The opinions of experts on dog bite safety and dog bite prevention has been disseminated to the public through various means (internet, SPCA, veterinarians, animal behaviorists, trainers, peer-reviewed studies, USPS dog prevention week, and elsewhere on this website, etc.). Serious injury from a dog attack often profoundly affects the lives of people, particularly parents with young children. Nonetheless, about 4.5 million people are bitten annually by dogs in the United States. Moreover, the dog bite problem is not confined to the United States. It is a worldwide public health problem, particularly in India, China, and in Africa. Approximately 30-40 people are killed by dogs in the United States on an annual basis.
Given the extent and seriousness of the problem, it understandable why recommendations for dog bite safety have relied heavily on information collected from studies focusing on the epidemiology of dog bites. For example, much now is known about the age and gender of the victim, the breed of the dog, the location of an incident and the familiarity of the dog to the victim. What has been missing for many studies is data pertaining to the context, circumstances and biting history of the dog, however. A group of dog experts in England addressed these issues in a study entitled “Context and consequences of dog bite incidences” (Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2017, 33-39).
Dog bite victims in the United Kingdom completed an online questionnaire. Questionnaires from 484 dog bite victims were received and analyzed. Focus was on the context, circumstances and biting history of the dog.
- The most common context in which a dog bite injury happened was when a person attempted interaction by stroking, playing handling, or restraining the dog.
- The dog was known to have a biting history in 27% of the instances.
- Bite injury to the upper extremities was most likely if a person approached the dog. If a dog approached the person, the person was most likely bitten on the lower extremities.
- 62% of the reported bite injuries did not require medical treatment.
- Positive social interactions, such as hugging or petting the dog, were the circumstances in which children were most often bitten.
- The most frequent location of an attack was on private property, usually in a house.
- People under the age of 19 were far more likely to suffer head injuries as a result of dog bites in comparison to older age groups.
- About 50% of the dogs had a biting history towards a human or another dog.
- Dogs bite people in a wide variety of contexts and circumstances.
- Different types of dogs are implicated (i.e., those with a biting history or not).
- Owners bitten by their own dog usually regarded such instances as accidental or unintentional. Victims bitten by a dog they did not know that well regarded such instances otherwise.
- A single dog bite safety strategy will not suffice given the different contexts in which dog bites occur. Dog bite prevention measures must be multidimensional.