Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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Dr. Polsky’s Mailbag

Dr. Polsky welcomes inquiries from individuals seeking his expertise and will respond as quickly as possible! Individuals making inquiry, please state your first name, first letter of last name and location where you’re from.


Question about Pit bull statistics 

I came across your site in trying to find if there’s a scientific basis for the claim that pit pulls are the most likely dog to bite people.question and answer. If I understand the CO survey you cited it doesn’t adjust the bite frequency for each breed by the percentage of dogs of that breed in the survey area, If I understood your comments correctly you felt that with that info pit bulls would still account for 8% of all bites. Doesn’t the fact that Denver outlawed pit bulls years ago yet was included in the survey mean that pit bulls are probably responsible for much more than 8% of all bites if adjusted by their percentage of the total survey area population?

Regards, Kevin D.

Response from Dr. Polsky

I believe your reasoning is correct. Pit bull type dogs, which include the purebred American Staffordshire Terriers, pit bull terriers, bull Terriers, and mixes of all these recognized breeds, probably account for over 10% of the total dog population in the United States. Throughout the United States, most dog shelters contain approximately 50% of pit bull type dogs, and the next most represented breed, at least in California, is the Chihuahua. Hence, one would expect the pit bull bite statistics to be proportional to the population numbers. There is no way of approximating the number of pit bull type dogs that exist in the state of Colorado, so only estimates can be made. In this study reported in Colorado, which you refer to, the number of dog bites inflicted to people by pit bull type dogs, namely 8% of the total, is less than one would expect given that pit bull type dogs represent more than 8% of the total number of dogs sampled in this study.


Owner fears about being sued for dog bite in Alabama

I found your paper on Issues About Animal Behavior Relevant to Dog-Bite Statutes. Would you be available to do a phone/Zoom consultation to review and discuss a dog bite report we are involved in? We are in Huntsville, AL. The reason I’d like a consultation is to gauge how concerned we should be of a liability suit. In summary, the bite is not severe, the victim’s dog was off leash and fighting with our on leash dog when the bite occurred. The victim identified the wrong dog. Even though this is a minor incident I’d like a consultation to make sure we are doing everything possible to protect ourselves. Why? The victim’s husband is a lawyer with Alexander Shunnarah personal injury law firm. He has left phone messages with both my husband an I saying he wants to question us. Alexander Shunnarah has billboards all over the state of Alabama and tv/radio commercials so this is a firm that aggressively looks for personal injury cases. I am in the process of obtaining the bite report. I should receive it by mail next week. If you are available for a consult please let me know your fee. We can schedule once I have the report and any other info you’d like available for the consult.

Kelly Kowalski, Huntsville AL

Response from Dr. Polsky

Alabama is not a strict liability state for dog bites. Hence, if your dog has no previous history of biting or threatening a person, or for that matter another dog, then the attorney despite what might appear to be his intimidating actions, might have difficulty in establishing sufficient evidence to prove his case against you for liability purposes. Anything you say to him will be held against you, so obviously it is best to avoid returning his calls. I suggest contacting your insurance carrier and let the defense attorney for the insurance company handle the matter for you!


Questions about the dangerous nature of pit bulls

I am not writing you in regards to dog attack but for a general dog question. I am planning on rescuing a dog from the local shelter. The dog is listed as a “pit bull” and in myproblems with pit bull identification interactions has shown no aggression. I have known a few pit bull terriers and Staffordshire Terriers that were excellent well tempered dogs. However a quick Google search brings up tons of news articles about similar seemingly well-tempered dogs losing it and maiming people. I have been doing a lot of research online about the “pit bull” breeds. I am a scientifically minded person and am finding it difficult to find any helpful information on how safe they are for having as a companion animal.

The subject seems to be very polarizing and almost every website that I have found (other than yours) either tries to paint them as terribly unstable animals not fit to be kept as pets, or as sweet, loving animals who are only victims of bad owners. The real truth I imagine lies somewhere in between. The reason that I am writing you is that as an animal behavior expert who sees tons of dog bites of varying severity can you give me any insight. In your experience are bully breeds inherently dangerous to own? As most evidence either pro or anti-pit bull breed seems to be based on anecdotal evidence or correlative statistics with little or no statistical significance. Is there any meaningful data that you can point me towards, or any personal advice that you would be willing to give?

Marcus Grillot, St. Louis, Missouri

Response from Dr. Polsky

There are several important issues you have raised with regard to the nature of pit bull type dogs and I will try to briefly address them for your edification. I preface this first by saying a “pit bull” is not a breed of dog; instead, the name is only a descriptor for a dog that has the physical appearance of a Staffordshire terrier or the American pit bull terrier. Second, I agree with you wholeheartedly in that the issue about the dangerous nature of pit bull type dogs is conflictual, which leaves many owners in doubt about the potential inherent danger of these kind of dogs.

Many dog bite reports one finds online identify a pit bull as the type of dog involved in the incident, when in fact this was not the case. Accurate breed identification frequently is difficult, especially by people who do not have much familiarity with the physical appearance of different breeds. Moreover, if you regularly read news reports about dog attacks throughout the United States, you will find that 80% of the reports identify a pit bull type dog as the kind of dog responsible for the attack. One the other hand, epidemiological studies clearly show that German shepherds are probably the breed of dog that inflict most dog bites to people, but it is unusual to find a news report about a German Shepherd dog attack.

Most of dog bite fatalities in the United States involve pit bull type dogs and clearly this breed-type is markedly over-represented. In many of these cases it is reported that the dog had never shown any signs of aggression prior to the incident, and the dog “was a good family pet”. My suspicion is that this may not be accurate in many cases. I believe that the majority of these pit bull type dogs who were so-called “good family pets” probably had displayed tendencies for aggression prior to the incident in question, and the signs were ignored by the owners, or possibly not reported because of fear of criminal prosecution.

Obviously, when a well-developed, highly aroused, healthy pit bull type dog attacks a person, particularly a child or an elderly person, serious injury can result. The bite strength in pit bull type dogs combined with their tenacity make this type of dog unique. No data exists, however, about those pit bull attacks that do not result in severe injury to a person, and probably in the majority of pit bull attacks the victim is not severely injured. News reporting services tend to report the incidents that cause severe injury resulting in hospitalization for the victim.

In addition, there is the issue of gender differences. Nearly all the pit bull attacks in which the victim sustains serious injury are inflicted by adult males. Unfortunately, gender differences are usually ignored by lawmakers who promote breed-specific legislation. It is also ignored by authors of websites with strong biases against pit pulls. For example, there is one popular website authored by a lady who discloses that she was previously attacked by a pit bull, and over the course of many years this author has made it her mission to universally condemn the breed. Caution is needed about the validity of the information presented on her website, or any website that universally condemns pit bull type dogs as being inherently dangerous.

Likewise, one must be cautious about anyone who solely places the blame for the dangerous nature of some individuals on the owner. Certainly, there are cases where the owner has acted in a responsible fashion, but still the dog remains dangerous. Genetics is powerful and can readily overcome whatever nurturing an owner may have given the dog. Nevertheless, there are owners, particularly those bent on crime, who favored the breed because many individuals can readily be turned into “killers”. However, not all pit bull type dogs can be turned into killers. For example, take the case of Michael Vick who routinely destroyed those pit bulls who could not be trained to be aggressive fighters.

Given the the above, it would be a mistake to make broad, sweeping generalizations about the breed. Animal behavior science does not warrant such conclusions. Certainly, extremely dangerous pit bull type dogs are kept by owners in residential neighborhoods throughout this country. A pit bull becomes dangerous because of a number of interacting factors such as poor breeding, male gender, intact reproductive status, intentionally training the dog to fight, lack of training and socialization, keeping the dog chained, and the owner’s desire to have an aggressive dog for protection. Generally speaking, for male pit bull type dogs, the margin of error in raising and maintaining this kind of dog is much less than it would be for individuals from most other breeds. Responsible ownership is essential.

It has been said many times but it is worth repeating: Every pit bull must be treated as an individual. The majority of pit bull type dogs make good family pets. The majority of pit bull dogs are not aggressive by nature. In your case, assuming you bring this dog into your household and start living with it, I would be very attentive to the subtle social-communicative signals that the dog displays to you, to people who know the dog, to children and toddlers, to strangers, and to other dogs. Train your dog in obedience, exercise the dog on a regular basis, and socialize your dog as much as possible. Do not chain the dog. Do not engage the dog in any kind of behavior that would encourage aggressive responding. Neuter the dog. Maintain the dog in a secure location. Note that many pit bull attacks are territorial in nature and happen when the dog escapes from the property where it is kept. Negligence like this can easily be avoided. As your dog develops and matures, be observant of subtle behavioral changes, and if these start happening they may be a warning. The assessment done at the animal shelter may not correspond to what your dog will be like in the home environment, particularly with regard to its territorial/protective tendencies.

In short, based on what you say in your correspondence, more likely than not it would be okay to bring this dog into your home, and his companionship should enhance your life tremendously provided that you behave like a responsible owner. Remember, it takes a higher level of owner commitment and responsibility with many pit bull type dogs. This is particularly true if the individual dog comes from a poor breeding line, is of the male gender, has displayed aggression towards people in the past, is encouraged to display aggression through play or protection, left unattended for long hours, is maintained on a chain, and left unneutered and not trained or socialized properly. More so than the vast majority of individuals from most other breeds, a pit bull type dog with some or all of the features from this profile is likely to be unpredictable and a danger to community safety.


Cat aggression towards owner triggered by novel odor

An “out of the blue” attack happened last night with my cat. Pumpkin, a domestic short hair, six years of age. I am her mother since 8 weeks old. Prior to the attack I noticed pupils dilated, sniffing my hands and puffy tail. I proceeded to empty clothes dryer and seconds later she is growling, hissing coming at me with claws & teeth. I close door between us & am just stunned. She has been behind closed doors since and I have not attempted to reconcile. I have never seen this behavior from her and have replayed it over and over trying to determine why & what caused the violent act.

Diane S.  Castaic, CA.

Response from Dr. Polsky

Redirected aggression is a diagnostic category that can be used to explain feline aggressive responding, and based on your description of the sequence of event, my best guess is this is what happened. It is likely that your cat smelled something novel on your hand which in turn caused her to become aroused which in turn induced an aggressive state. Lacking any other suitable target to attack, such as another nearby cat, she redirected her aggression towards an inappropriate target such as yourself. This kind of feline aggression is actually quite common, and clinical studies show that cats who display this kind of aggression often vocalize beforehand and remained highly aroused after an attempted attack. Also, usually there are specific stimuli which “trigger “ the redirected attack, such as the presence of another cat who is inaccessible when the cat becomes aroused, an unexpected crashing sound, a novel odor, or the presence of an unfamiliar person. You are fortunate that you were not bitten, because cat bites can readily lead to serious medical conditions. Moreover, the same sort of behavior could have been displayed towards an invited person coming into your home, perhaps because the person had a novel odor on their trousers (perhaps from their own cat or dog). If a cat has a history of displaying redirected aggression therefore making a display of this kind of aggression foreseeable, and if the individual sustains serious injury because of this, then legal action against you may follow.


Pit bull behavior, poor breeding, and standard of care

I read the article in the San Francisco Gate about a recent dog bite fatality involving a pit bull and your quoted statement that a “higher standard of care for certain dogs, like pit bulls, may be needed.” To me, this seems similar to the sport bike or “crotch rocket” analogy. These bikes are for the skilled rider and are too much bike for most people. Without proper training they are easy to flip and crash. But with proper training, these bikes are extremely fun for some people. The pit bull is the same.

Chris V., San Francisco

Response from Dr. Polsky

The problem most American communities face with the so-called “pit bull” problem is that the population of these kinds of dogs have markedly increased over the last 20 years. Thus in the current American population we have many poorly bred pit bulls, and consequently the behavioral tendencies of many of these dogs deviate markedly from the standard from which this breed was first developed. This standard calls for a behavioral genotype favoring docility towards humans and aggressiveness towards dogs. Many pit bulls are poorly bred and therefore deviate markedly from this standard.

Shelters are overrun with poorly bred pit bull type dogs. In recent years, the practice among some has been to breed a pitbull type dog with a mastiff type dog with the intent of producing individuals who are larger and who possess aggressive inclinations. This may have been the case for the dog involved in a California dog bite fatality in August 2011. This was a “family” dog, identified as a 125 pound pit bull, but the standard for a purebred American Staffordshire Terrier or the American pit bull Terrier calls for a dog approximately half this size.

Obviously, poor breeding practices, and breeding for the wrong reasons by irresponsible individuals, backyard breeders, or breeders who lack competence are the cause for this pervasive problem. Poorly bred pit bulls are produced, and these dogs markedly deviate from the standard from which the breed was developed. Unfortunately, these dogs now make up a good portion of the overall pit bull population in any given American community, particularly in inner-city urban environments.

Given this, if one does not know the background of a particular pit bull type dog, for example, the pit bull which is adopted from the shelter or found on the street, or if the individual is from a poorly bred line, or if the individual is encouraged to display aggressive behavior and not socialized or trained properly, then caution is needed on keeping this kind of dog. A higher standard of care is required by the owner/keeper. This however does not necessitate the need for breed-specific legislation because:

(1) Not all pit bulls are dangerous by nature;

(2) The implementation of breed specific legislation is impractical and largely ineffective;

(3) Many poorly bred pit bulls, or pit bulls used for the wrong purposes, can be rehabilitated through proper training and socialization, as in the case of the dogs owned by Michael Vick.


Intoxicated lady suffers dog bite in Michigan

My dog bit a woman while being tied up in my back yard, the woman not only was trespassing because she entered the yard uninvited and unannounced, she was told not to go by my dog the first time she entered the yard, this same woman was 3 times the legal limit of what a person would be considered over the limit to drive. The second time she came over and entered my yard I was in the house, again not knowing that she was out side. Again this woman was Drunk, her alcohol level was 3.17. The county took my dog and destroyed him, now she is trying to sue me, what should my lawyer be doing?

Drew Smith, Michigan.

Response from Dr. Polsky

Your attorney should know that Michigan is a “strict liability” state for dog bites, meaning that the owner is liable regardless of reason for the incident and even in the absence of any prior knowledge by the owner of the dog propensities for biting. Given this, one of the few defenses available is to shift the blame to the plaintiff, and make the argument that the plaintiff was bitten because she provoked the dog. If she was intoxicated, that might be a factor but only if her intoxicated state caused her to behave in such a way to make her actions provocative to the dog. the intoxicated state of the person does not cause the dog to react adversely to a person, but only the behavior which stems from the intoxicated state. A person who is intoxicated may be more likely to act in a provocative fashion that to a dog compared with a person who is not intoxicated. The exact kinds of behavior that constitute provocation very from situation to situation, and generally speaking provocative actions to the dog do not necessarily have to be intentionally undertaken by the victim There is quite a bit of case law in Michigan that addresses the issue of provocation, from a legal standpoint. From a behavioral standpoint one important element is to demonstrate that your dog was non aggressive by nature and accepting of people coming into your property. However it is also very important to get a good description of exactly what happened prior to the attack. There are other factors that need to be considered that any competent dog bite attorney in Michigan should know.


Database for dangerous dogs?

I am a GIS analyst that puts together a lot of spatial databases and I came across your name on your website you maintain. Do you know of anyone compiling a Dog Bite Database to show where risky dogs live? -State level -County level -National? I have always thought this would be a good database to show the areas on a map in certain neighborhoods.

Deric Morgando, Senior GIS & Data Analyst, Explore Information Services

Response from Dr. Polsky

I know of no database that tracks supposedly dangerous or risky dogs anywhere in the USA. however, one may have started in the state of Virginia, after a dog bite fatality that took place in Spotsville, approximately 3 years ago. I also read somewhere that the state of California was trying to do something similar to this, but I did not know whether or not anything has come of it. There probably would be difficulty with doing this with so-called risky dogs because how do you define a “risky” dog? Probably the best way to do this would be to get a database on dogs who have been reported to local animal control authorities for attacking people within each municipality (not necessarily a vicious attack), but getting these records from local animal control probably would be difficult.


Animal control officers  in search of reading material

I work as animal control officer for the City of San Jose as a bite investigator. I always am asked questons by the dog owner will I get sued, am I liable, what could I have done to prevent this from happening? Is there some type of reading material that I can give to the dog owner that can educated them? Most of the quarantine that I do are home quarantines, what is your feelings about that?

Joann Watt, San Jose, CA.

Response from Dr. Polsky

I have no problem with home quarantine provided that it is done in a manner and that is not detrimental to the dog. Certainly, it is preferred to quarantine in the shelter where often a dog may deteriorate both mentally and physically. Owners with potentially dangerous dog need to be educated in effective strategies for dog bite prevention. The American Medical Veterinary Medical Association recently published the findings of their task force and it addressed this issue in detail. You might want to consider summarizing their findings, make photocopies for distribution, and then pass the photocopies onto owners who you feel need the guidance. (AVMA Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions. A community approach to dog bite prevention. JAVMA 2001; 218: 1732-1749).


Fate of pit bull in question in Oyster Bay, NY

I have a situation that is just appalling to me as a dog lover and a professional. I was called in on a case around February from a Mrs. Joan Lang. The Langs now have 6 month old Madison and they have Micky. Micky is approximately 3 years old, male, neutered pit possibly boxer mix. He is an extremely fearful dog. Has no bite history whatsoever. They reside in a low income housing complex in New York.  The residences are afraid of Micky and now the Town of Oyster Bay housing authority wants The Langs out. They have gone as far as bringing people in to court today to testify that they have been bitten by Micky.  They are trying to have Micky euthanized. Do you know what recourse they have? I don’t know where else to turn. I submitted an extensive report to the Langs attorney in hopes that they will take my expert evaluation of Micky which states that he is not an aggressive dog.I thank you for taking the time to read my e-mail And if you can steer me in the right direction I would so appreciate that.

Charlene Sorrentino, Oyster Bay, NY.

Response from Dr. Polsky

The owners of Mickey are faced with a difficult situation given that he barks, growls and lunges at people. According to case law in New York, these kinds of behavior, assuming these past instances were not provoked, usually suffice to put someone on “notice” regarding the dangers propensities of the dog. Dog bite law usually disregards the reasons, motivational speaking, why a dog has bitten a person in the past. What is the main concern, from a legal perspective, is the fact that the dog has acted aggressively in the past in the absence of provocation. Having said this, in your particular situation, people commonly get bitten because the dog becomes fearful during its interaction with people, and the display of fear aggression in some dogs can present a greater danger in some cases compared with a dog who attacks because it is protecting its territory. Hence it appears that this particular dog, albeit loving with family members, possessed propensities to attack, and this probably cannot be ignored in your situation. My suggestion is to explore other avenues such as placing Mickey in another location outside the housing complex in which he currently resides, or possibly subjecting him to further rehabilitate with appropriate behavioral modification and possibly drug therapy. There are certified applied animal behaviorists in your area, either PhD’s or DMVs who have a great deal of expertise in treating fear-based behavioral problems in canines. Check out the Cornell’s school of veterinary medicine behavioral clinic. Your efforts are to be commended but nevertheless other options in this case should now be explored before euthanizing this dog.


Value of the photograph at a dog bite trial

I am a 2nd year law student at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. A number of my peers and I have been having a hypothetical discussion question and answer regarding a dog suspected of being responsible for the mauling of a child. The dog has died prior to trial. The question involves the relevance of a picture of the dog at trial. Is the relevance of the picture at trial solely that of aiding the victim in identifying the dog? As you are the internet expert on dog attacks, your opinion would be greatly appreciate.

Nicholas M. Cann,  University of Saskatchewan College of Law.

Response from Dr. Polsky

A photograph of the dog involved in the incident is always a smart piece of discovery to enter into evidence. Certainly the photo can be used for identification purposes – although one needs to realize that many dogs look alike. Introduction of a photo of the dog cannot address issues about the dog’s temperament. Probably the main value of having a photo, aside from identification purposes, is to allow the jury to get a feel for what the dog looked like and this may help in their decision making processes. For example, if it was a large size dog then the jury could well understand how extensive injury to the victim happened.


Do tethered dog inflict more dog bites to people?

In general, do dogs that are tethered have more biting incidents than dogs that are in a pen? Some cities are now putting in place chained dog ordinances that ban residents from tethering their dogs. One of their arguments for this is public safety, but I have not found any stats on biting incidents that state whether or not the dog was penned up or tethered. One can assume then that most of these incidents happen when dogs are running loose, but with your experience, I was interested in your thoughts.

Melanie Ryker, Olney, IL

Response from Dr. Polsky

Findings in the dog bite literature show an association between a dog being tethered and dog bite attack on a person, particularly a child who unwittingly approaches the tethered dog. This is been known for some time, and has prompted some states, for example California, to restrict the amount of time a dog can be continuously kept on a tether. Many humane societies have cogently argued against this practice for ethical reasons as well. You are correct in many dog attacks on people happen because the dog manages to escape from the property of its owner, but I am aware of no statistical data that compares tethering vs. confinement in a pen with dog attacks on people. If you closely examine the data from some dog bite studies, this data is usually combined and presented as the dog being “confined”, and no separation of the data is made in terms of whether the dog was penned or actually tethered at the time of dog bite attack. Statistically, I believe that you will find relatively few incidences happen when a person enters the pen of the dog, although this was reported in 2010 fatality to an elderly man in Missouri, and there was another incident in Uxbridge, Canada in 2006 in which an 11-year-old girl was mauled by a group of French mastiffs shortly after she entered their pen. People who enter the pen and attacked are probably familiar with the dog, and may have felt that it was safe to enter the pen. In contrast, unfamiliar people are probably the ones more frequently attacked when the dog is tethered.


Provocation by a Rottweiler in a dog bite attack

My dog seriously bit a young lady (18 years old) several months ago. The dog was a 100 lb, 5 year old Rottweiler that had and never bit anyone seriously in the past (she had nipped people Rottweiler3occasionally, but done nothing more than break the skin). My mother warned the young lady not to put her face near the dog’s face if she heard the dog growling. While standing on our front porch, the young lady stepped on the dog’s paw. The dog growled loudly. The young lady bent down to kiss the dog and say she was sorry. As she was kneeling down over the dog, it turned upward and snapped at her, ripping off much of her upper lip. We had the dog put down immediately.

My question for you Is about provocation and dog bites: From the information given, do you feel that this dog bite attack was provoked? That is, because the young lady both stepped on the dogs paw, and then leaned down over the dog, Do you feel that the young lady may have provoked the accident?

Jonathan Block, Hillsboro, MO

Response from Dr. Polsky

Provocation is a viable defense in many cases provided certain conditions are met. Generally, the defense must establish that the dog in question was of good temperament with no previous history of aggressive responding relevant to the context in which the incident took place. Second, the behavior of the victim immediately preceding the attack needs to be scrutinized. In other words, what exactly did the victim do to the dog immediately before the attack took place. Next, one has to look at the dog’s behavior. The argument for provocation become stronger if the dog was in a non-aggressive state, and non aroused, immediately prior to the attack. In your particular case, I would need to assess your Rottweiler’s temperament to determine if your dog was provoked by the actions you described undertaken by this 18 year-old girl. The usefulness and believability of a defense of provocation varies from case to case. Note also that provocation is a legal term and not one that is commonly used in the scientific literature in animal behavior. Read more about dog bite provocation.


Dog bite attack to the neck of a human

I am the Director for an Animal Control Shelter. I am by no means an expert on behavior, but I have had extensive training. I would like your opinion (would not be used in litigation as there is none)….If a dog attacks the back of a person’s head in the area of a person’s neck with no provocation, should that be a concern for future behavior? I know when dogs want to kill they go for the neck or the stomach. Could this ever be considered normal behavior? Any information you can give me would be appreciated.

Alisa R Haller, Cedar City Animal Control, Cedar City, UT

Response from Dr. Polsky

Certainly any attack by a large dog – a dog that is capable of inflicting serious damage, particularly a dog bite to the neck – if it is done without provocation, this needs to be taken seriously. It really does not matter where the attack is directed to on the person’s body, although obviously an attack to the head, face or neck region of an adult human can do more damage in most cases than an attack to the chest or legs of a person. You should also note that at present there is no scientific validity to the belief that dogs have a natural inclination or innate propensity to bite at the neck area of a person during an aggressive episode. Nonetheless, this I have seen this belief opined by dog trainers and veterinarians in several cases. On the other hand, I believe that if a highly motivated aggressive dog is large enough to access the head area (the most biologically meaning part of a person’s body from the perspective of a dog) of a standing person, and if the circumstances are correct, a dog may intentionally direct its bite to this region of a person’s body (but not necessarily the neck). If a person has fallen or is knocked over during the attack then the dog’s access to the head area easily happens, and the chances of the dog biting the neck increase substantially.


Wall & fence jumping in aggressive boxer dogs

My wife and I recently purchased an investment house to rent in Avondale, Arizona, and have discovered afterward that the next door neighbor has two very aggressive boxers who jump up and hang on to the 6′ block fence barking, growling and snarling at me and prospective renters whenever we go into my back yard. The dogs are able to hang on for several long seconds more than chest high. It seems a little bit more exertion on the dog’s part could propel them up and over, and consequently, no one will rent this house. My question is, is there anything I can do besides sell the house at a loss? Anything perhaps added to the fence that can prevent the dogs from getting over, and making prospective renters feel safer. I tell prospective renters about the dogs, and feel if they have children that could be hurt, this is not the property for them. My wife and I could be financially ruined if this situation continues. Perhaps you know of a specific lawyer in Arizona that could help, as well.

Response from Dr. Polsky

Boxers are certainly muscular dogs and in certain circumstances they can become highly territorial. Given this, I can well appreciate how a Boxer might have the ability, strength and aggressive propensities to jump high enough and then hang on to the top of a 6 ft. block wall for the purpose of locating a target to attack. Considering that there are two dogs and considering their likely temperamental features, from what you described, this certainly presents a liability risks for the landlord of potential renters. It probably also presents liability issues for the owner of the dogs or the property owner of the location where the dogs reside. In my opinion this is dangerous condition. Steps should be taken to alleviate this danger.

Recently I just finished consulting on a dog bite case in Los Angeles where a similar situation existed. In this case, the dogs involved were adult, male pit bulls, however. The incident in questioned happened when one of these pit bull dogs leaped over a six-foot block wall and grabbed an 11 y.o boy who was probably leaning up against a wall. This pit bull dog, who had a history of aggression near this wall towards children playing on the other side, could well have jumped high enough so that it was able to hang onto the top of the wall thereby allowing it position itself so that it could to grab the child by the shoulder. In fact, this pit bull not only attached itself to the child’s shoulder but it then pulled the child over the wall into the yard where it lived. After this happened, it was mauled not only this pit bull but also by a another male pit bull who resided in the same yard. Needless to say this boy was severely mauled. He was lucky to survive. He was rescued by his his mother and another adult who luckily heard the noise of the attack. They quickly responded and jumped into the adjacent yard where the boy was yanked and pulled the child to safety. During the rescue these adults were also attacked by the dogs.

This case settled very favorably for the plaintiff. In my opinion, based on the particulars in this case, the defense argument this case was weak: namely, the dog did not have the ability to scale the wall to pull the child over. Instead, they felt the child may have been sitting on top of the wall rather than leaning against it, thereby provoking the dog to attack. If I were you, I would talk to people at animal control to see if they could do something effective to convince the dog owner or owner of the property where the dogs reside that steps need to taken immediately to alleviate the situation. If the situation remains as is, then obviously you have the responsibility of informing prospective tenants of the danger that exists.


Great Dane dog bite attack on child in Wisconsin pet store

My son was recently bitten by a Great dane on his face and head at a local pet friendly store in Appleton, WI. The incident happened as follows: My husband, 17-month-old son, and myself were waiting in line at Pet Supplies Plus. My son and I walked over to pet a leashed Great dane that was surrounded by his owner and other adults petting him. After the initial greeting, tried to take dog snacks off the shelf, at which point the dog was told “no” by his owner. My son laughed and the dog turned towards my son and lunged at him. When I saw the dog open his mouth, I immediately pulled my son away from the dog. I thought the dog had missed or only grazed my son, but when I turned my son toward me, he was bleeding from a gash above his hairline. After my son laughed, there was a few seconds during which dog looked at my son. I believe that during that delay, my son looked up at the dog (maybe eye to eye contact) and may have extended his arm towards the dog. We proceeded to the ER and my son required 3 stitches and 10 days of antibiotics to prevent infection. He also has bruising on his cheek from the lower jaw. The owner said the dog has never done this before and was up to date on his shots. The owner later reported to the police that the dog has never really been around kids. Also the dog was on medication for Wobblers disease/syndrome. As a male Great dane, the dog was quite a bit larger than my son and towered over him. I do feel that Pet Supplies Plus has some responsibility in keeping their stores safe, even for their littlest customers. I would be interested in your thoughts on this matter.

Ann Farley, Appleton WI.

Response from Dr. Polsky

I believe you are correct in that the pet store, and possibly the dog owner, should assume responsibility for your son’s injuries. Fortunately, the physical damages were not that great, but what is more concerning is the psychological damages which includes post-traumatic stress disorder. This kind of incident in pet shops happens occasionally, and I believe that pet shops may be looking at their own business interests by trying to be a “pet friendly” establishment, and even encouraging owners to bring their dogs when shopping. This policy increases the risk for dog bites to the patrons in the store who encounter certain kinds of dogs which store personnel probably know little about. I have had other dog bite cases like this, and usually the outcome is favorable in terms of compensation for victim and his family, but some rulings in New York casts some light on the liability of the pet store. Nevertheless, is likely that pet stores put their patrons at risk by allowing dogs into the shop without suitable screening procedures or restrictions, which potentially compromises the safety of their patrons. Given the fact that your son did not incite this dog to attack, It seems reasonable that the pet shop should assume some responsibility for the actions of this dog.


Animal welfare advocate concerned about the effects of chaining dogs

My interest in dog bites, which can be described as intense, stems mainly from my concern for chained dogs.I had been a volunteer in a local humane society for 4 years, when I made the decision to enlarge my experience in animal welfare by becoming a municipal animal control officer for the next six years . In that capacity, I witnessed the tragedy of chained dogs first hand. Since that time I have continued work in various areas of animal welfare as a volunteer, including chairing a municipal task force to revise a local animal control ordinance. While I was assembling materials for the task force study, I became more acutely aware of the connection between chaining and the potential for chained dogs to inflict serious or even deadly bites on humans. While my task force work has been completed and a revised ordinance was adopted in 1999, my interest in discouraging the practice of dog chaining and its endangerment to humans continues.

Clova Abrahamson, Bartlesville, OK

Response from Dr. Polsky

I too believe that there is a connection, in many instances but not all, between habitual chaining and attack propensities in dogs. Are dogs chained because they are already aggressive by nature or does chaining promote certain kinds of aggression? This is a question that needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis.


Owner afraid of neighbor’s two wolf hybrids

Our 70 pound Shar-Pei was viciously attacked by two  wolf hybrids in West Covina yesterday. She was in shock and in a bloody  mess and required  hundreds of stitches of emergency surgery. It is likely that our dog survived. found our dog on our property next to our house. I texted the neighbor and he told me that the animals are half wolves and that they escaped  from his property. Quick question: animal control is supposed to come out to investigate his animals. Is the best I can hope for is removal of his wolves and his payment of an estimated $8000? Or is there an attorney who will take this case and go after him  punitively?

Eric Brill, West Covina, CA.

Response from Dr. Polsky

Forthcoming


 Aggressive Bernese Mountain dog in San Diego

I just read your post on an aggressive Bernese Mt. Dog. I noticed you recommended a behaviorist over a dog trainer and wondered why.

We have an almost 1 year old Bernese Mt Dog who is becoming aggressive and it is very concerning to us. She is unpredictable with unfamiliar people in the home and other dogs too (& sometimes with the kids). It’s very hard to have her around or even leave her with a dog sitter. We have 4 children in the home so lots of people coming and going. Our other dog is not aggressive towards other people or dogs.

We are in north county San Diego (city of San Marcos). And I wondered if there’s a behaviorist that you can recommend for our area please?

Amy Hunt, San Diego

Response from Dr. Polsky

Forthcoming


Words of wisdom from a senior citizen with a Rottweiler

I read a lot about dogs and articles from people and some who consider themselves experts in animal behavior.  This email is not to  criticize you , it is about my experiences with my dogs and see a lot untruths about columns what dogs are friendlier or ones who are more dangerous.  No dogs are born vicious and no kids are born criminals .  In my view it the owners of dogs who are at fault for their dogs and training as is the kids are a reflection of their upbringing that contribute to their behavior.  Since 1993 , l have had 4 Rottweilers and mine I have now is 16 months old.  We had a husky, collie, shepard mix for over  14 years before she left us for “ doggie heaven”.  Not one of my dogs in 27 years ever bit or attacked a person. They loved people and my next door neighbor a teacher and policeman have an 8 year old daughter that comes over and plays with my rottie.  Sometimes 3 or 4 of her friends also come with her and they are between 4 and 8 years old. They run, chase and play with my rottie and all have a good time .  I do not think a teacher or policeman would ever let their little kid come over and play with a rottie bigger than them.  They all know my dog and know what a sweetheart dog she is.  So when I see articles about certain breeds are more dangerous than others that just tell me the writers are uniformed, uneducated,  or in plain English just “stupid”.   I see people walking their dog and I can see by their behavior whether their dog is friendly or not.  I have had women walking their little 10 to 15 lb dogs ask me if she can walk with me and my rottie , she feels safer at night walking with me.  I say to myself it is not because of an older person like myself , it is because of my rottie,  anybody in their right mind would never attack a person with their rottie.  Too many people get or adopt a dog without knowing that there is responsibility when one has a dog.  I tell a lot of seniors that having a dog will keep you healthier as you will get more exercise , lower your blood pressure , and most important you will never be lonely as your dog will always be by your side.  I can say this as I am 86 years old and my rottie is 16 months old.  When was the last person getting a rottie puppy at 85 years old.   

Thank you, Walter Rogg

Response from Dr. Polsky

 Forthcoming


Inquiry about an aggressive Cane Corso

l am requesting your opinion on a matter with a dog owned by a friend whom owns a female 5 years old fixed whom had had an attack event twice now in a short time of months. One was toward a young man and his baby when the owner asked him to enter her house to unlock a door and she gave no warning of a dog…the other l witnessed while leaving agility class she locked her jaw twice on a dog entering the class unprovoked. She did not do any aggression training or guard dog training and is an irresponsible person whom has no tool to either stop a future attack or remove her dog from a bite event. My friend and l have competed our dogs for years and spent a lot of time together but I believe l have genuine fear and do not want to train or socialize our dogs period. My dog is a small cocker spaniel whom has a lot of fun with the Cane but she can not be in the same room with her if food is involved. So is my fear rational and how should l approach our very talented agility instructor that this dog is the only one not in a crate before during or after class leaving me ill at ease that she could easily jump a fence and attempt another bite event unpredictable as it seems. Thank you and your information is appreciated.

Rebecca Tatum

Response from Dr. Polsky

 Forthcoming


Mother worried about her daughter’s dangerous Belgian Melinois

I am writing to get some expertise on a Belgian Malinois. My daughter owns one and he is 1 year old and neutered. He is a pure bred. She said he is such a smart boy and is lovable except around people. He acts out and lunges at people and they have tried everything to stop this with no luck.  When they try to scold him for aggressively acting out the dog turns on them. They have an ecollar and the choke chain and will have to muzzle him when around someone. Can you help with this. We are afraid we may need to find him someone that can handle this.

Lisa Thomas

Response from Dr. Polsky

 Forthcoming


Inquiry about accidental police K9 bites

I am working on a research proposal for my Masters in Justice Studies.  I am drafting up my research proposal and I have narrowed it down to accidental bites conducted by police working dogs and the financial impacts it has on the city/county/state.  Today I ran across your statistics you generated in for an 2013 conference in Boulder, CO which will be beneficial in my research.  According to the dog experts.com website, you were going to release some 2014 statistics that expounded upon your 2013 statistics.  Is it possible that you can release those me to be used in my research?  And if you have any other research surrounding accidental police dogs bites that you wouldn’t mind sending me, those would be greatly appreciated.  I am finding my information through google searches as you did, and it is a very tedious, but that is expected when very little research has been done on the subject.  Currently, I am focusing on the handler being accidentally bitten, but I also want to put a heavy emphasis on ordinary citizens being bitten.  Thank you for your time, and hopefully I hear back from you soon.

Masters candidate in Justice studies

Response from Dr. Polsky

 Forthcoming


A North Carolina attorney’s faulty belief about pit bulls

 I am an attorney in Salisbury, NC.  I have a small case of woman who was subject to an unprovoked attack by a pit bull.  Thankfully her injuries were not severe and the possible damage recovery is small.  The cases does not justify spending thousands on an expert. All I need is an expert to provide an one page affidavit about the dangerous propensity of a pit bull to survive a summary judgment motion

              NC and other states  now  also look at breed and whether that breed has a vicious propensity As a Maryland court held:  “showing that the owner knew a dog was part pit bull is sufficient.   It is no longer necessary to show that this particular pit bull is dangerous.  Pit bulls are inherently dangerous ” An attorney no longer needs to prove that someone’s pet rattlesnake had previously bitten someone – rattlesnakes are inherently dangerous.

                       All the data point to pit bulls as dangerous. Pit bulls are about 6% of the dogs in the US but pit bulls account for 66% of all deaths,  48% of the infant deaths, 62% of owners deaths,  54% of all deaths to family members, 51% of all surgeries,  90% of the deaths to other dogs, 87% of the deaths to cats, etc. It cannot be a coincident that pit bulls are number 1 in every category.

              All generalization are just that – generalizations. Not all pit bulls are viscous.  Some pit bulls can be sweet and excellent family dogs.  There are always exceptions to any generalization but that does not mean the generalization is not mostly correct.  Men are generally taller than women,  basketball players are generally taller than jockey, pit bulls generally have a more vicious propensity than other dogs. Viciousness is in pit bulls DNA due to hundreds of years of selective breading to be fighters.

              WHAT I NEED is an expert  who can sign an affidavit that says pit bulls have a violent propensity. This will NOT require that expert to attend court or give a deposition.  Rather, all I need is someone to sign an one page affidavit  giving some facts  about pit bulls and dangerous propensity

Dick Huffman, Esq., Salisbury, NC

Response from Dr. Polsky

 Forthcoming


Presa canario & the San Francisco dog mauling

I read your writings. I found them quite informative. I am guessing that you are against any BSL as am I. However, we differ on a couple of things. I truly believe that any sign of aggressive behavior is a warning that worse things can and may happen. You seem to say it won’t. Is that truly your standing? You say that Knoller was simply unable to stop the dog, bless her heart, she is just a small woman up against a large dog. I definitely think that is total BS.

I am only 5 feet tall. I am also quite disabled with cervical and thoracic DDD. My daughters 110 pound rottweiler went after a 5 year old child in a frenzy, thankfully he was on a chain but he was still quite frenzied and she was only inches from him after he knocked her down, he was oblivious to my screams, I physically pulled him off and threw him to the ground.

I saw the pictures of the hallway. There were cans from the groceries, there was a large jar of Pace Picante sauce, Knoller couldhave grabbed any as a weapon and beat the dog in the head, he would have stopped, or his head crushed but she didn’t. Iheard her tale that he jumped up on the lady at her door, but the whole hallway looked like a bloodbath. Had the dog jumped on her at her door and Knoller covered her with her own body as she said NUMEROUS times, then why is the whole hall bloodied?

Bane and Hera both warned Knoller and Noel with their behavior. It does not take a one eyed moron to know that a growling lunging dog is aggression, aggression leads to viciousness, and viciousness leads to much worse. There were NO consequences for the dog in any of the prior incidents, no training, not even a pinch collar which is a must if you cannot control a dog.

You are supposed to be a behavior expert, you above all others should know that if an animal has no control of its behavior, it thinks it is ok. Someone has to put on some brakes. No one did which is why an incident of this type not only was possible but should have been predicted. Any dog be it chihuahua or Pressa canario can lose it for no apparent reason.

These people had the audacity to try and blame the victim!! Of course we should not be allowed to wear perfume . These people showed their true colors in their behavior which was recorded several times. You can downplay the bestiality as you have reported it as just her genital area being explored. But I am 50 and have had dogs all my life and my crotch has never been explored while I was naked. But if there is more that you know nothing about and Knoller had been mounted by Bane, it is no wonder, she had no control and why he became more aggressive.

I would hope you would quit trying to help these kinds of people and start helping the dogs, by placing the blame right where it belongs, on the head of the human who has abstract thinking as well as a higher level of thought processes and communication processes. Then maybe the dogs have a chance.

Response from Dr. Polsky

This was a case about second degree murder and not whether the dog in question, Bane, would predictably attack a person. There is no question that Bane was aggressive and dangerous by nature, and this should have been known by Knoller, and that an attack on a human would be foreseeable, but the central question in this case was whether Knoller could have reasonably foreseen that Bane would kill a person.

If one looks at the epidemiological and animal behavior literature, human fatalities never happen in the presence of the owner, which is what happened here, and this was acknowledged by the animal behavior expert for the prosecutionat the time of trial, but apparently this was not fully processed by the jury (Knoller at trial was conviced of 2nd degree murder based on implied malice).

It is also important to note, that during the attack Bane was likely in a highly aggressive motivational state, and given his size and strength, and given the lack of physical prowess of Knoller, the benefit of doubt should be given to Knoller who repeatedly said she was unable to stop the attack or control the dog, after the attack began. For example, when pit bulls enter into a state of aggressive frenzy during their attack on a human, frequently the only way to stop the attack is with gunshot.

The bestiality claims made by the prosecution were extremely inflammatory, and whether they were true or not, was immaterial because they did not have much to do with the legal questions facing the jurors: second degree murder based on implied malice, or manslaughter. Therefore, presentation of evidence about bestiality was not allowed at the time of trial.

For those who’ve been following the case, after much legal wrangling, which included the case being heard before the California Supreme Court, Knoller’s second-degree murder charge was reinstated in 2009 on the belief that Knoller let the attack continue without making a serious attempt to stop it. Apparently, the basis for this was that Knoller left the scene of the incident to go look for her keys, and she did not immediately telephone for help. Apparently the judge making this decision felt the actions of Knoller were sufficiently callous after the attack started to justify conviction of second-degree murder based on implied malice.


 

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