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Dog bites or dog attacks are attacks on humans by feral or domestic dogs. With the close association of dogs and humans in daily life (largely as pets), dog bites – with injuries from very minor to significant – are extremely common. Dogs also pose danger from their claws and can be powerful enough to knock people down.
There is considerable debate on whether or not certain breeds of dogs are inherently more prone to commit attacks causing serious injury (i.e., so driven by instinct and breeding that, under certain circumstances, they are exceedingly likely to attempt or commit dangerous attacks). Regardless of the breed of the dog, it is recognized that the risk of dangerous dog attacks can be greatly increased by human actions (such as neglect or fight training) or inactions (as carelessness in confinement and control).
Significant dog bites affect tens of millions of people globally each year. It is estimated that two percent of the US population, from 4.5–4.7 million people, are bitten by dogs each year. Most bites occur in children. In the 1980s and 1990s the US averaged 17 fatalities per year, while in the 2000s this has increased to 26. 77% of dog bites are from the pet of family or friends, and 50% of attacks occur on the dog owner's property. Animal bites, most of which are from dogs, are the reason for 1% of visits to an emergency department in the United States.
Attacks on the serious end of the spectrum have become the focus of increasing media and public attention in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
A person bitten by an animal potentially carrying parvovirus or rabies virus should seek medical care. An animal bite may also cause serious bacterial infections of soft tissues or bone (osteomyelitis) which can become life-threatening if untreated.
Rabies results in the death of approximately 55,000 people a year, with most of the causes due to dog bites.
Capnocytophaga canimorsus transmission (a gram-negative bacterium) following a dog bite can cause overwhelming sepsis in asplenic patients, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. Empiric treatment for this bacteria following a dog bite, consisting of a third-generation cephalosporins early in the infection, should be instituted in these patient populations, or following deep bites or dog bites to the hand.
The human–dog relationship is based on unconditional trust; however if this trust is lost it will be difficult to reinstate. As a last resort, humans will use a slap but a dog will use a bite. A dog's thick fur protects it to some degree from the bite of another dog but humans are furless and are not so protected.
Many human behaviors (especially by people unfamiliar with dogs) may factor into bite situations. The majority of dogs will not respond to all or even any of these behaviors with aggression; however, some will. These behaviors include:
- Challenging for food or water. For example, removing food from a dog, or appearing to intervene between a dog and its food. Even when inadvertent, this may trigger aggressive behavior in some animals.
- Attacking (or perceived attacking) a dog or its companions, or encroaching on its territory. Dogs are pack hunters; they often have an instinct to defend themselves and those they consider their "pack" (which could be other dogs, humans, cats, or even other animals), and to defend their territory, which may include areas they consider "theirs" or belonging to their family. Any dog is unpredictable in the presence of an intruder, especially but not always a burglar.
- Sickness or injury. A sick or injured dog, or an older animal, like people, may become "cranky" or over-reactive, and may develop a tendency to become "snappish".
- Failure to recognize insecurity or fear. Like humans, dogs that feel insecure may ultimately turn and defend themselves against perceived threat. It is common for people to not recognize signs of fear or insecurity, and to approach, triggering a defensive reaction.
- Intervention when dogs fight. When dogs fight, a human stepping in between, or seeking to restrain one of them without due care, may be badly bitten as well.
- Threatening body language. Especially including direct staring (an act of aggression/perceived as threatening by dogs) or a person not known to the dog moving their face very close to the animal's own snout (may be perceived as a challenge, threatening, or imposing). Staring is more dangerous when on the same visual level as the dog (such as small children), or when the human is unfamiliar.
- Prey behaviors. Dogs retain many of the predatory instincts of wolves, including the chasing of prey. Running away from a dog or behaving in a manner suggesting weakness may trigger predatory behaviors such as chasing or excited attack. For example, the instinct to jerk one's hands upwards away from an inquisitive dog may elicit a strong impulse to grab and hold.
- Ignoring warning signs. Trained attack dogs may act against an intruder without warning.
Note that attacks may be triggered by behaviors that are perceived as an attack, for example, a sudden unexpected approach or touch by a stranger, or inadvertently stepping on any portion of the dog's anatomy, such as a paw or tail, or startling a sleeping dog unexpectedly. In particular, the territory that a dog recognizes as its own may not coincide with the property lines that its owner and the legal authorities recognize, such as a portion of a neighbor's backyard.
Many adoption agencies test for aggressive behavior in dogs, and euthanize an animal that shows certain types of aggression. Alternatively, aggression can often be addressed with appropriate corrective training. Sources of aggression include:
- Fear and self-defense. Like humans, dogs react when fearful, and may feel driven to attack out of self-defense, even when not in fact being "attacked". Speed of movement, noises, objects or specific gestures such as raising an arm or standing up may elicit a reaction. Many rescued dogs have been abused, and in some dogs, specific fears of men, women, skin coloring, and other features that recall past abusers, are not uncommon. A dog that feels cornered or without recourse may attack the human who is threatening or attacking it. A dog may also perceive a hand reached out toward its head as an attempt to gain control of the dog's neck via the collar, which if done to a wary dog by a stranger can easily provoke a bite.
- Territoriality and possessions. See above. Aggressive possessiveness is considered a very important type of aggression to test for, since it is most associated with bites, especially bites to children.
- Predatory instincts. In isolation, predatory behaviors are rarely the cause of an attack on a human. Predatory aggression is more commonly involved as a contributing factor for example in attacks by multiple dogs; a "pack kill instinct" may arise if multiple dogs are involved in an attack.
- Pain or sickness. See above. As with fear, pain can incite a dog to attack. The canonical example of sickness-induced attack is the virulent behavior caused by rabies.
- Redirected aggression. A dog that is already excited/aroused by an aggressive instinct from one source, may use an available target to release its aggression, if the "target" does something to evoke this response from the dog (e.g. shouting & staring at the dog for barking at the mailman).
Training and aggression
In a domestic situation, canine aggression is normally suppressed. Exceptions are if the dog is trained to attack, feels threatened, or is provoked. It is important to remember that dogs are predators by nature, instinct is something that never completely disappears, and that predatory behavior against other animals (such as chasing other animals) may train a dog or a pack of dogs to attack humans. It is possible to acclimate a dog to common human situations in order to avoid adverse reactions by a pet. Dog experts[who?] advocate removal of a dog's food, startling a dog, and performing sudden movements in a controlled setting to teach the dog who its leader is, to defuse aggressive impulses in common situations. This also allows better animal care since owners may now remove an article directly from a dog's mouth or transport a wounded pet to seek medical attention.
Small children are especially prone to being misunderstood by dogs, in part because their size and movements can be similar to prey. Also, young children may unintentionally provoke a dog (pulling on ears or tails is common, as is surprising a sleeping dog) because of their inexperience. To avoid potential conflicts, even reliably well-behaved children and dogs should never be allowed to interact in the absence of an adult who knows and understands the dog's personality and trained cues.
Dogs with strong chase instincts, (e.g. collies, shepherds), may fail to recognize a person as a being not to be herded. They may fixate on a specific aspect of the person, such as a fast-moving, brightly colored shoe, as a prey object. This is probably the cause for the majority of non-aggressive dogs chasing cyclists and runners. In these cases, if the individual stops, the dog often loses interest since the movement has stopped. This is not always the case, and aggressive or territorial dogs might take the opportunity to attack.
Additionally, most dogs that bark at strangers, particularly when not on "their" territory, will flee if the stranger challenges it, though this is not recommended behaviour as challenging the dog is just as likely to evoke a bite. Mailmen, being the classic example, provoke a strong territorial response because they come back day after day to the dog's territory. In the dog's mind they are constantly intruding on their territory and that sets up a learned behavior.
Children die more often because due to their small size they are less able to withstand an attack until help arrives. Many adults survive dog attacks simply due to being able to sustain and fend the dogs off to some degree until assistance arrives, although the elderly and disabled are more vulnerable.
Children may engage in behavior that will trigger a dog attack. For example, approaching a chained dog, trying to hug or kiss an unfamiliar animal, trying to pull its tail or engaging in other behavior that the dog may feel is threatening. Behavior such as this on the part of children may invoke either an aggressive territorial response from the dog or an aggressive defensive behavior from the dog.
The age group with the second-highest amount of fatalities due to a dog attack are 2-year-old children. Over 88% of these fatalities occurred when the 2-year-old was left unsupervised with a dog(s) or the child walked into the location of a dog and was attacked.
With respect to bites, no one breed causes most of them. A 2015 literature review concluded that "breed is a poor sole predictor of dog bites". In the United States pit bull-type are the most frequently identified breeds in cases of severe bites with Rottweiler dogs also being common. This is partly attributed to their size and the fact that they are more frequently owned by people involved in crime.
When dogs are near humans with whom they are familiar, they normally become less aggressive. However, it should not be assumed that because a dog has been with humans, it will not attack anybody – even a family member. Caution needs to be taken when approaching new dogs for the first time.
A study based on recent data from 2000 to 2009, published in 2013, compared media accounts with reports available from animal control officials, determined that, of their sample of 256 dog bite related fatalities, breed could only be validly determined in 45 cases, and the attacks in these 45 cases were dispersed among 20 different breeds and 2 known mixes. For a further set of 401 dogs in media accounts of dog bite related fatality, reported breed differed between different media accounts of the same attack 31% of the time, factoring in animal control accounts produced disagreement on breed for 40% of attacks.
A 2000 study by the US by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports of 327 people killed by dogs "pit bull terrier" or mixes thereof were reportedly involved in 76 cases. The breed with the next-highest number of attributed fatalities was the Rottweiler and mixes thereof, with 44 fatalities. Given that many media sources incorrectly reported that this study suggested that pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers are disproportionately more dangerous than other dog breeds, the American Veterinary Medical Association released a statement that this study "cannot be used to infer any breed specific risk for dog bite fatalities". These figures reporting certain breeds as being more prone to biting has found those to be the breeds in the greatest population where the dog bites are reported.
A 2015 study in Ireland found that dog bite injuries greatly increased since the introduction of legislation targeting specific dog breeds. This study also suggested that targeting dog breeds may actually contribute to increases in dog-bite hospitalisations through the reinforcing of incorrect stereotypes of risk being determined by breed. The study reported that as a result of targeting dog breeds, stereotypes of the dangerousness of certain breeds and assuming the safety of others simply due to their breed may result in people incorrectly interacting with dogs from both categories.
Despite domestication, dogs, like their ancestors wolves, remain cunning, swift, agile, strong, territorial and voracious—even small ones have large, sharp teeth and claws and powerful muscles in their jaws and legs and can inflict serious injuries. The lacerations even from inadvertent dog scratches, let alone deliberate or reckless bites, are easily infected (most commonly by Capnocytophaga ochracea or Pasteurella multocida). Medium-to-large dogs can knock people down with the usual effects of falls from other causes.
Should affection or mutual respect not exist (as with feral dogs), should a dog be deliberately starved (dogs are usually as resourceful as any large predators in getting food), should a dog be conditioned to become an attacker, or should someone intrude upon a dog's territory and pose a threat, then the natural tendencies of a predator manifest themselves in a dog attack in which the dog uses its predatory abilities to defend itself. Extrication from such an attack is difficult because of the dog's power and agility. Flight from a dog attack by running is usually impossible because dogs can usually outrun humans.
Education for adults and children, animal training, selective breeding for temperament, and society's intolerance for dangerous animals combine to reduce the incidence of attacks and accidents involving humans and dogs. However, improperly managed confrontations can lead to severe injury from even the most well-tempered dog.
Stiffened front legs and a raised ridge of hair along the spine can be signs of an imminent attack (as well as of interest, or anxiety and the start of the dog's "fight or flight" mechanism). A wagging tail is often an attempt to communicate excitement, though a tail held high over the back can signal the dog becoming aroused – either for what humans see as for positive or negative reasons. Dogs also have far superior hearing and olfactory senses than humans, as well as having the advantage of reading the body language of other humans and animals.
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Due to the pit bull-type breeds' perceived aggression, owning such an animal is not allowed in Australia and many European countries, and in several US and Canadian localities (see breed-specific legislation for details).
Although using a firearm against an attacking dog may seem acceptable, laws in the United States which prohibit discharging a firearm in a city, and reckless endangerment may limit the extent to which a person is legally able to defend themselves in this way. Taking such actions where the dog/dogs involved were not acting aggressively towards humans may result in legal charges against the person who shot the animal. No person in the United States has ever been convicted of a crime for firing a gun or using any other weapon to stop or kill a dog that was currently attacking him/her.
About whether an attacking dog could itself be criminally liable, the California Court of Appeal for the Third District explained:
|“||We recognize the common tendency to anthropomorphize animals, especially beloved pet dogs. Though we might give a dog a name and ascribe a certain personality to the animal, the law does not recognize dogs as having the mental state that can incur criminal liability. [Citations.] Despite the physical ability to commit vicious and violent acts, dogs do not possess the legal ability to commit crimes.||”|
Some state laws hold dog owners liable for the harm or damage that their animal causes to people or other dogs. For example, in recent years, Florida dog bite laws have been changed so that prior vicious tendencies may no longer be needed to prove owner liability. In Texas, dog attack victims are given two possible ways to prove owner negligence when bringing a personal injury or wrongful death claim. The first option is that of strict liability, whereby a victim and their attorney must prove that either the dog has attacked someone else previously (known as the "one bite law") or else that the owner should otherwise have known their dog was vicious and/or dangerous. The second option is that of owner negligence, which could be argued in cases as various as dogs being allowed to roam freely around neighborhoods, or parents allowing their children to play with pet dogs while unsupervised. Also in Texas, as of September 1, 2007, `Lillian's Law' has taken effect, whereby the owner of a dog that causes death or serious bodily injury may be charged with a second or third degree felony when the attack takes place outside the dog's normal place of confinement (Texas Health & Safety Code Chapter 882).
In California, owners are subject to massive civil liability for attacks by their dogs. The state allows a victim to sue on two strict liability causes of action arising out of a single attack—one created by statute and one arising from common law. In 1989, the California State Legislature enacted a special administrative hearing procedure just for regulating "menacing dogs," based on the finding that "dangerous and vicious dogs have become a serious and widespread threat to the safety and welfare of citizens of this state." To help implement it, the Judicial Council of California promulgated a package of four forms in 1990. The notice of hearing bears the warning: "DO NOT BRING THE DOG TO THE HEARING."
An unprovoked attack on a jogger by two Cane Corsos was reported in Lapeer, Michigan. The jogger died. The two owners of the dogs were charged with Second degree murder, which carries a potential sentence of Life in Prison. "The dogs involved in the attack have a history of escaping from their kennel and have bitten at least twice before."
- Coyote attacks on humans
- Dangerous Dogs Act 1991
- Fatal dog attacks in the United States
- Wolf attacks on humans
- "Animal bites Fact sheet N°373". World Health Organization. February 2013. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
- "Dog Bite Prevention". CDC. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- Ellis, R; Ellis, C (Aug 15, 2014). "Dog and cat bites.". American family physician. 90 (4): 239–43. PMID 25250997.
- Statistics about dog bites in the USA and elsewhere
- Reuters (2004-10-13). "Stray dog pack attacks Albanian town". IOL. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
An Albanian town had to call in police and hunters after a pack of 200 stray mountain dogs attacked at least nine people. Headed by a clearly identifiable leader, the snarling pack overran the main street of the small northern town of Mamurras, its mayor said on Wednesday. "Even in the movies I have never seen a horde of 200 stray dogs from the mountains attacking people in the middle of a town," Anton Frroku said on Wednesday. He said the dogs bit at least nine people, aged from 20 to 60, dragging them to the ground and inflicting serious wounds.
- Miklosi, A. (2007). "Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition". doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199295852.001.0001. ISBN 9780199295852.
- Shepard Haven Tips for Stopping a Dog Fight
- "Dog Bite Risk and Prevention: The Role of Breed". American Veterinary Medical Association. March 12, 2015.
- "Dog-Bite-Related Fatalities – United States, 1995–1996". Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 1997-05-30. Retrieved 2008-10-29.
- Patronek, Gary J.; Sacks, Jeffrey J.; Delise, Karen M.; Cleary, Donald V.; Marder, Amy R. (15 December 2013). "Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite–related fatalities in the United States (2000–2009)". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Schaumburg, Illinois, USA: American Veterinary Medical Association. 243 (12): 1726–1736. doi:10.2460/javma.243.12.1726. PMID 24299544.
- Report: Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998 Archived April 11, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
- "American Veterinary Medical Association Statement on 'Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998'" (PDF). American Veterinary Medical Association. 2000. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-01-23.
- Ó Súilleabháin, Páraic (April 2015). "Human hospitalisations due to dog bites in Ireland, 1998-2013: Implications for current breed specific legislation". The Veterinary Journal. Retrieved April 23, 2015.
- Woman's neighbor shoots dog Grass Valley man may face animal cruelty charges
- People v. Frazier, 173 Cal. App. 4th 613 (2009).
- Priebe v. Nelson, 39 Cal. 4th 1112 (2006).
- See California Food and Agricultural Code Section 31601(a).
- See California Court Forms MC-600, MC-601, MC-602, and MC-603
- California Court Form MC-601
- "Couple Whose Dogs Fatally Mauled Jogger Charged With Murder". WWJ. August 1, 2014. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
- ^ Sacks, Jeffrey J., MD, MPH; Sinclair, Leslie, DVM; Gilchrist, Julie, MD; Golab, Gail C., PhD, DVM; Lockwood, Randall, PhD. (September 15, 2000). "Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998" (PDF). JAVMA. 217 (6): 836–40. doi:10.2460/javma.2000.217.836. PMID 10997153. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-04-11.
- ^ World Almanac and Book of Facts 1985. Doubleday.
- ^ World Almanac and Book of Facts 1988. World Almanac Books.
- ^ Breed-Specific Legislation in the United States. Linda S. Weiss, Michigan State University – Detroit College of Law (2001). Animal Legal and Historical Web Center
- ^ "Nonfatal Dog Bite—Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments", CDC MMWR, July 4, 2003.
- Aggressive dogs travel guide from Wikivoyage
- NCIPC bibliography of articles on dog bites
- Dogs Bite but Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous by Janis Bradley, 2005
- CDC Dog Bite Factsheet