In September of 2012, Evelyn was making some chicken soup when a neighbor stopped by to check on her. Evelyn had recently lost her dog to cancer and the neighbor hoped to cheer her up by visiting with his own two dogs, whom Evelyn had met many times before. When Evelyn asked her neighbor if she could give his dogs some strips of baked chicken, he said, “sure, they love chicken.” Two minutes later, Evelyn was on her way to the emergency room for a dog bite. She ultimately required 10 stitches in her right index finger. Her mistake? Feeding a high value food to another person's dogs using her fingers. The breed of dog involved? A Scottish Terrier.
Although most of us would not categorize this incident as “dog aggression” and would attribute it to some poor decisions made by the people involved, the story clearly illustrates some universal realities of our canine companions: all dogs have teeth and all dogs bite. They bite other animals, they bite each other and they bite humans. Dogs use their mouths and teeth to communicate; sometimes they growl, sometimes they nip and sometimes they bite. Ninety-nine percent of emergency room treated dog bites are rated as minor punctures and lacerations. About half of the people who require medical attention as a result of a dog bite are children.
The reasons for actual dog attacks (as opposed to incidents of simple and avoidable injuries) are often complex, but the answer to preventing dog attacks is relatively simple: humane care and control of dogs is often all that is needed to prevent most dog attacks. The National Canine Research Council's investigations into dog bite-related fatalities reveals the majority of these tragic cases involved circumstances where owners failed to provide necessary care and human control of their dogs: 1) failure by dog owners to spay or neuter dogs not involved in a responsible breeding program; 2) maintaining dogs in semi-isolation on chains or in pens; 3) allowing dogs to run loose; 4) neglecting or abusing dogs; 5) maintaining dogs not as household pets, but as guard dogs, fighting dogs, intimidation dogs, breeding dogs or yard dogs; and 6) allowing children to interact with unfamiliar dogs.
The media would have us believe that only certain breeds of dogs have the capacity to be aggressive (such as pit-bull type dogs, Rottweilers, Dobermans, etc.) but the reality is that there is no such thing as the “super predator” dog hyped by the media and falsely accused of the majority of injuries or attacks. The February 14, 2013, breed statistics published by The American Temperament Test Society indicate that a variety of breeds of dogs are statistically more aggressive than dogs we call “Pit Bulls” and which are most often vilified in the media. These breeds include the Beagle, Border Collie, Boxer, Cocker Spaniel, Collie, Dalmatian, Great Dane, Italian Greyhound, Maltese, Old English Sheepdog, Pomeranian, Standard Schnauzer and Weimeraner (among many others).
There are a number of things we can do to keep our families safe and to reduce the number of cases of dog aggression and dog attacks: spay/neuter your dog, do not leave your dog chained outside, never leave infants or young children alone with a dog and always properly socialize and train your dog. Children also need to be taught how to safely interact with dogs. Simple instructions such as “do not approach an unfamiliar dog” or “do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies” can go a long way toward keeping unsupervised children safe.