Last week, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) the released an in-depth study of 10 years worth of dog bite fatalities -- and the results are extremely interesting (if not altogether suprising).
This study is the first long-range study of factors involved in dog bite fatalities in nearly 2 decades. The study relied on more than just media reports (as other reports on this have done), and dived deep by looking at police reports, interviewing investigators, etc to analyze the entirety of contribruting factors in these fatal incidents.
According to the report, much of this study was necessary because of the lack of solid data, and misleading data, that exists:
"The undue emphasis on breed has contributed to a lack of appreciation of the ownership and husbandry factors that more directly impact dogs and the complex genetic factors that work in combination with husbandry to influence a dog's behavior and responses to a given set of stimuli."
The report notes that it has been long-recommended that dog bite prevention strategies not be focused on a singlular factor in isolation (such as breed) -- but that strategies focused on multiple key factors of animal husbandry be used.
The results of the study continue to reinforce this position -- with a lot of information about factors involving fatal incident. Let's get to some key points from the study.
The study analyzed 256 dog bite related fatalities from 2000 to 2009. The study again notes that dog bite fatalities are exceptionally rare -- with only an average of 25 per year over the course of the 10 year study in a country with a human population of 300 million and a dog population of about 70 million.
The writers of the study focused on police reports, talked to homicide investigators, coroner reports, animal control reports, photographs and studied previously unreported behaviorally relevant factors.
-- 45% of victims were less than 5 years of age.
-- Only 7% of victims (17) were the established owners of the dog(s). In only 6% of cases (16) did the owner have a familiar relationship with the dog(s). In 85% of cases, the victim had only an incidental relationship with the dog, or no relationship with the dog.
-- In 143 (56%) of the incidents, the victim was deemed unable to interact appropriately with the dog. In 116 of these cases (81%) it was because they were too young (less than 5). The rest were older individuals, compromised because of drug and alcohol use or suffered from alzheimers, demential or uncontrollable seizure disorder.
-- In 223 (87%) of the cases, there was no able-bodied person close enough to the victim to be able to intervene
-- In 148 (58%) involved a single dogs. Most of the deaths among infants (26 of 30) were attributed to a single dog, whereas over half of the deaths (63 of 96, 66%) involving victims over 15 involved multiple dogs.
-- In 74% of cases, the deaths occurred on the dog owner's property. Only 20% of cases (51, 5 per year) occurred entirely off of the owner's property.
-- In 84% of cases, inolved dogs had not been spayed or neutered.
-- in 78% of cases, the dog(s) involved in the incident was owned.
-- In 76% of cases, dogs were kept by their owners as resident dogs vs family dogs
-- of the incidents involving resident dogs, the dogs were usually kept in ways that isolated them from the humans in the family. 38% were chained. 35% were in an isolated fenced area, outdoor pen or isolated indoor area. 15% were allowed to roam free.
-- In 38% of cases, there is evidence that the owner or caretaker had knowledge of either prior dangerous actions by the dog or had previously allowed the dogs to run loose.
-- In 21% of cases, there was evidence of prior abuse or neglect of the dogs
-- Past mismanagement of the dogs was far more prevelent (56%) in cases involving multiple dogs.
-- Very interestingly, co-occurance of multiple variables were present in 81% of cases. This is significant.
The role of breed
The report really struggled with determination of breeds involved in the attacks. While previous (and other) studies have relied solely on media reports, this proved to be problematic.
For single dog incidents, in 22% of cases, media reports actualy conflicted as to the breed of dog involved. In 35% of cases, law enforcement assessment of breed differed from media reports.
For multiple dog incidents, breed descriptors in media reports conflicted in 36% of cases, and law enforcement assessment differed from media reports in 43% of cases.
In 91% of cases, dogs were characterized by at least one media outlet as a single breed descriptor even though more than 50% of US dogs are mixed breed dogs.
Overall, they were only able to accuratedly assign breed status in 45 of the 256 (18%) of the caes. These 45 cases represented 20 recognized dog breeds including 2 dogs of known mixed breed ancestory.
From the paper:
"The most striking finding was the co-occurrence of multiple factors potentially under the control of the dog owners: isolation of dogs from positive family interaction and other human contact; mismanagement of dogs by owners; abuse or neglect of dogs by owners, dogs left unsupervised with a child or vulnerable adult who may be unfamiliar to the dog; maintenance of dogs in an enviornment where they are trapped, neglected and isolated and have little control over the environment or choice of behavior. These conditions potentially predispose dogs to enhanced territorial, protective, and defensive behaviors toward stimuli that occur commonly in every day life."
"The most preventable incidents involved very young children left alone with dogs to whom they were unfamiliar or toddlers were allowed to wander off and encounter unfamiliar dogs. In at least 19 fatalities, authorities considered the lack of supervision so negligent that crimminal charges were filed against the parent or caretaker."
The article also goes into some pretty significant discussion about how husbandry practices influence a dog's bahavior:
"Dogs that have not developed a close relationship or bond with humans (ie resident dogs) generally act without relying on input from a human. Topal et al reported that dogs living in homes (in contrast to dogs living outdoors) developed bonds with people and were more dependent on their owners when solving tasks. Appropriate humane and clear interactions with people provide dogs with information about how to interact with humans in ways that are neither scary nor injurous to the dogs or humans.....discouraging maintenance of dogs in isolation from farmily; stressing the importance of a secure, stable, predictable environment and encouraging positive relationships with people may have considerable benefits."
The article is interesting throughout -- with some other interesting notes on ways that may benefit in dog bite prevention.
One unaltered dogs -- the article notes that the majority of dogs involved were unaltered dogs. While research shows that sexually intact male dogs react more intensely, more quickly and for longer periods of time, it also suggests that owner failure to have dogs spayed or neutred may co-occur with other factors that more directly influence a dog's social behavior.
It also notes that most children do not receive any type of dog bite prevention education. This combined with the overall lack of of supervision as a role in dog attack fatalities is especially problematic. It is also worth noting that research suggests that children cannot be expected to show good judgment in their interactions with dogs until they are 6 years of age.
The paper concludes:
"Experts on the subject of dog bite related injuries, including the AVMA Task Force on Canine Aggression and Humane Interaction and the CDC, who have consistently stressed the complex and multiple approaches to address this complexity. The present study findings also support recommendations of the AVMA and Others regarding the inadvisability of single-factor solutions such as BSL, which may actually divert resources from effective measures and regulations."
As noted above, the results from this paper are terribly new. If you have been following this blog and other expert resources for the past 20 years, they have all consistently pointed to responsible husbandry practices as being crucial to the prevention of dog bites in this country. This study however provides a very comprehensive look at these dog bite fatality factors in a statistically reliable form. This study represents the first such reliable study in nearly 20 years. I also goes into far more depth than all previous studies by going deeper than just media reports in its analysis. All previous reports have relied solely on media reports that (as this study has shown) are often unreliable, contradicting, and lack the depth of information needed to make knowledgable husbandry recommendations.
I'm excited for this report, and hope that the information is spread far and wide so that communities will focus on responsible ownership education and practices as a method of dealing with the problem of dog bites vs a singular failed approach of targeting breeds (or looks) of dogs.
For more from the National Canine Research Council.
If you want to hear more, check out Pit Bulletin Legal News tomorrow night, when Donald Cleary and Anthony Barnett will be on talking more about the results from this study.