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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Fatal Dog Attacks in the United States

fatal dog attacks
Fatal dog attacks remain a challenging public health problem in the USA.

The number of dog bite fatalities in the United States in 2019 were significantly higher then in previous years. About 48 people were fatally killed by dogs in 2019.

Fatal dog bite statistics for 2019, like previous years, showed that most of the victims were children or the elderly and in almost all instances the victim was alone when the incident happened. Many of the incidences happened in the “territory” of the dog or shortly after the dog(s) escaped from the property in which the dog was living. A surprisingly high number people were killed by a dog a “family” dog. 

Various breeds were involved, but mostly pit-bull type dogs, although there were fatalities involving Coonhounds, Rottweilers, and attack-trained Belgian malinois. The majority of the incidents happened when the dogs were acting together as a pack.

Fatal dog attack statistics by breed for 2019

VictimLocationCircumstances
70 y.o. femaleMississippiPack of mixed breed dogs were involved in the incident. The dogs escaped from property of a neighbor.
70 y.o. femaleCaliforniaVictim was killed by pack of pit bulls owned by a guest living on the victim's property.
85 y.o. maleTexasStray dogs, possibly pit-bull and shepherd mix, killed the victim in the driveway of his home.
8 m.o. femaleArizonaGerman Shepherd, a family owned dog, killed the toddler when the mother was sleeping.
1 y.o. maleKentuckyThis toddler was mauled the death by a pit bull mix owned by his grandparents.
66 y.o. femaleTexasThe victim was killed by her own 2 Doberman pinschers in her backyard.
54 y.o. femaleCaliforniaVictim died two months later after being mauled by a pack of mixed pit bull type dogs in her backyard. She lived in a rural area in Southern California.
77 y.o. femaleNorth CarolinaVictim was taking early morning walk and her body was later discovered in ditch. Victim was bitten extensively throughout her body. However it is uncertain as to specific dogs involved, possibly a wolf hybrid.
52 y.o. femaleSouth CarolinaVictim was play-wrestling with two boxer mix dogs and the dogs violently attacked her.
88 y.o. femaleTennesseeA pack of about 6 mixed breed dogs, owned by neighbor, killed the victim near a ditch in the rear of her home.
88 y.o. femaleTexasPack of 6 pit bull type dogs belonging to neighbor killed victim in alleyway near her home.
6 m.o. femaleNorth CarolinaVictim killed in her home while being cared for by her grandmother.
2 y.o. maleFloridaVictim killed by pit bull mix and an American bulldog mix while being cared for by his grandmother.
53 y.o. maleTexasTwo mixed breed dogs and one suspected cattle dog mix took part in the incident. The dogs were owned by the victim's brother.
2 y.o. maleCaliforniaA pair of stray Rottweilers killed the victim in front yard of his home.
33. y.o. femaleTexasThe victim was killed by her own 2 pit bulls while she was visiting them at a veterinary hospital.
15 m.o. femaleNevadaA single Rottweiler killed this infant at the home of her grandfather.
2 y.o. maleKentuckyThis toddler was killed by the family-owned pit bull.
52 y.o femaleFloridaThe victim killed by pit bull type dog while doing volunteer work at an animal shelter.
14 y.o. maleMassachusetts4 Belgian malinois and 1 Dutch shepherd were involved in the incident. The victim was killed at the home where the dogs lived. The owner of of dogs was a purported dog trainer. The dogs were believed to have been protection trained by the trainer with Schutzhund techniques. Interestingly, this teenager had made regular visits with the dogs and he had had regularly cared for the dogs without incident prior to the incident.
33 y.o maleIowaAn American bulldog x boxer mix killed the victim in his front yard. The dogs apparently escape from an nearby home. The dogs were being watched by tenants.
36 y.o. femaleCaliforniaThree pit bull type dogs attacked the victim near a Cosco parking lot. She was later found dead in the Cosco lot.
2 y.o. boyCaliforniaThis toddler mauled to death by the family dog described as a pit bull x mastiff mix. The incident occurred in the backyard of the victim's home.
54 y.o femaleCaliforniaThe victim was killed by her family-owned pit bull mix in her home.
46 y.o. maleKentuckyThree pit bull type dogs killed this homeless man near where the dogs lived. The victim was discovered dead on side of road.
45 y.o maleFloridaThe victim was attacked and killed by a pack of six pit bull type dogs in a wooded area near the neighborhood in which he lived. Over 100 bites were inflicted to his body by this pack of dogs.
3 w.o. infantGeorgiaA husky type dog, kept as a family member, killed the 21-day-old infant in her home.
52. y.o. malePennsylvaniaA single pit bull type dog owned by the victim killed the victim in his home. News reports indicated that had owned the dog for many years.
40 y.o. maleTennesseeThis man attacked and killed by pack of multiple mixed breed dogs in early morning hours in a residential neighborhood near his home.
16 y.o. boyTexasThree pit bull type dogs killed this 16-year-old boy after he supposedly jumped over a fence into the yard of neighbor where the dogs lived. News reports indicated that no criminal charges were pending against the dog owner.
9 y.o. girlMichiganThree pit bull type dogs killed this nine-year-old girl while she was riding her bicycle in an alley behind her home.
19. y.o. femaleTennesseeThe victim was killed by three dogs, a mastiff type dog, a Rottweiler type dog and a pit bull type dog, after returning to a home she earlier left to pick up a purse she forgot.
67 y.o. femaleNew YorkThe victim was killed in her home by the 2 Coonhounds she owned. News reports did not give much detail about her ownership prior to the incident
13. m.o. male toddlerCaliforniaThis toddler was killed by a single family pit bull type dog in his home while being cared for by babysitter.
56 y.o. maleOklahomaThree dogs, suspected to be pit bull type dogs, killed the victim while he was visiting the home of the owner of the dogs in a residential area. news reports are lacking in detail about the incident.
31 y.o. maleVirginiaThe victim was killed by her own pit bull type dog in her home.
3 y.o. maleKentuckyTwo family owned Rottweilers killed the toddler after he climbed into the backyard where the dogs were kept. The toddler reportedly went through an open window while his family was sleeping.
21 y.o. MaleCaliforniaTwo pit bull type dogs killed this young man while he was visiting the home of a family member.
4 y.o. boyMichiganThis boy was killed by a single pit bull who was living at his home on a temporary basis.
41. y.o. femaleMichiganA single pit bull type dog owned by the boyfriend of victim killed victim in the mobile home where she and her boyfriend were living.
49 y.o. FemaleOhioTwo great Danes, owned by the victim, killed the victim in her home. The dogs were rescues.
95 y.o. FemaleConnecticutThe owner of the pit bull type dog which killed the victim was owned by Connecticut state director of the Humane Society of the United States! This tragic incident occurred at the home of the Director where the victim had gone to visit.
38 y.o. MaleCaliforniaThis man was found dead near a homeless encampment in a river bed. The victim was believed to be killed by a single pitbull.
47 y.o. FemaleGeorgiaThree pit bull type dogs, owned by a neighbor, killed the victim outside her home on the sidewalk. She was severely mauled and chunks of her body were missing. She survived for about a month before dying from her injuries.
12 y.o. MaleOklahomaThis young boy was killed by two pit bull type dogs while returning home from school. The victim was alone in an alleyway when the incident occurred.
79. y.o. MaleOklahomaApproximately 6 mixed breed dogs, loose at the time of the incident, killed the victim in the neighborhood in which he lived. He may have been walking his dog at the time of the incident. The dogs involved in the incident were owned by a neighbor.
44 y.o femaleMassachusettsA single family-owned pit bull type dog poopkilled the victim in her home
44 y.o. Female TexasThree suspected pit bull type dogs killed victim. this 46-year-old lady may been walking alone at the time of the incident. Her body was discovered in a ditch.

 

Epidemiological findings and statistics about the breeds involved fatal dog attacks are published on many websites, often for promotional purposes by plaintiff personal injury attorneys. Moreover, misleading and factually incorrect information can be found, particularly on those websites written by individuals who have a strong negative bias against pit bulls. Hence, one must proceed with caution when interpreting results, particularly when pit bulls are implicated.

Are all pit bulls dangerous?

Granted, pit bull type dogs have likely been involved in a disproportional number of fatal dog attacks.

However, this should not be taken to mean that every pit bull or pit bull type dog has the temperament or inclinations to kill a person

Every dog, regardless of breed, must be be judged on its own merits, how it is maintained, owner control, its past behavioral history, etc. This belief has been stated many times by many animal behavior experts but it is worth repeating to discredit the nonsense that all pit bulls are inherently dangerous.

Attack-trained police canines are more dangerous than pit-bulls

Certainly, some pit bulls type dogs pose an extreme danger to public safety and in certain circumstances can readily kill a person. However, there are other breeds potentially as dangerous as some pit bulls. For example, I would rank an attack-trained police K9 equally as dangerous, particularly when the K-9 handler loses control over his dog.  And, not surprisingly, there are many anecdotal examples in which this has happened. These instances usually lead to severe dog bite injury inflicted onto the victim by the attack-trained police K-9, but usually not to a fatality.

Animal behavior perspectives about statistics on fatal dog attacks in the United States

Below, I will not repeat well-known epidemiological and statistical information about fatal dog attacks. Rather, I will state from my perspective in animal behavior science the concerns I have regarding the opinions expressed by some self-proclaimed, self-titled animal behavior “experts”.

  • Second, the accuracy of data on fatal dog attacks depends on the validity and accuracy of facts about the incident as reported in news stories by the journalists who write the stories.  Website authors depend on this information to create the content on their sites, yet the extent to which the information published is independently verified remains dubious.  Generally, the information is taking on face value. This may be problematic for a number of reasons. Particularly significant is the information reported about the breed of dog involved.  Occasionally, mistakes in correctly identifying the breed of dog(s) involved in a fatal attack happen (see problems with pit bull terrier identification). Likewise, other data collection techniques (animal control reports, police reports, witness observation) used for breed identification purposes in fatal dogs attack investigations may  be flawed because of problems inherent with accurate breed identification through visual means.
  • Third, because mistaken breed identity may occurs, numbers may be inflated for certain kinds of dogs, such as pit bull type dogs.
  • Fourth, it is important to note that a pit bull is not a breed of dog.  Instead, the term “pit bull” only describes a dog that has an appearance similar to a American Pit Bull terrier or American Staffordshire terrier.   In some cases a dog identified as a pit bull, based on its physical appearance, may be genetically similar to the American Staffordshire Terrier (AKC recognized) or an American Pit Bull (UKC recognized), but in other cases the dog is genetically dissimilar.  

    Fatal dog attacks by buried
    This pit bull appears to have the demeanor of a well-trained , well socialized family dog.

Finally, the fatalities reported on many websites may not be a direct result of injuries sustained from a dog attack. For example, in some dog bite fatalities the primary cause of death is secondary to bite injuries caused by an attack.  Examples include caradic arrest, freezing to death after falling unconscious following an attack, rabies, septicaemia, infection or falling on head as a result of being attacked.  For example, I recall a reported incident in March 2010 incident in Lucknow, South Carolina involving a 65-year-old lady.  Several websites reported this as a dog bite fatality caused by a pit bull attack, but subsequently the autopsy indicated a fatal heart attack was the primary cause of death (presumably from the stress of the attack). Also, note that a human fatality can be caused by the behavior of a dog that does not involve aggressive intent (e.g. smothering). Click here for medical perspective on the causes of death as a direct result of the dog attack.

Last, it is worth noting that the estimated number people bitten by dogs in the United States in 2019,and not necessarily killed, did not change markedly despite the abundance of information about dog bite safety available on the Internet. Information about dog bite safety can be found elsewhere on this website. Useful information on dog bite prevention can also be found on the websites of DogGoneSafe and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Related content about fatal dog attacks

  • Recent peer-reviewed about fatal dog attacks in the United States.  Animal behavior experts have long believed that the majority of fatal dog attacks can be prevented. This belief was again reiterated that in a recent paper that now stands as the most definitive study on the topic of fatal dog attacks in the United States  …. Read more
  • DNA analysis fails to identify dogs involved in fatal dog attack in Dallas, Texas. DNA analysis of fatal dog attacks is used for good reason: Namely, each individual dog has its own unique DNA profile. Each cell of a dog contains 39 pairs of chromosomes comprised of strands of DNA shaped in the form of a “double helix” .. Read more

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                       Dr. Richard Polsky is an academically trained animal behavior specialist located in Los Angeles, California. He has been retained as an expert by attorneys on several high profile fatal dog attacks throughout the United States, including the well-known San Francisco dog mauling.  Dr. Polsky welcomes inquiries from attorneys.