 through 1998. While the CDC did an admirable job of studying fatal dog attacks, and went to great lengths to point out that irresponsible owners were the cause of most of these incidents, the media and lawmakers continue to use CDC statistics to substantiate claims that certain breeds of dogs are inherently more "vicious" than other breeds.

The result of sensationalizing individual incidents of severe or fatal dog attacks, included with the use of unexamined statistical "evidence" has created an unfortunate and inaccurate public and political perception as to the dangerousness and predictability of certain breeds of dogs. Despite enormous public and political interest in fatal dog attacks, there is no agency or organization that does investigative work (with the exception of this study) into each of the individual cases of fatal dog attacks and records the number and circumstances of fatal dog attacks on a continuous, yearly basis.

This study is conducted in an attempt to understand the human and canine behaviors that contribute to a fatal dog attack. Only in understanding the events and circumstances surrounding these incidents can we hope to prevent future tragedies.

After reviewing over 431 cases of fatal dog attacks it is apparent there is no single factor that translates in a lethal encounter between a person and a dog(s). A fatal dog attack is always the culmination of past and present events that include: inherited and learned behaviors, genetics, breeding, socialization, function of the dog, physical condition and size of the dog, reproductive status of dog, popularity of breed, individual temperament, environmental stresses, owner responsibility, victim behavior, victim size and physical condition, timing and misfortune.

While many circumstances may contribute to a fatal dog attack, the following three factors appear to play a critical role in the display of canine aggression towards humans;

Function of the dog - (Includes: dogs acquired for fighting, guarding/protection or image enhancement)

Owner responsibility - (Includes: dogs allowed to roam loose, chained dogs, dogs and/or children left unsupervised, dogs permitted or encouraged to behave aggressively, animal neglect and/or abuse)

Reproductive status of dog - (Includes: unaltered males dogs, bitches with puppies, children coming between male dog and female dog in estrus)
It is necessary to emphasize that a fatal dog attack is an exceptionally unusual event. Approximating 20 deaths per year in a dog population of 53 million yields an infinitesimal percent of the dog population (.0000004%) involved in a human fatality.

Many communities and cities believe that the solution to prevent severe and fatal dog attacks is to label, restrict or ban certain breeds of dogs as potentially dangerous. If the breed of dog was the primary or sole determining factor in a fatal dog attack, it would necessarily stand to reason that since there are literally millions of Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and German Shepherd Dogs in the United States, there would have to be countless more than an approximate 20 human fatalities per year.

Since only an infinitesimal number of any breed is implicated in a human fatality, it is not only unreasonable to characterize this as a specific breed behavior by which judge an entire population of dogs, it also does little to prevent fatal or severe dog attacks as the real causes and events that contribute to a fatal attack are masked by the issue of breed and not seriously addressed.

Pit Bulls in particular have been in a firestorm of bad publicity, and throughout the country Pit Bulls often bear the brunt of breed specific legislation. One severe or fatal attack can result in either restrictions or outright banning of this breed (and other breeds) in a community. While any severe or fatal attack on a person is tragic, there is often a tragic loss of perspective as to degree of dangerousness associated with this breed in reaction to a fatality. Virtually any breed of dog can be implicated in a human fatality.

From 1965 - 2001, there have been at least 36 different breeds/types of dog that have been involved in a fatal attack in the United States. (This number rises to at least 52 breeds/types when surveying fatal attacks worldwide). We are increasingly becoming a society that has less and less tolerance and understanding of natural canine behaviors. Breed specific behaviors that have been respected and selected for over the centuries are now often viewed as unnatural or dangerous. Dogs have throughout the centuries served as protectors and guardians of our property, possessions and families. Dogs have also been used for thousands of years to track, chase and hunt both large and small animals. These natural and selected-for canine behaviors seem to now eliciting fear, shock and a sense of distrust among many people.

There seems to be an ever growing expectation of a "behaviorally homogenized" dog - "Benji" in the shape of a Rottweiler. Breeds of dogs with greater protection instincts or an elevated prey-drive are often unfairly viewed as "aggressive or dangerous". No breed of dog is inherently vicious, as all breeds of dogs were created and are maintained exclusively to serve and co-exist with humans. The problem exists not within the breed of dog, but rather within the owners that fail to control, supervise, maintain and properly train the breed of dog they choose to keep.

It is important to emphasize that dogs bite today for the same reasons that they did one hundred or one thousand years ago. Dogs are no more dangerous today than they were a century or millennium ago. They only difference is a shift in human perception of what is and is not natural canine behavior and/or aggression and the breed of dog involved.

Examination of newspaper archival records dating back to the 1950’s and 1960’s reveal the same types of severe and fatal attacks occurring then as today. The only difference is the breed of dog responsible for these events. A random study of 74 severe and fatal attacks reported in the Evening Bulletin (Philadelphia, PA) from 1964-1968, show no severe or fatal attacks by Rottweilers and only one attack attributed to a Pit-Bull-type dog. The dogs involved in most of these incidents were the breeds that were popular at the time.

Over two thousand years ago, Plato extolled a basic understanding of canine behavior when he wrote "the disposition of noble dogs is to be gentle with people they know and the opposite with those they don’t know...." Recently, this fundamental principal of canine behavior seems to elude many people as parents allow their children to be unsupervised with unfamiliar dogs and lawmakers clamor to declare certain dogs as dangerous in response to an attack.

Any dog, regardless of breed, is only as dangerous as his/her owner allows it to be.

Addressing the issue of severe and fatal dog attacks as a breed specific problem is akin to treating the symptom and not the disease. Severe and fatal attacks will continue until we come to the realization that allowing a toddler to wander off to a chained dog is more of a critical factor in a fatal dog attack than which breed of dog is at the end of the chain.

Only when we become more knowledgeable, humane and responsible in our treatment of dogs can we hope to prevent future tragedies.

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