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The truth about dangerous dog statistics

With all the hype about dangerous dogs and banning certain breeds, I decided to look closer at some dangerous dog statistics. I was curious as to which breeds were responsible for the most dog-bite related deaths. All the statistics I came across said roughly the same story: pit bulls and rottweilers are the most “dangerous” breeds, resulting in the highest number of fatal attacks.

A 2000 report by Vet Med today listed the kinds of dogs involved in dog-bite related fatalities in the United States between 1979 and 1998. The following is the list of dog breeds responsible for the most deaths between those years. The breed listed means that was the dominant breed of the dog, but it could have been a mixed-breed. To me, that is the largest problem with statistics. Studies can list dogs as a certain breed just because someone decided that’s what the dog most resembled. Take note that third on the list is simply “mixed breed,” where the dog was not identified in any other way. My mutt would fall into this category, making him third on the list for most dangerous kinds of dogs.

Pit bull: 118
Rottweiler: 67
Mixed breed (No dominant breed specified): 47
German shepherd: 41
Husky: 21
Chow Chow: 21
Malamute: 16
Wolf-dog hybrid:15
Doberman: 13
Great dane: 13
Saint bernard: 8
Labrador retriever: 8

Other breeds were listed, including a Westie and a Cocker spaniel. I couldn’t believe a Westie actually killed someone, but a large percentage of dog-bite fatalities were children. For example, the Vet Med study reported 70% of all people killed by dogs in 1997-1998 were children. also tracks statistics on dog bites. According to this site, there were 32 fatal dog attacks in the United States in 2007. The majority of these attacks were also pit bulls and rottweilers. However, the site reminds readers that the breed of dog is often misstated in the reports, especially when pit bulls are concerned.

Keep in mind that a pit bull is not really a breed of dog, but a name used to refer to certain breeds such as the American pit bull terrier (also known as the American Staffordshire terrier) and the Staffordshire bull terrier. The term pit bull also refers to dogs mixed with these breeds or dogs with similar traits. Someone writing a police report could easily identify a boxer, a lab/mastiff mix or an American bulldog as a pit bull and it wouldn’t be questioned.

So, like with any statistics, it’s important to keep in mind where they are coming from and what’s really true. Legislators who want to ban certain breeds use statistics like these to back up their arguments that certain breeds are dangerous. I’m not convinced these statistics really prove anything. What do you think?


Thursday 22nd of March 2012

i have 3 dogs and i have worked with a trainer for 2 of them (one has 3 paws and is incapable) i also have had experience showing dogs and have come in 2nd. Dogs behave on behalf of their owners. Every owner should take their dogs to training sessions or keep them tied.

ps. Site was very helpful for my research paper in school. Thanks :)

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 25th of March 2012

Glad I could help! Thanks for being such a good owner!

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 24th of April 2010

Good point. I agree. That's why statistics typically don't tell us much.


Friday 23rd of April 2010

I respect you for looking up the stats on dogs involved in fatal attacks, but this list is worthless without more context. For example, there is nothing to indicate how many dogs of each breed live in the U.S. So we don't know what the ratio of fatal attacks to breed population is.

For instance, lets say there are 1 million pitbulls in this country. Since there were 118 fatal attacks by pitbulls, we might conclude that 1 out of 8,500 pitbulls was involved in a fatal attack. Then lets say there are 100,000 Huskies in the country. Since there were 21 fatal Husky attacks, we might conclude that 1 out of 5000 Huskies was involved in a fatal attack.

This would indicate that Huskies are more dangerous than pitbulls, even though there were more fatal attacks involving pitbulls. My numbers are hypothetical of course, and I'm in no way saying that Huskies are more dangerous than pitbulls. I'm just saying that without more information, it is totally unfair to draw any conclusions from your list.

And even if it turns out that a higher percentage of pitbulls are involved in fatal attacks than any other breed of dog, we still can't conclude that the breed itself is more dangerous. What if it could be shown that pitbull owners are far more likely than owners of other breeds to mis-treat their dogs, use them to intimidate people, etc?

When drawing conclusions it is important to compare apples to apples. Comparing the number of attacks by dogs raised by jerks and gangsters to the number of attacks by dogs raised responsibly by loving owners would probably be a truer way to rank which dogs are more likely to be dangerous.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 9th of February 2010

Yeah, I agree. Like most statistics, these calculations tell us nothing. My biggest issue is that most people can't identify dog breed correctly. Pretty much anything could be considered a "pitbull."

THAT MUTT: A Dog Blog » Dangerous dog ordinances

Wednesday 20th of January 2010

[...] Dangerous dog statistics that blame “pitbulls” for the majority of dog bites are way off because pretty much any mutt can be identified as a “pitbull.” A ”pitbull” is not a breed of dog, and therefore it is up to interpretation what a “pitbull” actually looks like. The name “pitbull” generally groups together the American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier and American bulldog. [...]