Downeast Dog News
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Dog Bite Fatalities & Dog Bites – Part 1

By By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | Jul 01, 2016

On Saturday, June 4th, deputies from the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office responded to the report of a dog attack at a home in Corinna, ME. A seven-year-old boy died as a result of the attack.

As a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, the media often contacts me to comment on incidents where a serious dog bite occurs, and this one was no different. The following week I was interviewed on two radio stations and by reporters from the three major TV networks in Maine. Typical questions in this type of interview are: why do dogs bite or kill, is it because of the dog’s breed, and how could this have been prevented?  Unfortunately, because of the way the news works, I felt my comments were far too brief for a topic of this complexity. Without adequate information, I do not see the dog bite situation changing, so I arranged to interview a national expert on dog bites on The Woof Meow Show and also to discuss this issue here in a series of articles.

How “serious” of a problem are dog bite fatalities?

Janis Bradley is a professional dog trainer, author and the Director of Communications & Publications for the National Canine Research Council. Her first book, Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous was written as a result of an especially horrific dog attack and fatality that occurred in San Francisco in 2001. At the time, Bradley was working at the San Francisco ASPCA teaching professional dog trainers and working with what would be considered ‘high-risk” dogs, yet she nor any of her colleagues had experienced a serious dog bite. Yet, both the local and the national media were giving extensive airtime to this incident using phrases like “dog bite epidemic.” As a result, Bradley started researching the academic literature on dog bites because she wanted to understand the seriousness of this issue. What she learned was that there was not much reliable research on dog bites. Thankfully, due to Bradley’s efforts, we have a better understanding of dog bites and fatalities today.

Dog bites resulting in fatalities to humans in the US are thankfully very rare. Over the last decade, there were about 30 human deaths per year due to dog bites. That is about one person per 11 million people. While this is an extremely tragic event for all those in some way connected to the victim and the dog, statistics indicate that you are far more likely to be killed by other causes. For example:

  • You are1000 times more likely to be killed in a car accident or an accidental fall.
  • You are 500 times more likely to be murdered by another human.
  • You are 1.5 times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike.

 

The Center for Disease Control has stopped tracking dog bite related fatalities because they are so rare and cannot make any useful conclusions from the data.

While death by a dog bite is tragic, such deaths are exceedingly rare, and it is their rareness and often the horrific nature of the incident that attract a disproportionate amount of media attention. Add to that the response by people on social media, and it is understandable how misinformation is created and circulates. 

I want to thank the Penobscot County Sheriff’s office for their responsible release of information for this particular incident.

Next month I will address non-fatal dog bites and what we think we know and what we really know.