I can’t leave it alone. So I’ve been trawling the internet for the last 24hrs for the science and stats behind dog bites here in Ireland, the UK and US in an effort to build as full a picture as possible of the situation. I’m going to send it on to anyone that I think might be relevant to the “Dangerous Dogs” act in the hope it might do some good. While exhausting it is by no means exhaustive, so anyone with any other key studies do send them on. Best grab a cup of tea before reading!!
There was a strong emotional response to Alan Tobin’s Facebook post over the weekend. It concerned his support for local councils erecting “dangerous dog” signs in local parks. This is the leashing and muzzling of “restricted breeds” in public places, namely Bull breeds, German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Doberman, amongst others.
While some of the enormous and now global response (200,000 comments and counting), such as the death threats, was simply unforgivable and over-reactive bile, much more of it arose from a place of knowledge and passion for the breeds in question, something most agreed Mr. Tobin had demonstrated little of. Whatever your view point it has certainly opened up a much needed debate on the matter.
The whole notion of “Restricted Breeds”, part of the Control of Dogs Act 1998, has come in for a lot of criticism over the years for many reasons with one fact dominating, and that is it is absolutely not working to slow the number of dog bites in Ireland.
A 2008 paper analysed dog bites requiring hospitalisation in Ireland between 1998 to 2013 reveals that despite the Restricted Breeds measure being in place dog bites in Ireland have risen by over 20% in Ireland in 15 years, and this does not include the many dog bites that are not severe enough to need hospitalisation.
The study highlighted that the two dog types with the most bites were Collies and terriers while the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was one of the least likely breeds to bite. It happens that these two breeds most likely to bite are among the most common types in Ireland. Hence it was with some irony that Alan Tobin admitted to allowing his potentially vicious Collie run free and jump on people in the park while at the same time erecting signs about dangerous Staffordshire Bull Terriers in the areas.This highlights exactly what is wrong with the powers-that-be’s perception of the whole problem!
Another study entitled “Characteristics of 234 dog bite incidents in Ireland during 2004 and 2005” (Veterinary Record: Journal of the British Veterinary Association, Vol. 163 Issue 2, p37-42) assessed 100 dog owners whose dog had bitten a person. The dogs concerned were collies, cocker/springer spaniels, terrier breeds, Jack Russell terriers, German shepherd dogs, golden retrievers and crossbreeds.
“The numbers of bites by the different breeds indicated that those that inflicted the most bites were the popular breeds rather than the breeds with any greater propensity to bite”.
Liverpool is the UK’s second most perilous city for dog attacks. In 2015 the Jack Russell topped Liverpool cops’ list of dogs most likely to bite humans. In 2014 it was responsible for for 6 of 71 dog attacks in the city where a breed was identified. The girl in the artile picture was bitten by her Jack Russel.
Clearly a focus on Dangerous Breeds is not only not working in this country. In fact with the rise in dog bites some could be forgiven for concluding it is actually disarming people, leaving them more vulnerable to bites?!
This sentiment is echoed in a colossal study by the US Centre for Disease Control. Their study concludes:
“An often-asked question is what breed or breeds of dogs are most “dangerous.” This inquiry can be prompted by a serious attack by a specific dog, or it may be the result of media-driven portrayals of a specific breed as “dangerous.” Although this is a common concern, singling out one or two breeds for control can result in a false sense of accomplishment. Doing so ignores the true scope of the problem and will not result in a responsible approach to protecting a community’s citizens. Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite. Invariably the numbers will show that dogs from popular large breeds are a problem. This should be expected, because big dogs can physically do more damage if they do bite, and any popular breed has more individuals that could bite. Dogs from small breeds also bite and are capable of causing severe injury”
The CDC go on to state
“the CDC does not identify specific breeds that are most likely to bite or kill, and thus is not appropriate for policy-making decisions related to the topic.”
SO WHY ALL THE FOCUS / BAD PRESS REGARDING THESE RESTRICTED BREEDS?
The truth is these dogs have a lot of bad press because when they attack they are more likely to do greater damage. That is a fact and it worries people. Minor bites and small-dog attacks are absolutely going to be under reported as we are less likely to require treatment / police assistance. They are less likely to be severe. They are easier defended and easier to stop.
Some of the more “Dangerous Breeds” such as Pit Bulls have been bred to have extremely strong bites coupled with a heightened ability hold and shake, resulting in catastrophic damage if applied to human limbs. German Shepherds (protect flocks and now secure premises) and Doberman (security dogs) too are absolutely stronger, more reactive and defensive. In this way their attacks will be significant.
The thing is the stats from the US (where pit bulls and Rottweilers dominate the biting tables) are quite different to our stats here Ireland (with collies and terriers doing the most biting), no doubt largely due to numbers, but the message is clear. Dangerous breeds there (and the UK) are doing far more of the damage.
Of 168 children that enrolled for dog bites to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 1989, the breeds responsible included German shepherds (35 cases), pit bulls (33 cases), rottweilers (9 cases) and Dobermans (7 cases). Interestingly in 54% of cases the dogs were contained / controlled (i.e. leashed, fenced, in-house) at the time of injury. Only 46% were provoked prior to biting. Significantly, 94% of the pit bull injuries were the consequence of unprovoked attacks. Children aged 5 or younger were more likely to provoke animals prior to injury.
(Dog Bites in Urban Children,www.pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/88/1/55…)
A study in Paediatrics in 2006 analysed 5873 files from 1994-2003 from US community dog registers (hospitals / police / dog control offices) where medical attention was sought after a dog bite. Bite incidence was highest in 1-year-old patients and decreased with increasing age. The relative risk for a dog attack by a German shepherd or a Doberman was 5 times higher than that of a Labrador/retriever or cross-breed. The vast majority (82%) of the dogs were familiar to the children.
(Analysis of Dog Bites in Children Who Are Younger Than 17 Years,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16510617)
A retrospective study entitled “Man’s best friend? A review of the Austin, Texas Hospital’s experience with dog bites” found that a German Shepherds were the offending dog in 47% of 34 recorded cases.
Another US hospital found that compared with attacks by other breeds of dogs, attacks by pit bulls were 4 times more likely to cause injury, result in higher hospital charges and a higher risk of death.
“Mortality, Mauling and Maiming by Vicious Dogs” Bini, J.K.; Cohn, S.M.; Acosta, S.M.; McFarland, M.J.; Muir, M.T.; Michalek, J.E. Annals of Surgery, 2011; Vol. 253, Issue 4, 791-7.
A study of breeds of dogs and involved in 238 fatal human dog attacks in the US between 1979 adn 1998 found pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers were involved in more than half of these deaths.
“Breeds of Dogs Involved in Fatal Human Attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998” Sacks, J.J.; Sinclair, L.; Gilchrist, J.; Golab, G.C.; Lockwood, R. Journal of the American Medical Association, September 2000, Vol. 217, Issue 6, 836-40.
Finally the CDC report mentioned in the introduction, which rightfully concludes to pick on one breed is not the correct way forward, noted that of the 238 human dog bite related fatalities pit bulls and rottweilers accounted for over half.
TOP 10 BITERS IN THE US
Below is the top ten of the top 35 pure bred dogs with the most bites in the US compiled by ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton, following a pretty exhaustive trawl through. police reports, animal control reports, witness accounts, victim accounts and hospital reports from 1982-2014. They found:
10. Labrabull, attacks 43, deaths 5
9. Pitweiler, attacks 56, deaths 2
8. Lab retriever, attacks 56, deaths 3
7. Chow Chow attacks 61, deaths 8
6. Boxer, attacks 64, deaths 7
5. Akita, 70, deaths 8
4. Husky, attacks 83, deaths 26
3. Shepherd, attacks 113, deaths 15
2. Rottweiler, 535 attacks, deaths 85
1. Pit Bull, 3397 attacks, deaths 295
WHY ALL THE DOG BITING?
Children in general are less informed and less responsible than adults, and they are more likely to interact in inappropriate ways with dogs. Shockingly, perhaps as a result, children are 3 – 5 times more likely to get bitten than adults. It may be that children are smaller so dogs may see them as weaker adversaries but the stats show that they will more readily go face to face with dogs no doubt made worse by their smaller size. Hence more than 50-80% of dog bites to children are to the face and neck, and therefore more potentially lethal. Furthermore one study revealed that children younger than 5 years of age cannot discern between a snarling dog face and a happy face nor do they decifer between a guttural growl and play bark. The dog-human social queues are not yet in place for young children so they will continue to play with food bowls when the dog has perhaps warned them not to.
A brilliant study entitled “Behavioral Assessment of Child-directed Canine Aggression” delved into behaviour of the dogs behind the bites to 111 children. Many of their studies echo others including children under 6 years old to most at risk with both food guarding (42%, usually to own family members) and territory guarding (53%, usually to unfamiliar children) to the most common reasons. Most children were bitten by dogs with no history of biting children.
“Behavioral Assessment of Child-directed Canine Aggression” by Reisner, Ilana R.; Shofer, Frances S.; Nance, Michael L.. Injury Prevention, 2007, Vol. 13, 348-351
It was the subsequent behavioral screening of the 103 dogs that was most interesting. After resource guarding they found that incorrect discipline measures (59%) were the most common stimuli for aggression. Anxiety screens revealed abnormalities in 77% of dogs. Medical conditions were identified/suspected in 50% of cases. More interesting was that 66% of owners had taken their dogs to obedience training classes and, most interesting of all, dogs (93%) were neutered, throwing the whole “your testicles make you a bad boy” out the window – “common calming measures (neutering, training) were not routinely effective deterrents”.
SO, WHAT CAN BE DONE?
So we’ve had the dangerous dogs legislation in place since 1998 and it is absolutely proven that it is absolutely not working. Since 1998-2013 we have actually seen a 50% RISE in hospitalisations in Ireland from dog bites (largely terriers and collies), higher than in other European country. How is this being ignored?! A google search would of set the government straight on this one.
The truth is dogs are very slow to bite, for the very large part. A whole plethora of factors are at play with a dog bite – breeding, correct socialisation, correct training of the dogs and their owners BEFORE things go wrong, education of children, education regarding the dog’s health. Education. Education. Education.
Adult dog owners have a responsibility to ensure that children are taught correct dog interaction from an early age and young children should always be supervised around dogs. This alone could reduce the number of dog bites annually by 50% (Pers. Obs.)
There are other factors too. Dog bites in the UK are highest in urban areas (81%) and between two and three times higher in deprived areas (http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-32912084), where “dangerous breeds” are more popular. If this is the case in Ireland, what educational initiatives are in place for these potential hot spots? Well lets take a look at that.
On the plus side here, in absence of any real education initiatives by the government (bar erecting pictures of POSSIBLY dangerous dogs in parks), since 2007 the Educate Together national schools took the lead and introduced animal welfare and behaviour to their curriculum. This is a fantastic step forward, though taken without government impetus, as most effective initiatives tend to be.
For schools with no such plans and parents of young children with dogs there are some pretty good online tutorials that teach children how to interact with dogs, such as the UK Kennel Clubs “Safe and Sound” program or www.doggonesafe.com from the US.
And then there’s always getting a trainer in BEFORE your dog develops some unruly behaviours, an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure.
But now the down side in Ireland. In my opinion I think the next study we do should be why there isn’t MORE dog bites in Ireland for we are the dog fighting capital of Europe. They come from miles around to our little island as our inaction and inability to prosecute permits it. This thriving sector needs a good, regular supply of hyper reactive, hyper aggressive, poorly socialised fighting breeds. As it’s our right to breed, and with little by means of regulation, breed we do. We are now proudly the puppy farming capital Europe with many fighting dogs coming from back yard breeders with zero understanding or consideration for correct socialisation. Couple these two together and you have a lot of potentially “dangerous breeds” with poor breeding, poor socialisation and then possibly geared up to fight. If just one of these dogs gets out of control (or someone enters their territory) the “dangerous dog” brigade will no doubt emerge all guns blazing.
We non-dog fighting public are no better. If there was no outlet for the puppy farms there would not be dogs suffering in such appalling conditions. We trawl DoneDeal for a cute face and pay cash for poorly bred, poorly socialised pups in car parks. We don’t have much of a history of attending training classes to prevent future issues. We allow our dogs to roam without fear of prosecution. When things go wrong (hopefully not after a bite) you will find these dogs back up on DoneDeal “free to a good home”. Worst comes to the worst and the poor unsettled dog can be put down. We love putting down dogs. Ireland, with 800,000 dogs, slaughters nearly as many pet dogs as the UK which has 8 million dogs (~3000 per year). That’s the Irish solution to all the nasty biting dogs.
People need to learn that any dog can become dangerous if it is brought up in the wrong environment. Take for example the case of Liam Dowling last year battering his pet jack Russel to death by leash-slamming him 30 times off the ground in a public park in full view of everyone. Liam is free to continue to own dogs as the judge felt “it wouldn’t be fair to deprive the kids of a dog”.
Now, where would the fault be if this same Jack Russel had lived and turned around and bit Liam’s child’s face during a game? Or somebody else’s child? Is it the fault of the owner for his poor treatment of the animal in the first place? Or would it be the fault of the system that permitted such a man to continue to own such a beautiful and loyal creature.
Perhaps it’s time we stop putting up idiotic, facile signs and look to countries that are taking the time to educate their dog owners, such as Swtizerland. They have something akin to a driving license for dogs. As a result they enjoy an annual dog bite incidence rate of only 180/100 000 population was estimated (compared to 750 in the UK and 1800 per 100,000 in the US). Clearly that’s working to some degree.
Perhaps couple that with the Swedish approach of very strong financial penalties for people that fail to comply with basic welfare rules including roaming dogs, controlling aggressive dogs, breeding etc. Lose your dog once it’s a weeks wages. Twice it’s a month wages. Three strikes and he’s out. There are no dogs roaming the streets. No dogs surrendered to shelters. The people get well educated before making the leap. Considered welfare laws with a little enforcement and vitally some tough financial penalties for people failing to adhere has dog owners realising that getting a dog has consequences. Like recycling, like water, it’s sadly the only way we will get in line. As a result of these measures Sweden has one pound for 13mil people compared to our hundreds of volunteer run shelters, pounds and charities mopping up our strays. We actually ship our strays to Sweden.
A research paper published in the Veterinary Journal reinforces this approach by highlighting Ireland’s current focus on dangerous breeds as being not only ineffective in reducing such hospitalisations, but could be making the problem worse. Report author Páraic Ó Súilleabháin cites international evidence showing legislation focused on holding owners accountable for the actions of their animals is more successful at reducing serious incidents.
Or perhaps not. Maybe it’s just easier if we bury our heads in the sand and take the usual civil service approach whereby we continue to throw more tax payers money at poorly researched, poorly understood, poorly enforced ideas that are proven not to work, money that would of been better spent on a few dog parks or a simple TV ad, and wait until something bad happens.
As you can be sure, when it does, it will be the dogs’ fault.