attacking "out of the blue" and "without warning" because we missed the signs. A
dog that is prepared to bite someone has his reasons. Can we, as humans, justify
those reasons using the social norms of people? No, because dogs are not people,
and do not live their lives according to our social values. However, as their
guardians, it is our duty to understand how they communicate to avoid these
Contrary to what certain media outlets lead the public to believe, there is
no dog bite epidemic. Reports to public health agencies of dog bites have
declined significantly since the 1970’s. And this occurred while there was a
significant increase in both human and canine populations. In other words, our
communities are safer than ever before. Dog bites are not common. Which is why
when bites happen, they are big news. While society barely notices everyday
events such as car crash fatalities (which claim 65,000 people each year), it
thrives on the obscure. And dog attacks are just that. Intense focus on select
and isolated incidents of serious dog bite injuries incites fear and hysteria.
A study by the National Canine Research Council reveals biased reporting by
the media, and its devastating consequences for dogs, mainly dogs labeled as
"pit bulls". The media over reports anything with a "pit bull" in the headlines,
and underreports on any other breed. As Karen Delise, the founder and Director
of Research at NCRC states, "Clearly a dog bite-related fatality by an
unremarkable breed is not as newsworthy as a non-fatal incident involving a "pit
bull" dog." You can read the summary of this study here:
Dog bites are a societal problem that cannot be characterized apart from
people. They result from problematic human behaviors that place people and
animals at risk. Encouraging and enforcing responsible dog ownership is the key
to addressing public safety issues involving dogs. Dog bites are not ok. We all
want to live in safe communities.
No dog bite study claiming to correlate dog bite related injuries by breed –
whether published recently or in earlier decades – is valid or reliable because
the reporting was based primarily on visual breed identification, a methodology
which has been discredited by modern science. The third issue of the Journal of
Veterinary Behavior in 2008 documented the research of the Institute of Animal
Welfare and Behavior of the University of Veterinary Medicine in
Hanover, Germany. Four authors scrutinized over 1000 individual dogs of various
breeds to learn if different breeds signaled their warnings differently before
triggering into aggression. They concluded that "all dogs, including dogs
commonly labeled 'pit bull,' signal their intent." The claim that "pit bulls" do
not give notice prior to attacking a person is an outdated myth and urban legend
that has been overwhelmingly refuted by science. All dogs signal intent. No dog
of any breed just ‘snaps’. Here is the link to the research:
There is no scientific evidence that one breed or type of a dog is more
likely to injure a human than any other breed or type of dog. There is no
scientific evidence that "pit bull" dogs cause more damage when they bite. As
for the pit bulls have "locking jaws" myth, there is no anatomical structure
that could be a locking mechanism in any dog of any breed.
Almost every "pit bull" hater or proponent of breed-discriminatory
legislation relies on a single study from 2000 to make their case (J. Sacks, L.
Sinclair, G. Golab, et al, "Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in
the United States between 1979 and 1998," JAVMA, Vol 217, No. 6, Sept 15, 2000).
In this study, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) attempted to identify the
breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks between 1979 –1998. In reporting
their findings, the researchers made clear that the breeds of dogs said to be
involved in human fatalities had varied over time, depending on whatever breeds
were popular at that time.
The CDC has since released a statement: "[The study] does not identify
specific breeds that are most likely to bite or kill, and thus is not
appropriate for policymaking decisions related to the topic." One of the
researchers involved in the CDC project, Dr. Gail Golab of the AVMA, said: "The
whole point of our summary was to explain why you can’t do that. But the media
and the people who want to support their case just don’t look at that." (Golab
was quoted in the Sept/Oct. 2004 issue of Best Friends Magazine)
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), also released a
statement: "In contrast to what has been reported in the news media, the data
[from the study]…CANNOT be used to infer any breed-specific risk for dog bite
fatalities…" So there ya go, the experts have spoken. There is no breed of dog
that is more likely to bite than another.
There are millions of "pit bull" dog owners across the US living quiet,
peaceful, and unremarkable lives with their family dog. These owners are not the
exception; they are the rule. "Pit bull" dogs live with and provide a service to
many of their owners and neighbors. Around the world, "pit bull" dogs are used
as therapy dogs, service dogs, police, K9s, and military dogs.
"Pit bull" dogs are increasingly popular family pets: Banfield Pet
Hospitals, the largest general veterinary practice in the world, reports that
the percentage of "pit bull" dogs visiting their U.S. network of clinics has
increased by 47 percent over the past ten years (2000 to 2010). A recent survey
by Vetstreet concluded that dogs identified as "pit bulls" are one of the most
popular family dogs in this country.
The history books now tell us there were no witches in Salem, nor was our
country infiltrated by communists, and eventually history will bear out that
"pit bulls" are just plain old dogs. No better or worse than any other breed.
But before that can happen, we must come to realize that we are in the midst of
a social hysteria about "pit bulls", and educate those who believe the hype.
To learn more about this topic, please read The Pit Bull Placebo, published
by the National Canine Research Council:
Wisconsin Voters for Companion Animals Advisor
Milwaukee Animal Alliance Director