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.

Dogbitelaw.com 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?

18 thoughts on “The truth about dangerous dog statistics”

  1. I have had people swear that my 186lb Bullmastiff (pic on my header) is a pitbull.

    I think they think that any “scary” dog is a pit bull.

    poor creatures get a bad rap.

    Fuzzy Logic’s last blog post..Sadness

  2. The problem with those statistics is that it doesn’t take into acocunt the relative proportion of breeds in teh area. If 90% of the dog population is pit bull, and they’re responsible for 30% of bites/deaths then they’re not really that dangerous compared to the less common breeds.

    Statistics that aren’t fully analysed, like those above, make more popular breeds look more dangerous, simply because there are more of them and even if there was no difference between breeds, they would show up more frequently in the statistics.

    Ferox’s last blog post..The Endoscope

  3. Another major problem is that people don’t understand that the dog is only reacting on instinct. The instinct is not to attack a small child, but the animal thinks the child is part of the pack. When the child displays human actions that are meant to portray love the dog may misinterpret this and decide the child is trying to dominate the dog.

    B Carter’s last blog post..Bear and Quinn – Picture 12

  4. I read somewhere if you have a Dane in America its considered a dangerous breed and your insurance premiums can be increased. Its not the story here though…here ‘pit bulls’ also have a bad rap, it was a term that wasnt common , we had bull terriers, staffys..they are all just lumped together now…

    The problem as I see it, is owners & breeders of these dogs. It would be nice to think all are responsible, loving people. Some backyarders keep the vicious and breed from them, some owners encourage this behaviour in their dogs.

    I just had Chels spayed and have had people tell me I was mad as I could breed her with a mastiff and get ‘good money’ one of our papers has 10 ads for such a mix.

    Most Danes are bred to be placid, gentle animals with generations of breeding going into this nature. I am working so hard with her to ensure that in all ways she is a responsible canine but it drives me nuts when we’re out and other dogs off leash threaten her. I used to say nothing, now I tell their owners, if they are around to train their animal and leash it. I think I will start carrying my trainers business card and handing them out…

    I don’t know the answer Lindsay, I was going to say public awareness but I think the public is aware. There are many great owners of the breeds you have identified and the others are aware but dont give a damn..its a quick buck.

    Abbey’s last blog post..Day 19-20

    1. I don’t think there ARE any easy answers…

      Pitbulls are so frequently used for fighting and backyard breeding, I think maybe requiring a license to own one, kinda like having to have a license to own a gun. That would be more fair than banning the breed altogether. It won’t eliminate the problem, but it could help.

  5. I am a little surprised that Saint Bernards are on that list. For the most part they are sooo docile and loving. But as other have said, it is all in the breeding. When things go wrong, they go wrong on a HUGE scale because these dogs are soo big. My saints are more inclinded to flop on top of you and smother you than attack and kill someone… lol

    Lora’s last blog post..We have a NEW favorite toy!

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  7. I Have a merlequin looks just like your pic. Harley just turned 2 and also she had to be registered with all breed, as ack does not recognize her , even though she is a petigree, i have had so many people tell me how beautifus she is, cant understand the akc. what about a PBGB?

  8. hye wow i have a mixed dog of pit german an lab he is the best dog ever untill it gets to the playing part that gets really ruff i don’t know what to do..☻

  9. im really suprised that german shepards are really on there i have one and his name is max he is the nicest dog i have ever seen he is also very protective of me and i love him a alot i think the reason dogs can be so agressive is not because of bad dreeding but wheather they get a lot of love from their owner i bet that if i didn’t love max and i treated him like garbage he would be a very dangerous dog. dogs are just like kids if they don’t get enough love as a child then when thier older they will blame everything little thing that goes bad in their life on their parents. that ios what i think i could be wrong but thats what i believe.

  10. Lindsay Stordahl

    Yes, all of the German shepherds I know are very sweet, calm and well-trained and socialized dogs. But not all German shepherds are lucky to have good owners. You’re right, it’s totally up to the owners to raise a well-behaved and social dog.

  11. Pingback: THAT MUTT: A Dog Blog » Dangerous dog ordinances

  12. Lindsay Stordahl

    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.”

  13. 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.

  14. 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 🙂

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