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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ban Breeds? Bite Me.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are somewhere around 77.5 million dogs owned in the US. Almost 40% of US households own at least one dog. That means there are a lot of big jaws full of teeth out there. The CDC estimates that there are about 4.5 million dog bites every year, and about 1 in 5 of those require medical attention. In 2009, 33 dog "attacks" were fatal. So far this year, three people have been killed by dogs. As you may have guessed, I'm writing this blog in response to the recent death of 'Ax Men' star Jesse Browning's 4-year-old daughter at the jaws of one of their family Rottweilers. Tragic under any circumstances, the death of a child due to a family pet always seems to make for sensational headlines, and always seems to draw an outraged response from the public. I am always upset by this type of news, but for different reasons than most. It's headlines like these that cause breed-specific legislation and unfair public attitudes towards dogs that I know and love, and it frustrates me that no one publicly stands up for them.

My blog, my opinion.

I did some online research into dog bite statistics, and found that a few studies have been done. Sadly, there is no registered database that can be accessed with complete information regarding breeds involved in non-fatal bites. Since there are so few fatalities, all of them show exactly what kind of dog was involved, as well as the dog's history. And, you guessed it, most of them involve breeds like pit bulls, Rottweilers and German Shepherd Dogs; three of my favorite breeds. One study I read covered a 24-year span of dog attack deaths and maiming in the United States and Canada. It had some interesting numbers. Yes, 409 of the recorded deaths or maiming were caused by Rottweilers, but 31 were caused by Boxers and 36 were caused by Labradors and Labrador mixes. Labs are supposed to be the quintessential family dog, so it just goes to show that just because a breed is supposed to be a certain way, doesn't mean it always will. In fact, even the researcher raised some good points about why certain attacks happen that are not solely the fault of the dog.

Merritt Clifton, the author of the study, noted that often times the dog has given warnings, clear as day, that an attack is imminent, but those signals were either ignored or unreadable. For example, dogs with docked tails (such as 'fighting' breeds) no longer have that long flag on their behinds to display their emotions. Tails speak volumes to how a dog is feeling, and a poor Rottie, with barely a nubbin, has to resort to other methods of communication. In addition, children (who are by far the most bitten population) often accidentally provoke dogs by simply being children. A screaming, running child can potentially be terrifying for a dog, and if that tornado of toddler spins too close, the dog may feel threatened enough to lash out. In other cases, the nature of the dog breed is important to consider. For example, German Shepherd Dogs are, as the name implies, bred to be herding dogs. They instinctively have three mouth-related reactions to danger. The guiding nip is a gentle bite, with just enough pressure to redirect a sheep (or child), the grab-and-drag is when a dog holds on to a lamb (or child) in an attempt to pull it out of harms way, and the reactive bite is in defense of territory, be that a place or a living thing. Believe it or not, Rottweilers were bred to be herders too. In fact, they were one of the earliest herding breeds, and were used to protect stock on the way to market. What could possibly be happening is that a family dog is holding on to a child to guide or protect her, but the child may panic, causing the dog to panic and bite reactively. With jaws as powerful as a Rottie's, the damage done can be catastrophic.

Does that mean we should punish the breed, or other similar breeds? In my humble opinion, absolutely not. In fact, the owners should be held solely responsible. All too often, a severe or fatal attack could have been prevented by better training (of dogs AND children) and more vigilance. A second study I looked at examined attributes of dogs having bitten someone, as reported to Denver Animal Control in 1993. This study was enlightening because it didn't just look at breed, but it looked at animal history (where it came from) and owner responsibility as well. What I found most intriguing was that, when comparing dogs that bit to the control set of non-biting dogs, owners of the biting dogs were TWO TIMES as likely to have neither licensed nor vaccinated their dogs in the past year. And even more illuminating: TWO TIMES as many biting dogs as non-biting dogs were not neutered. So what does that say about the care provided for these dogs? Clifton's study also mentions the fact that, all too often, the 'dangerous reputation' of a breed makes it extra attractive to a specific population of people who are less likely to be responsible, dog owning citizens.

I believe the onus of responsibility lies on the owner, and on the people who provide the public with dogs. This includes shelters, private breeders, and yes, even puppy stores (even though I think puppy mills/stores should be abolished completely). The process to adopt a child is mind-boggling. The process to adopt a dog should be no less so, especially in the case of a breed with fighting or herding ancestry. Any dog, in the hands of the wrong person, can be a bad dog. On the same token, any dog, in the hands of the right person, can be a spectacular pet.


  1. I do not debate BSL anymore,also I will not debate "Making Rape Legal" nor "Making Paediaphilia" All three are wrong.
    I have been fighting BSL for around 9 years now and have come out with the following conclusion.
    BSl has virtually zero to do with dogs rather failing politicos who get involved in this law to climb the political ladder,with the help of the Media who create hype to make this high profile,and organisations such as PETA,the Politico gets into the public eye and on a basis that enough "Fear Syndrome" the "Stupid Masses" are now involved.This is all about FEAR.
    Now lets look at your stats 33 Fatalities caused by dogs(all Breeds) in 2009,in 2008 CDC reported 16.
    Drownings in the USA run at about 3000 per annum,cycling deaths at about 700.In 2008 Murders human upon human ran at 16000.Surely the stupid masses should be more scared of water and humans and bicycles than dogs.But Politicians and Media do not make a meal out of these activities.
    I am also of an opinion that politicos from the once 1st world countries,Canada USA and the UK have hit an all time low and are desperate.Will end with a quote that sums it up.
    The word 'politics' is derived from the word 'poly', meaning 'many', and the word 'ticks', meaning 'blood sucking parasites'.
    Larry Hardiman