The data confirms that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue:
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is ineffective and obsolete given the number of different breeds and dog types associated with serious dog bite-related incidents such as fatal dog attacks. Furthermore, the number of incidents associated with each breed is more closely related to each breed's population size and its risk rate than to any "inherent risk" in a specific breed or dog type.
To reduce the number of serious dog bite-related incidents and improve public safety, the data shows that comprehensive breed-neutral regulations are the more effective and equitable solution because they address all potentially dangerous dogs and all irresponsible owners, regardless of the dog's appearance or breed. Public safety is not a breed-specific issue.
All strong or large dogs (of any breed) can cause serious injuries or worse, fatalities. Over a 20 year period, 30+ breeds have been involved in fatal incidents in the U.S. alone. Just last month on March 7, there was a sad and unfortunate tragedy in Virginia when the family dog, a northern breed (Malamute/wolf-hybrid mix), fatally attacked an 8-day old baby girl. The attack happened when the baby was left unattended in her bassinet while her mother was preparing lunch in the kitchen. The dog was loved, properly cared for, had never previously shown any signs of aggression, and was described as "very friendly". It’s a tragedy that emphasizes the importance of always carefully supervising strong or large dogs (of any breed) when they are around infants and children - including loved and well-behaved family dogs. To educate on this point, below we list the 30+ different breeds and dog types identified in a CDC study that were involved in fatal dog attacks over a 20 year period in the U.S. - evidence that attempting to legislate dogs based on appearance or breed is an ineffective and obsolete approach for safety because a wide variety of dog types and many different breeds and mixes have been implicated in serious incidents.
30+ breeds and dog types implicated in fatal dog attacks (alphabetical order):
... the dog had previously shown no signs of aggressive behavior to any foster care worker, veterinarian, or the other young children in the home. This is simply a horrific tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the child that died
The fact is that any strong or large dogs (of any breed) can cause serious incidents - including dogs that are considered the loved, family dog. This highlights why breed-based bans and breed-specific legislation (BSL) are ineffective because there are many different dog types, breeds, and mixes that can become aggressive and cause injuries or worse, fatalities. And while comprehensive breed-neutral regulations are the most effective approach because they address all potentially dangerous dogs (regardless of breed) and all irresponsible dog owners, tragic incidents will unfortunately occur and the extensive breed list above is clear evidence that these incidents are not a breed-specific issue - proper training, supervision, and safety awareness is required for all strong or large dogs, regardless of breed.
We've received questions asking why pitbull-type dogs appear to be involved in more incidents compared to other breeds. The questions usually include references to media reports involving pitbull-type dogs and those "other" statistics. Below, we examine the major factors that contribute to the myth and misconception that pitbull-type dogs bite or attack "more often" or "more severely" than other strong breeds.
Factor #1 - Significant Media Bias:
Incidents involving pitbull-type dogs receive well over 100x more media coverage than incidents involving other breeds. That's not a typo, in a study conducted by the National Canine Research Council that analyzed the media coverage of four specific serious dog bite incidents:
The non-fatal incident involving the two pitbull-type dogs was covered in at least 230 media reports (in local news, national news, and even international news) while the three other incidents by other breeds - which included a child fatality - were covered in a total of 4 media reports combined (in local news only). This study confirms that the media is significantly more likely to report dog bite incidents by pitbull-type dogs compared to other breeds and when an incident involving a pitbull-type dog is reported, the coverage is much broader as well (covered by local and national networks). Many people are unaware that in 2017 alone, at least 12 different breeds were involved in fatal dog attacks because many of these incidents received limited coverage compared to the robust coverage of the incidents that involved pitbull-type dogs in 2017. This media bias is an unfortunate and significant contributor to myths and misconceptions about pitbull-type dogs.
Animal control officers across the country have told the ASPCA that when they alert the media to a dog attack, news outlets respond that they have no interest in reporting on the incident unless it involved a pit bull.
Factor #2 - Breed Misidentification:
Pitbull-type dogs are prone to high rates of misidentification which leads to serious incidents involving other breeds or mixed breeds getting wrongly attributed to pitbull-type dogs. In two peer-reviewed studies that analyzed the accuracy of breed identification:
Based on these two studies, we estimate that an average of 50% (half) of media reports incorrectly identify the breed involved in the incident as a pitbull-type breed. Breed identification errors in media reports are another major contributor to misconceptions about pitbull-type dogs.
Pit bulls in particular are often misidentified when a bite incident occurs, so bite statistics related to the dogs’ breed are unreliable and serve no purpose.
Factor #3 - Comparing Dog Types to Dog Breeds:
The term "pitbull" or "pit bull" is not a breed but instead, it is a term used to describe a "type" of dog based only on its physical appearance (and not on genetics or lineage) - just like a Siberian Husky is one of many unique "sled-type" breeds. There are 4+ widely recognized pitbull-type breeds:
Statistics that compare "pitbulls" (a dog type or category comprised of 4+ unique breeds) to other individual dog breeds are not valid because they compare type-to-breed, leading to inflated and misleading statistics for pitbull-type dogs. This is similar to comparing accident statistics for all "four-door sedans" (a type or category of motor vehicle) to Honda Civics (a specific car model) - clearly, the statistics for all "four-door sedans" will be higher than the statistics for Honda Civics. For example, comparing statistics for "pitbulls" to German Shepherds (type-to-breed) is not valid but comparing American Staffordshire Terriers to German Shepherds (breed-to-breed) would be a valid comparison. Furthermore, because the common physical characteristics of pitbull-type dogs can be found in over 20 breeds (and in even more mixed breeds), inaccurate studies and statistics commonly assign bite-data for dogs that are not genetically members of the pitbull-type breeds to the pitbull-type category - which also significantly inflates the statistics for pitbull-type dogs.
It is commonly accepted that “pit bull” is not a breed but a loosely defined and general category ... Any blocky headed dog, or any mix of breeds that is between 35 and 100 pounds and upwards of 30 individual dog breeds may currently fall in this broad category through the use of visual breed identification.
Factor #4 - Statistics that "Count Incidents":
Statistics that simply "count incidents" are inaccurate and misleading because they fail to account for breed population sizes. Popular breeds will inevitably be involved in more incidents - not because they are "more dangerous" but simply because their population is higher. Therefore, in order to assess any breed-specific risk, risk must be measured using dog bite incidents relative to a breed's population size to calculate a risk rate. Calculating a risk rate is a universal standard and a scientifically accepted method for assessing risk. For example:
Every year in the U.S. there are around 800,000 injuries that require medical attention from dog bites (by dogs of all breeds and mixes). Of these, the most severe dog bite incidents are the ones that result in fatalities (on average 28 per year) and when analyzing 20 years of dog bite-related fatality data sourced from a peer-reviewed CDC study, the risk rates of pitbull-type dogs were found to be fully in-line with the risk rates of other strong breeds.
Most DBRFs (dog bite-related fatalities) were characterized by coincident, preventable factors - breed was not one of these.
Pitbull-type dogs do not bite or attack "more often" or "more severely" than other strong breeds - but the factors above contribute to the myth and misconception that they do. Biased media coverage and high rates of breed misidentification are unfortunately major contributors to negative misconceptions, myths, and stereotypes about pitbull-type dogs. But the science-based facts are straightforward and clear - pitbull-type dogs are just like any other strong breed dogs:
The overwhelming majority of pitbull-type dogs have excellent temperaments and are wonderful, loving family members in millions of U.S. households - especially when they have caring and responsible humans taking care of them. At some point, the media needs to be urged to provide accurate, balanced, and unbiased reporting of dog bite-related incidents - instead of contributing to myths and misinformation through clearly biased and error-prone reporting. Biased and inaccurate reporting not only negatively impacts innocent dogs, but can also influence poor public policy decisions such as breed-specific legislation (BSL) which multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded is ineffective for improving public safety.
Infographic for breed risk rates:
In 2017, at least 12 different breeds and mixed breeds were involved in fatal dog attacks (listed in the table below) including: Akita, Boxer, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, English Mastiff, Giant Schnauzer, and others. While every dog bite-related fatality is tragic, the variety of breeds involved in fatal attacks provides clear evidence that serious dog bite-related incidents are not limited to "pitbull-type" dogs. The fact that most people are only aware of incidents associated with pitbull-type dogs is a strong indication of the media bias against pitbull-type dogs when reporting serious dog bite incidents. Not only is it irresponsible for the media to cherry-pick and emphasize some incidents over others (based on breed) because it feeds myths, stereotypes, and misinformation - but it can also lead to poor public safety policy decisions such as breed-specific legislation (BSL) which multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded is ineffective.
The dog bite-related incident data for 2017 fully debunks and disproves the myth that "only pitbull-type dogs cause fatalities" - while also confirming that:
The breeds (other than pitbull-type) involved in fatal dog attacks in 2017 are identified below:
The data, scientific studies, and risk rates clearly show that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. Therefore, for public safety, strong and comprehensive breed-neutral regulations are the most effective solution for reducing dog bite-related incidents because breed-neutral regulations address a number of issues including irresponsible ownership, loose dogs, spay & neuter requirements, neglect, and all potentially dangerous dogs and situations - regardless of a dog's appearance or breed.
In Canada, dogs classified as "sled dogs" were responsible for the most dog bite-related fatalities over an 18 year period between 1990-2007. Just like the term "pit bull" is not a breed but instead a term used to describe a "type" of dog that includes multiple unique breeds, a "sled dog" is also not a breed but a term used to describe a "type" of dog that includes multiple unique breeds such as huskies, malamutes, chinooks, and other "sled-type" breeds. So based on these statistics that count the number of incidents, are sled-type dogs such as huskies more dangerous than other breeds just because they are responsible for the most dog bite-related fatalities in Canada? Of course not, sled-type dogs are responsible for the most fatalities simply because they are the most popular "strong breed" dogs in Canada - just like pitbull-type dogs are the most popular "strong breed" dogs in the U.S. (by a wide margin).
Sled-type dogs in Canada are similar to pitbull-type dogs in the U.S. because:
In order to be mathematically accurate and scientifically valid, any breed-specific risk must be calculated using a risk rate that takes into account breed population sizes - simply counting incidents by breed (or by "type") to determine risk without factoring in population sizes is scientifically insignificant and results in inaccurate statistics and misleading conclusions. Sled-type dogs are not more dangerous than other breeds in Canada - they are simply the most popular "strong breed" dogs in Canada just like pitbull-type dogs are the most popular "strong breed" dogs in the U.S. Any breed-specific legislation (BSL) targeting "sled-type" dogs in Canada would be just as misguided as BSL that targets "pitbull-type" dogs in the U.S. since the BSL is not based on scientific evidence or actual breed risk rates. Learn more about dog bite-related scientific studies and breed risk rates on our Scientific Studies and Statistics pages.
The fact that BSL ignores breed risk rates (and therefore doesn't account for breed population sizes) is yet another reason why BSL is ineffective for reducing serious dog bite-related incidents and fatalities. In addition, this serves as more evidence that breed stereotypes based on statistics that simply count incidents are entirely false and not representative of any inherent breed-specific risk. The bottom line is that the most popular "strong breed" dogs in a geographic area will also most likely be responsible for the most incidents - not because any specific strong breed or strong dog "type" is more dangerous than other strong breeds - but simply because it is more popular.
Every year in the U.S., there are an average of:
• 42,000 fatalities due to unintentional poisonings (source)
• 34,000 fatalities due to motor vehicles (source)
• 79 fatalities due to hornets, wasps, and bees (source)
• 51 fatalities due to lightning-strikes (source)
• 28 fatalities due to dog bites (total by all breeds) (source)
Fatalities due to lightning strikes and flying insects are commonly described as "incredibly rare" and with a population of just under 330 million in the U.S., the risk of a fatality due to a lightning strike is almost 2x higher (1 in 6 million) and due to venomous flying insects is 3x higher (1 in 4 million) than the risk of a fatality by a dog (1 in 12 million). Furthermore, motor vehicles cause more fatalities in 8 hours of one day (~31) than dogs cause all year (~28).
The reality is, that while dog bite-related fatalities are a serious and important issue, they are extremely rare and isolated events. Unfortunate events and injuries happen every day in society, but very rare and isolated events should not drive public policy. Many of the websites and organizations that misrepresent or exaggerate the risk of dog bite-related fatalities are promoting a special-interest agenda that usually includes discriminatory Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) which multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded is ineffective since dog bite-related incidents and fatalities are not a breed-specific issue. Even though the risk of a fatality due to a dog bite is extremely rare, the available facts and science have clearly concluded that strong breed-neutral regulations are the most effective solution for reducing this risk by addressing potentially dangerous dogs of all breeds. Learn more about why BSL is ineffective on our Breed Legislation page and about breed risk rates on our Statistics page.
To improve public safety and to reduce the risk of serious dog bite-related incidents, the most effective solution is by implementing strong breed-neutral regulations - we plan to provide more information about effective breed-neutral regulations that improve public safety in a future post.
Perhaps the most harmful unintended consequence of breed-specific laws is their tendency to compromise rather than enhance public safety
In effect since 2005, Toronto's Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) has 100% failed to prevent or reduce serious dog bite incidents in the city. In fact, dog bite incidents in Toronto have risen 57% while BSL has been enacted (from 486 in 2005 to 767 in 2014). Why have dog bite incidents increased in Toronto (a major metropolitan city with a population of almost 3 million) with BSL enacted? Attempting to reduce dog bite incidents with BSL has not only been proven ineffective by multiple peer reviewed studies and also in actual practice, but it is a red herring for public safety since the legislated (or banned) breeds are eventually replaced by other strong breeds (too many to list) which are also capable of serious bites, fatalities, and other bite-related incidents. Any declines in bite incidents from BSL are always short-lived because as one or several breeds are phased out, other strong breeds replace them (aka "breed rotation"). BSL does nothing to prevent breed rotation or the irresponsible ownership of other strong breeds - only comprehensive breed-neutral regulations are effective for reducing bite incidents long-term by regulating potentially dangerous dogs of all breeds. In 2005, if Toronto had worked on strengthening breed-neutral regulations instead of BSL, Toronto's bite-related incidents would almost certainly have been reduced and more importantly - those reductions would still be in effect today resulting in a true improvement to public safety. Instead, Toronto will need to go back to the drawing board if they truly want to reduce dog bite-related incidents in the city and improve public safety.
While politicians in Toronto continue to refuse to acknowledge the facts and the failure of BSL, the silver lining is that Toronto is yet another city providing data and evidence that BSL is ineffective and does NOT have any positive impact on public safety. Learn more about BSL, and why Breed Neutral Legislation (BNL) is the more effective and widely preferred standard, on the Breed Legislation Page.
A brief summary of some of the important conclusions from long-term scientific peer-reviewed studies related to dog bite-related fatalities, bite-related incidents, breed specific risk, and breed specific legislation (BSL):
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