Summary & Analysis: Attacks by packs of dogs involving predation on human beings

To best understand this article in the context of the Dog Bite-Related Fatality (DBRF) literature, please see National Canine Research Council’s complete analysis here. 
Article Citation:
Borchelt, P. L., Lockwood, R., Beck, A. M., & Voith, V. L. (1983). Attacks by packs of dogs involving predation on human beings. Public Health Reports (Washington, D.C.: 1974)98(1), 57-66.

National Canine Research Council Summary and Analysis:

This small series of case studies is unique in that 1) packs of dogs were implicated in the four reported cases, 2) some of the victims’ tissue was consumed by the animals, and 3) attempts were made to re-create the incidents’ circumstances to study behavioral and environmental factors that may facilitate DBRFs. The researchers used several resources in their report including personal examination of the dogs, police and coronary reports, interviews with victims and witnesses, scene investigations, and observation during re-created trials. Based on their partial reconstructions of two of the incidents and all four investigations, the authors offer several potential explanations for the dog bites in these cases. They point to environmental stimuli, social cues and feeding behavior, territorial defensive behavior, predatory mechanisms, hunger, and inadequate socialization as possible relevant factors. They did not consider breed as a factor.

Several common elements were identified in these cases. The majority of the dogs were described as lean or underweight, and the dog packs were reported to have been hunting for food prior to the bite incidents in two of the cases. All four packs were known to hunt and/or feed together; the authors posit that once one dog bit a victim, prior feeding behavior and social facilitation may have contributed to the subsequent bites and tissue ingestion. Re-creation of the circumstances showed that the dog packs would chase and bite a human only after being excited by an environmental stimulus such as a fast-moving motorcycle or bicycle. In three of the four cases described the dogs were allowed to roam freely in packs all or most of the time, and all incidents occurred on or near the dogs’ territories or roaming grounds. The authors suggest that the victims’ presence on the packs’ territories could have induced defensive behavior. Possible improper socialization and poor husbandry were described in all of the incidents; worrisome details were reported such as an owner trading a dog for a bag of feed, an owner attempting to relinquish the dogs due to inability to feed them, and reports of encouraging aggressive behavior towards humans. If these variables are causally related, then DBRFs may be preventable by responsible ownership. The authors state, “The most practical point of intervention is at the level of owner responsibility. Dogs, especially those with a history of threatening any human being, should not be allowed to run free or interact with people unless they are under control.” At the same time, they caution against isolation as a method for preventing bites; proper socialization and responsible supervision are recommended.

Abstract and Link to Full Text of the Original Article: