Fatal Dog Bites Share Common Factors

imagesThe Journal of the American Veterinary Association has released the most comprehensive study to date regarding fatal dog bites and the common factors that link them. The authors of the study found that there were some significant errors reported by the media in certain stories, so rather than relying on a potentially biased media source, their findings are based on investigative reports from interviews with animal control agencies, investigators, and homicide detectives.

Interestingly, the breeds of the dogs involved in fatal attacks could only be identified in 18% of the cases. Often times, the media's report of the dog's breed conflicted with animal control reports. Within that 18%, twenty different breeds were identified, which correlates with previous studies that have found that no single breed of dog is more likely to attack than another. The results of these studies make it clear that the solution to preventing future dog attacks is better management and husbandry practices, and not banning specific breeds.

The findings from this study are intriguing, although not entirely surprising. Here are the various factors they found to be commonplace in fatal dog attacks:

#1: There is no able-bodied person present to intervene (87.1%)

This common factor is why I persistently beg parents not to leave their infants or young children alone with a dog under any circumstances. It only takes a split second for a tragedy to occur, and this staggering statistic shows just how vital it is for an able-bodied person to be present in case of an incident between a dog and a child, or any person who is unable to defend themselves against an attack.

#2: The victim has no prior relationship with the dog (85.2%)

This factor serves as an important reminder that we need to be particularly careful with dogs when there is a new person around them, especially if the dog has a history of fear or aggression. The statistic shows that the majority of fatal dog bites occur when the victim does not have a relationship with the dog, so it's important that you manage your dog's environment so that he is not set up for failure and you don't put a guest in a position to get bitten. On the other hand, it's also vital to be careful when you're interacting with unfamiliar dogs.

#3: The dog is not spayed or neutered (84.4%)

There are many reasons why spaying and neutering is important, but this might be the top one. In almost 85 percent of cases, the dogs responsible for fatal attacks on humans were unaltered. Be a smart, responsible owner and spay or neuter your dogs, or properly manage your dog if you prefer not to have them altered. In the United States especially, spaying and neutering is often attributed to responsible ownership, and therefore some of the unaltered dogs that fatally attacked people were likely subjected to irresponsible ownership. In some cases, a dog being unaltered may have actually caused the aggressive behavior, and in others it was simply correlated with an owner's irresponsibility.

#4: The victim is unable to manage their interactions with the dog (77.4%)

Usually due to the victim's age, or as a result of their physical or mental health state, they are compromised in some way. Teaching children how to safely interact with dogs is imperative for preventing fatal attacks, but it's also in the hands of parents and guardians to monitor all interactions between dogs and people who are physically or mentally compromised in any way. Check out our friends with Family Paws Parent Education or American Humane's Pet Meets Baby campaign to learn more about protecting your child from a dog attack.

#5: The dog is not kept as a family pet (76.2%)

We've all seen a "backyard dog"--the dog who barks incessantly at all hours of the day and night and who has minimal interaction with people or other animals. Dogs who live in this way are much more prone to aggressive behavior since they live most of their life without any positive social interaction. This is why chaining and tethering is such a bad idea--it breeds the pent-up frustration that is often a precursor to aggression.

#6: The owner has mismanaged the dog in the past (37.5%) or has abused or neglected the dog (21.1%)

Abuse, neglect, or general poor ownership are all factors that can contribute to aggression and violent behavior in dogs. Dogs who are starved or who suffer physical abuse or mental intimidation can seemingly "snap," even though the frustration has been building long before an attack ever happens. If you suspect a dog you know of suffering from abuse or neglect, contact your local authorities.

Read the full analysis of the study.



  1. Erica

    December 9th, 2013 at 12:29 am

    Interesting read. When I was pregnant with my first child, Sara I used a book called Tell Your Dog You're Pregnant: An essential guide for dog owners who are expecting a baby. It was really helpful and came with a CD of sounds. Max (my fur child!) took some time to get used to the sounds but the book helped on how to do it. It gave me advice on what changes will occur and how to prepare my Max for them. It also talked about the causes for aggression and why it might occur and how to avoid it. It is written by a vet behaviorist too so it cover health issues as well. Maybe that will help someone else! http://www.babyandpet.com

  2. christina

    December 9th, 2013 at 5:49 am

    thanks for all the info now those that talk about pitbull and pit bull mix attacks the only reason that you here about them and rott attacks is again the media well i did a lot of reading in news papers in all types of states and some of there major citys online and found there dog attacks that were made by terriers shepards golden retrivers black labs most fatal some so seaver in the attack it was touch and go for the victims there was even a chihuahua who attacked a sleeping baby on the couch so dont tell me the media reports all dog attacks they dont only what makes news and ratings if you do a study look in the local news papers and you will find all breeds of dogs can attack for no reason attacks are not breed bound the media just has us thinking it is. i have raised pitbulls and rottwilers all my life not once has one of my babys ever growled or showed aggression towards any person or animal its not the dog its the owner i know people who fed there pits and rotte gun powder and chained them up and had kids in the neighbor hood come by and tease them to make them mean also seen people beat there dogs to make them mean and then what happens the dog gets loose and a attack follows its the HUMANS WHO MAKE DOGS MEAN dogs are not born that way or turn out that way dogs are made that way by HUMANS.

  3. Margatet

    December 9th, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Thank you for your article it was very informative
    These people whi get a dog then throw it outside
    In the backyard never spend time teaching it or
    Talking to it then wonder why it barks all the time
    And tears up stuff or does not listen to the owner.
    Well people how would you like it? Or to get beaten
    On a daily basis or starved ?
    These idiots should be kept a record of so they
    Are not allowed to get another dog And then another
    And so on. These people are usually abusers of
    Women And children.
    Its time our court system takes a stand and give
    Idiots serious time And serious fines to ley tje public

  4. Margatet

    December 9th, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Thank you for your article it was very informative
    These people whi get a dog then throw it outside
    In the backyard never spend time teaching it or
    Talking to it then wonder why it barks all the time
    And tears up stuff or does not listen to the owner.
    Well people how would you like it? Or to get beaten
    On a daily basis or starved ?
    These idiots should be kept a record of so they
    Are not allowed to get another dog And then another
    And so on. These people are usually abusers of
    Women And children.
    Its time our court system takes a stand and give These
    Idiots serious time And serious fines to let the public
    Know that this will not be acceptable period.

  5. Kent

    December 11th, 2013 at 4:16 am

    I think what you have come out with is very true, but there are so many things wrong with the courts and fines in both the USA & England. England has targeted the normal people and not the ones that need to be sorted out by the law and the courts here in England are killing hundreds of thousands of dogs as they don't look right to them which is very wrong, these are intelligent animals which have been helping man for many many years and they are being Treated this way.
    Wrong wrong wrong this government in England don't know what they are doing, I wish they stop and look at what they are doing and start to hear what people are saying about this.
    And start to talk with them to understand what they are doing is wrong and start to do things right, this goes to both the US and UK governments.

    Well done for putting this on the web Victoria

  6. carla

    December 11th, 2013 at 8:27 am

    I believe a dog attack can happen with any breed certain breeds are more highlighted than others when the incident occurs. Any dog can feel threatened at any time and it is good animal ownership that can reduce this from happening. If you wish to take on a dog then research what breed of dog you want that would fit your lifestyle where you live how much time you have, and what family you have. ie high energy dogs need to have the time and space to exercise frequently where as other breeds are happy to snug up on your lap for most of the day. Common sense plays a big part in being responsible for a dog, I have never left either of my dogs with my babies or anyone else's child unsupervised that's something you just don't do no matter how dopey or soft your dog is it takes 10 seconds for a young toddler to grab a dogs face and the dog react.
    by training you dog and making sure they have plenty of healthy social time will help them create a positive healthy life but training shouldn't only be for the puppy years basic household family training should occur every day.
    and best of all know your pet and understand them.

  7. Mandy

    December 13th, 2013 at 4:38 am

    I used the same book&CD as you Erica - Tell Your Dog You're Pregnant from http://www.babyandpet.com.au. Highly recommend it too!

  8. Bronwyn Noblr

    December 28th, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Whenever I hear about an "animal attack," the first thing I think is, "What did the person do to the dog?"

  9. Jim

    January 11th, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    I seriously doubt any *properly socialized* family pet attacked the baby or child (that didn't provoke it by teasing/abuse). Our family has had many dogs over the course of my life, and the only times I've ever seen bites or nips was when the kids harassed the dog (pull ears, tackled it, teased etc). The kids would sleep on the couch and one of the dogs would come lay down and curl up with them, and protectively watch over them as they slept. That's the behavior of a properly bonded dog.

    The stories of the good dog that just suddenly out of the blue mauled and killed a baby tells me that someone was lying. They conceal warning behaviors or didn't note them, and the dog likely wasn't truly made part of the family.

  10. Pam Aikrn

    February 18th, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Wonderful and informative article. I hope the woman from Atlanta who is now in the news and calling for a banning of all pitbull breeds reads it. She left her child unattended with a dog. I would never do that.

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