Dog attack

Dog attack
Dog attack
Classification and external resources

Dogs typically attack using their teeth[1]
ICD-10 W54
ICD-9 E906.0
Dog bite redirects here. For the song, see Dog Bite (song).

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 attacks—with injuries from very minor to significant, and severe to fatal—are not uncommon. 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.[2] It is estimated that two percent of the US population, 4.7 million people, are bitten each year.[3] In the 1980s and 1990s the US averaged 17 fatalities per year, while in the 2000s this has increased to 26.[4] 77% of dog bites are from the pet of family or friends, and 50% of attacks occur on the dog owner's property.[4]

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). A person bitten by an animal potentially carrying parvovirus or rabies virus should consult a medical doctor immediately. A bite victim may also incur serious bacterial infections of the bone called osteomyelitis which can become life threatening if untreated, whether or not the animal has parvovirus or rabies virus.


Human-dog interaction

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 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.

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 often is 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, and so are able to pick up signs which we humans may miss were they to come from a dog, or may not have learned to read (or may even misunderstand) in dogs.

Factors related to attack incidents

Human behavior

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, 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 their predatory instincts, 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.

Dog behavior

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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 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 acclimatize a dog to common human situations in order to avoid adverse reactions by a pet. Dog experts 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 dogs 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.

Unsupervised children

This is arguably the most critical factor in fatal dog attacks on children, who because of their small size are usually not able to withstand an attack until help arrives. Many adults survived severe dog attacks simply by virtue of the fact that they were able to sustain and fend the dogs off to some degree until assistance arrived.

Children often engage in behavior that will trigger a dog attack. For example, approaching a chained dog, trying to hug or kiss an unfamiliar animal, or trying to pull its tail.

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 child was left unsupervised with a dog(s) or the child wandered off to the location of the dog.[5]

Breed-specific attacks

Dog attacks on humans that appear most often in the news are those that require the hospitalization of the victim or those in which the victim is killed. Dogs of all sizes have mauled and killed humans, although large dogs are capable of inflicting more damage quickly.

When dogs are near humans with whom they are familiar, they normally become less aggressive. This is because familiarity with their 'pack members' lowers the likelihood of attack. 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. Intact males also bite more frequently than females or neutered males.[6]

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).

It is sometimes argued that certain breeds are inherently aggressive towards humans and shouldn't be allowed at all, or that, due to the popularity of certain potentially dangerous breeds, these dogs are often owned by irresponsible owners who provide insufficient training or, worse, aggressiveness training. An opposing argument is that no breed is inherently aggressive towards humans and that regulating one breed simply moves the irresponsible owners to start focusing on breeds that haven't yet been regulated, moving the problem to other breeds. This is one of the positions taken by the American Veterinary Medical Association.[7]

Although research and analysis[1] suggests that breed-specific legislation is not completely effective in preventing dog attacks, with each new attack, pressure mounts to enact such legislation, despite indications[2] that dangerous dog legislation would be more effective—that is, focusing on specific individual dogs having exhibited signs of aggression.

Legal issues

United States

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.[citation needed] 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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[3] 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.[10] 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."[11] To help implement it, the Judicial Council of California promulgated a package of four forms in 1990.[12] The notice of hearing bears the warning: "DO NOT BRING THE DOG TO THE HEARING."[13]

See also



  1. ^ Dendle C, Looke D (December 2008). "Review article: Animal bites: an update for management with a focus on infections". Emergency Medicine Australasia : EMA 20 (6): 458–67. doi:10.1111/j.1742-6723.2008.01130.x. PMID 19125823. 
  2. ^ 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." 
  3. ^ Questions and Answers about Dog Bites
  4. ^ a b Statistics about dog bites in the USA and elsewhere
  5. ^ Safety Around Dogs
  6. ^ "Dog-Bite-Related Fatalities -- United States, 1995-1996". Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 1997-05-30. Retrieved 2008-10-29. 
  7. ^ Spotlight on Dog Bite Prevention Week
  8. ^ Woman's neighbor shoots dog Grass Valley man may face animal cruelty charges
  9. ^ People v. Frazier, 173 Cal. App. 4th 613 (2009).
  10. ^ Priebe v. Nelson, 39 Cal. 4th 1112 (2006).
  11. ^ See California Food and Agricultural Code Section 31601(a).
  12. ^ See California Court Forms MC-600, MC-601, MC-602, and MC-603
  13. ^ California Court Form MC-601

External links

Suggested Reading

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Dog training — is the process of teaching skills or behaviours to a dog. This can include teaching a dog to respond to certain commands, or helping the dog learn coping skills for stressful environments. Dog training often includes operant conditioning,… …   Wikipedia

  • Dog anatomy — includes the same internal structures that are in humans. Details of structures vary tremendously from breed to breed, more than in any other animal species, wild or domesticated,[1] as dogs vary from the tiny Chihuahua to the giant Irish… …   Wikipedia

  • Dog breeding — is the practice of mating selected specimens with the intent to maintain or produce specific qualities and characteristics. A litter of puppies and their mother Dogs reproduce without human interference, so their offsprings characteristics are… …   Wikipedia

  • Dog aggression — is a term used by dog owners and breeders to describe canine to canine antipathy. Aggression itself is usually defined by canine behaviorists as the intent to do harm . Many dogs show displays of aggression such as barking, growling, or snapping… …   Wikipedia

  • Dog skin disorders — are among the most common health problems in dogs. Skin disorders in dogs have many causes, and many of the common skin disorders that afflict people have a counterpart in dogs. The condition of dog s skin and coat can also be an important… …   Wikipedia

  • Dog health — Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with bandaged foot …   Wikipedia

  • Dog — For other uses, see Dog (disambiguation). Domestic dog Temporal range: 0.015–0 Ma …   Wikipedia

  • Dog park — The recently renovated Tompkins Square Park dog run was the first in New York City, and it was recently named one of the top five dog parks in the United States by Dog Fancy magazine. This article is about the exercise area for dogs; there is… …   Wikipedia

  • Dog breed — For a list of dog breeds, see List of dog breeds. Chihuahua mix and purebred Great Dane Dog breeds are groups of closely related and visibly similar domestic dogs, which are all of the subspecies Canis lupus familiaris, having characteristic… …   Wikipedia

  • Dog food — For the corporate practice of using one s own products, see Eating your own dog food. Not to be confused with Dog meat, which covers human consumption of canines. Dog food refers to food specifically intended for consumption by dogs. Though… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”