DOG BITES BY DOG BREEDS
These breed-related bite stats compiled by the CDC can affect insurance rates, cause differential licensing fees and even cost you your dog!
Flawed Dog Bite Statistics
by Katharine Dokken
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issues dog bite statistics (see below) that affect pet owners in ways they seldom think of until it's too late. From experiencing compulsory give-up or confiscation by local animal control, to finding yourself without homeowners insurance, the effects are sudden and tragic.
Complicating the issue, the dog bite statistics are basically flawed. We'll examine that in a moment but first, let's look at some "bad dog" or banned breeds and think about how the dog you love and trust can upset family life through no fault of the dog. Just one example; If you own your own home and one day your city decides to ban ownership of your dog, what do you do?
Dog breeds the CDC considers risky:
Pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds, Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Doberman pinschers, Chow Chows, Great Danes, St. Bernards and Akitas.
But are these breeds actually the highest risk for biting? Just one wrong assumption is easily spotted: "huskies" is a class of dogs, not a breed. The fact is, "Breed Bans" and "Dangerous Dog Laws" are usually conceived and written by people who don't even own dogs. The generic term of Husky refers to Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, Eskimo Spitz, and other Northern type breeds. So is the law talking about Siberian Huskies? If so, then why don't they specify that breed? Are they talking about all "northern" or spitz-type breeds? How ridiculous! But ignorant though they are, such discriminatory laws could control your breed choices.
The Breed Identity Problem With Bad Dog Bite Statistics
Many homeowners insurance companies and local law enforcement jurisdictions use these flawed statistics to decide what dog breeds they will discriminate against. While statistics on dog bites are nice, they actually tell us almost nothing about the issue because the dog breed identifications in the reports are dubious at best. Entire categories of bites are frequently not included in the statistics, such as the so-called provoked bites, family incidents, and owner fault. In addition, many dog bites are never reported, especially if they do not require medical treatment.
To use inherently flawed dog bite statistics in determining who an insurance company will sell to ignores the basic issue of personal responsibility. For example, how many of those statistical bites were caused by the human involved and not the dog? It is also discriminatory, and downright breed-racist. If insurance companies refused to provide homeowners insurance to all black people there would be a national outcry. If auto insurance companies refused to insure a GMC auto because statistically, GM made cars were involved in more accidents that year, can you imagine the lawsuits? Yet many companies today refuse to sell insurance to someone who owns a type or breed of dog, regardless of the family dog’s history and temperament.
Many jurisdictions force the dog bite reporter to list the dog by breed, but many of these dogs are not purebreds. They are mixed breeds, frequently of unknown parentage. Some jurisdictions will accept a listing of mixed breed but many will not. Is the dog that just bit someone a multiple-breed-Chow mix? Guess what, it will probably be listed as a Chow Chow bite. Own a Hound/Bull dog mix? Chances are good it will be listed as a Pit Bull. This is but one fallacy in such statistics.
The average person can accurately identify less than 30 dog breeds on sight, let alone in a stressful and intense situation like a dog bite. The bite will get reported as whatever breed the people involved think it most closely resembles. Even law enforcement officers, animal shelter workers, and some veterinarians cannot accurately identify many breeds. For the average person anything with prick ears and blue eyes automatically becomes a "husky," yet many breeds can have blue eyes, and many more have prick ears. Any smooth coated brown dog, medium sized, and muscular becomes a "pit bull" yet upon examination may be a purebred Boxer. Any tall dog becomes a Great Dane, fuzzy or hairy and it’s a Chow Chow. If it’s black and tan and heavy it’s a Rottweiler, etc. See the problem with this? The average person cannot tell the difference between an Alaskan Malamute, a Siberian Husky, and an Akita.
Fatal attacks since 1975 have been attributed to over 30 different dog breeds yet all the media can talk about are Pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, or Akitas. Size alone is not an accurate indicator of which dogs are capable of killing and which dogs are not. In October of 2000, a baby was killed by a four pound family Pomeranian in California. In February of 2002, a Jack Russell Terrier mauled a 6 week old baby in Tennessee.
Categories of Dog Bites
An entire category of bites are those termed provoked bites such as those which occur at veterinarian offices, dog groomers, and boarding kennels. I polled a number of animal shelter workers and this is what they said about dog bites. Most of the bites have been by small unfriendly terrier-type dogs and Cocker Spaniels. Occasionally they have seen a larger dog on a bite case but the vast majority of the bites were from small to medium sized dogs.
The dog groomers I spoke to said most of the bites they see are from Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, Westies, Scotties, and Dachshunds.
Next I polled a number of veterinarians. One veterinarian said "Give me a so-called vicious Pit Bull over a Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, or even a Lab any day!! These are the breeds I have the most problem with." Another vet concurred saying that she never once encountered a vicious Pit bull yet had problems all the time with Cocker Spaniels and Yorkshire Terriers.
Other Provoked Bites Count Statistically
An entire category of bites erroneously recorded are the truly provoked bites, bites in which the person involved was clearly at fault and not the dog. These are dog bites that occur when the person bitten was somewhere they should not have been.
For example, recently in Maryland a 13-year-old boy was bitten after he was caught leaning over the fence into a person’s yard, teasing the Pit bull contained there. Prior to the bite incident, this boy was warned three times to leave the dog alone. The dog owner was having so many problems with people teasing and provoking her dogs that she contacted Animal Control for assistance. Under advisement from the authorities, she ringed her backyard fence with evenly spaced “Beware of Dog” and “No Trespassing” signs. Yet these signs and verbal warnings from an adult witness were still not enough to keep this boy out of the dog owner’s yard. The dog owner has now lost her dog to the authorities and another bite statistic has been entered.
Just days later an Akita bit a 16 year old girl in the face in Rhode Island and again, the dog was confined in its owners backyard and the teenager was trespassing on private property. These stories are not anomalies, but frequent occurrences. In this day and age of zero personal responsibility, the dog and the dog owner is always deemed to be at fault.
Parental Responsibility Would Reduce Dog Bite Statistics
Hand in hand with this is the general failure of parents today to teach their children even the most basic rules of canine safety and good manners. Parents encourage their children to approach and touch strange dogs without a single thought of the consequences, not bothering to ask permission from the dog's owner.
Parents allow children to put their hands through fences to grab at animals inside. This is the epitome of irresponsibility. Fences are there for a reason! To throw things, tease, or poke a fenced animal is cruel and constitutes trespass regardless of the person's age. No animal should have to put up with strangers grabbing, groping, pulling their tails and ears, and hitting or poking them, yet when this happens people expect the animal to be some sort of saint in fur! A parent would be screaming in outrage if a stranger approached and started groping their child, yet they think nothing of doing the same thing to a strange animal.
To go by dog bite statistics alone assumes that the majority of dog bites are reported and that the majority of breeds identified are correct. As a long time dog fancier, I have a serious problem with either assumption. it is most unfortunate that many insurance companies are now refusing to insure owners of certain breeds and equally misinformed communities are banning ownership of certain breeds or types of dogs based on egregiously faulty dog bite statistics.