- Behavior, Genetics, and “Breed”
- Public Policy
NCRC conducts comprehensive investigations into each incident. No other group or agency, public or private, other than law enforcement, has approached our systematic rigor. This section discusses what we have learned and its implications for public policy.
A substantial body of evidence shows that dog ownership confers both physical and psychological benefits to people.2 Nevertheless, the loss of a life due to a dog bite-related injury can affect a community deeply. The victim may have been a child. The dog may even have been a family pet, though we should resist the temptation of thinking of all the dogs as family pets, without regard to their lived experience with human beings. See Resident Dog vs Family Dog.
These catastrophic events can devastate a family and deeply shock a community. Out of respect for all, preventing future loss demands critical thinking. We should evaluate the most complete information we have about dogs and how people should take care of them.
In the mid-20th century, media coverage of DBRFs became intense and fearsome. As a direct consequence, several academic papers, including a series supervised by medical officers from the CDC, tallied the annual total of these incidents and discussed them in peer-reviewed literature. The common thread running through these papers was that DBRFs were a tiny percentage of dog bite injuries and did not imply additional government regulation or different standards of dog keeping than those already well known and understood.3
These papers published breed labels obtained from news reports. However, the authors could not confirm the journalists’ sources. The authors cautioned readers that they could not be certain of their breed identifications and that even experts disagreed when looking at the same dog. National media coverage of these papers paid little or no attention to these cautions. See NCRC’s Visual Breed Identification Literature Review. The media damned certain groups of dogs based on unreliable identifications, and frightened people about something that was fantastically unlikely to happen to them.
The CDC-sponsored paper published in 20001 made national news. By now there was a feedback loop that created the impression that unverifiable breed correlations were accurate. A call for breed bans and restrictions persists among a small coterie of non-professional advocates.
While the dog population has grown much faster than the human population, the number of dog bites victims seeking medical attention has remained stable. 8
This is consistent with other available data about dog bites. The number of reconstructive surgeries performed annually on account of dog bites is fairly constant.9 The number of losses paid by homeowners’ insurers on account of liability for a dog bite injury has remained steady.10 The number of Postal Service personnel reporting having been bitten by a dog has actually declined in the 21st century. 11
In comparison with the dramatic increase in the dog population, the number of DBRFs has remained extremely small. Since 1971, the US dog population has more than doubled. It is now approximately 83 million, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.12 In some years, there may be only one DBRF for every 2 million dogs. In other years, it may be higher; but it is never higher than one DBRF for every 1.6 million dogs. These ratios are evidence of how rare DBRFs are and cannot be used to predict the behavior of an individual dog, or of a group of dogs, however those dogs are described or characterized.
Based upon analysis of decades of data, up to and including 2021, and comprehensive investigation of hundreds of incidents, we consider it highly unlikely that the frequency or distribution of potentially preventable factors co-occurring in dog bite-related injuries or fatalities will change meaningfully in the future. We have for many years had in hand the important lessons regarding responsible dog keeping to be learned from these incidents.
We share with every other party concerned about dog bite-related injuries or fatalities the hope that our communities can prevent as many of these incidents as possible. We will continue to investigate all DBRFs systematically and thoroughly to remain the most reliable source on this emotionally laden issue.
We will continue to remind community leaders of the true dependence of dogs on humans and of our profound influence on their lived experience. We know that no single factor can explain a tragic outcome. The potentially preventable factors reliably identified are within the control of people. Communities can help dog owners do the right thing for their dog, regardless of presumed breed or appearance, and for their neighbors. See Effective Policies that help keep communities safe.
Stay updated on the newest research in canine behavior science.