A couple of weeks ago, Karen Delise over at the National Canine Research Council pointed out a study that was released by The Veterinary Journal that studied dog bites in the Netherlands. The study was commissioned by the Dutch government -- and as a result of the study, the Dutch government repealed its 15 year old ban on 'pit bulls' in 2008.
You can read the abstract here. I was able to get a copy of the study and I want to share a few of the findings of the study because I think they are extemely important, and frankly this may be the most in-depth reporting on the causes of dog bites I've seen. I will also note that the study was commissioned by the government, so I'm not inclined to believe there was bias toward trying to achieve particular results.
In total, 1078 dog bite incidents (selected via random sampling) were studied. Of the bit victims, 79% were adults, 21% children under the age of 16.
* 51% of dog bite victims were dog owners even though only about 20% of the people in the Netherlands own dogs -- indicating that dog owners are more likely to be in a position around dogs than those who don't own dogs.
* 28% of the victims were the dog's owner (72% were not but more than 1/2 of these knew the dog's owner)
*38% of the cases were in a public area (with 52% on the dog's own territory). Children (75%) were more likely to be bitten in non-public areas than adults (59%)
* 60% of victims cited having intentional interactions with the dog
* 80% of the bites involve either no, or only minor, injuries. Medical attention was more often needed when the bite victim was the non owner than when the bite victim was the owner.
Because the majority of the dog bite incidents were on private property (including 3/4 of the ones involving chidren) the researchers made the following recommendation:
"Mitigation strategies addressing children shoudl focus on teaching the young how to behave around dogs so that their behaviour dos not trigger a dog bite. Since the majority of the child victims bitten at home were unsupervised at te time of the incident, strategies should also include the parents. It should be emphasized that leaving a child unattended with a dog poses a serious risk for the child. Dog bites to children cannot be prevented by measures at the public security level, but should target children and their parents directly."
Regarding adults being bitten by their own dogs:
"To reduce bite incidents involving dog owners and their own dogs it will be necessary to focus on interactions with the dog and understanding 'dog language'.
This then left the group of people, mostly adults, that were attack on public property, more often by dogs they didn't know, and more often requiring medical treatment. The report discusses the need for owner education, and then addressed the breed issue:
"Our findings, liek those from other groups, do not support the use of an attack record in developing mitigation strategies. We found tha all dogs can bite and therefore one should always be careful when interacting with a dog, even a family dog and during play. if we were to use base mitigation strategies on attack records, this would not lead to the establisment of feasible actions to take. Removing the most common biters would also imply removing the most common breeds; for example, we found that the Jack Russell terrer was responsible for approximately 10% fo the bites and 8/10 of the most popular breeds were the most common biters (including the highly polymorphic group of mixed breed/mongrel). Eliminating these breeds is neither practicable nor desirable."
One academic study after another concludes the same thing. In order to affect dog bites, we must focus on education of parents and their children, and dog owners and dog behavior. It's the only way. Focusing on anything else is merely a distraction and leads to the lack of knowledge that causes the problems in the first place.
City/state and international leaders are beginning to take notice of what the experts in the animal welfare community have been saying. Bravo.
All stats and quotes from Cornelissen, J.M.R., Hopster, H. Dog Bites in The Netherlands: A study of victims, injuries, circumstances and aggressors to support evaluatio of breed specific legislatoin. The Veterinary Journal (2009), doi: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2009.10.001