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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Family members fatally attacked by great Danes

Key takeaway

Great Danes, a territorially protective breed by nature, cannot always be trusted to be safe with family members. In certain circumstances some Danes may be motivated to attack and kill people.


Many but not all Great Danes are inherently territorial protective by nature. And in certain circumstances a Dane may be motivated to attack and kill a familiar person, such as the owner.

Compared with most other breeds, great Danes have rarely been implicated in fatal dog attacks on people, nor have Danes been known to  inflict serious dog bite injury to people. Nevertheless, in certain circumstances great Danes, particularly when in groups may kill a family member. Below, I report two such instances that happened in the United States.[1]On average, an adult great Dane are about 30-32 in. tall and weigh about 110lbs.

The first instance happened in August 2022 near Rossie, Iowa, a rural section in northwestern Iowa. Newspaper reports indicate that the incident involved five great Danes. The victim, 43-year-old female, the owner of the dogs, was attacked and killed by as many as five of her great Danes near her farm. Her body was found in a ditch. It is not clear about the circumstances surrounding incident happened or what motivated this pack of great Danes to kill kill this person – the owner of the dogs and a person familiar to them.

The second instance happened in Clear Creek Township, Ohio in 2019. Again, the victim was the owner of the dogs, a 49-year-old female. In this case, reportedly two Danes were involved. The victim, alone in her home at the time of the attack, was discovered later by family members. The victim sustained numerous puncture wounds and a chunk of flesh was missing from her ankle. One of the Danes, a rescue dog, had been acting aggressively prior to the incident. The victim’s husband reportedly wanted to get rid of the dogs. His wife refused to do so, however. Moreover, the victim was intoxicated at the time of the incident.

I report these incidences in part because such instances are not common – that is, a dog bite fatality inflicted to the owner of a Dane. Hence, one cannot assume that a Dane will not attack because the the dog is recognized as a “good family dog”. Individual differences exist. There is always the need for dog bite safety, particularly around young children and toddlers.

Moreover, bringing these instances to the attention of the reader also illustrates that most large sized dogs, whether a Dane, German Shepherd or a mastiff-type dog, have the potential to seriously injure or kill a person in certain circumstances.[2]In all fairness it should be noted that dogs of any size, even tiny dogs, have the potential to kill people. Take the example of a Pomeranian who killed infant in Los Angeles.

Elsewhere on this site I refer the reader to examples in which great Danes have attacked or behaved aggressively towards unfamiliar people, and not necessarily because of the dog’s territorial tendencies.

Great Dane dog bite fatality in Japan

Another great Dane dog bite fatality happened in Toyama, Japan in 2020. In this instance, a 50-year-old man was holding his 11-month-old grandson in his arms when two of his Danes jumped and bit the toddler in the head. The toddler died two hours later in the hospital. The grandfather sustained dog bite injuries to his leg. The motivation for this attack is unclear. However, in some strange way, the attack, may have had something to do with the dog’s anticipation of being fed given that the grandfather, who was carrying the toddler in his arms, was about to feed the dogs. The dogs may have been excited at the anticipation of being fed, jumped on the grandfather out of excitement and this excitement escalated into aggression.

Intoxication and dog aggression

Significantly, I know of other instances in which intoxicated people have been attacked by dogs. An intoxicated person may be  attacked because they act in a provocative manner or because the behavior of a familiar, intoxicated person is incongruent with the expectations of the dog. For example, dogs have expectations. As such, if the dog’s expectations become disparate for the context in which it finds itself then the dogs may act aggressively to “normalize” the its expectations. Incongruency and aggression is an explanation about animal aggression first by argued by British ethologist John Archer.

Great Danes & territorial aggression

Great Danes, historically developed for hunting, have marketed territorial protective tendencies in and around their living space (see below). However, whether territorial aggression was the impetus behind these incidences is unlikely given the fact that each of the victims were known to the dogs.[3]Evidence-based scientific research portrays great Danes as being highly territorial and protective. B. Hart and L. Hart. The Perfect Puppy: How to Choose Your Dog by its Behavior. W.H. Freeman & … Continue reading Territorial aggression usually is directed towards people unfamiliar to the dog who encroach upon or enter the living space of a dog.

Legal implications: negligence

The bottom line: Most individuals have the potential to react aggressively toward their human caretakers if the circumstances are right. This is particularly true if proper socialization, training, care, breeding and supervision are not followed, or if the dog is handled in a reckless manner. Most fatal dog attacks and dog bites inflicted to people are preventable. Given this, negligence by the owner or keeper of a dog is an issue that often arises in dog bite litigation involving great Danes.

Further reading:

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Richard Polsky, Ph.D. have served as an expert witness in civil and criminal matters on numerous occasions. He available for assignment on cases to proffer animal behavior expert opinion on great Danes dog bite attacks.

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Footnotes

Footnotes
1On average, an adult great Dane are about 30-32 in. tall and weigh about 110lbs.
2In all fairness it should be noted that dogs of any size, even tiny dogs, have the potential to kill people. Take the example of a Pomeranian who killed infant in Los Angeles.
3Evidence-based scientific research portrays great Danes as being highly territorial and protective. B. Hart and L. Hart. The Perfect Puppy: How to Choose Your Dog by its Behavior. W.H. Freeman & Co. New York. 1988