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 bites: 6 critical animal behavior factors likely to cause death

The six most critical animal behavioral variables associated with fatal dog bites in the USA appear in the table at the bottom of this post. This page presents a short overview of those factors associated with the dog, the victim and the circumstances when a dog bite injury is the direct cause of death in a person.

K-9 attacks on people that cause severe injury to a person are highly preventable. Incidences that happen are often caused by an unsupervised of a group of poorly trained, poorly socialized pit bull type dogs. Note that other breeds of dogs have been involved in fatal dog attacks. In fact, in one instance a 2 lb. Pomeranian killed an infant in a bassinet.

fatal dog bites
Certainly caution needs to be exercised around some pit bull type dogs, particularly if they are unsupervised and running loose in groups. However, not all pit bulls are necessarily dangerous by nature. Individuals must be judged on a case-by-case basis.

What are high risk circumstances for a fatal dog bite?

A high risk situation for a dog bite fatality exists when a child or an elderly person has a close encounter with a group of intact adult male pit bull type dogs, who have previously displayed aggression towards people near their territory, and have escaped from the property where they are being kept.

Dr. Randall Lockwood offers an easy to understand and valid explanation: “Fatal attacks include a combination of the wrong dog in the wrong hands in the wrong circumstances”.

Dog bite prevention

The reader should visit the section of this website dealing with dog bite prevention for measures to take to avoid fatal attacks and dog bites in general. Dog bite prevention  largely consists of proper supervision and control of a potentially dangerous dog on the part of the dog owner, common sense preventive steps taken by parents with children, and teaching children how to communicate properly  with respect to all dogs, but particularly dogs they do not know.


Animal behavior factors affecting the likelihood of a fatal dog bite

Dogs past behaviorPrior documented displays of aggression directed towards people in many cases, but not always.
Owner presentOwner / keeper of dog usually never in presence of dog when fatal attack happens. One notable exception is the San Francisco dog mauling in which the owner of the dog was present, but claims could not stop the attack.
BreedOver 30 different breeds have inflicted fatal dog bites to people in the United States. Pit bulls and Rottweilers are disproportionally represented.
Sex & reproductive statusFrequently an adult male dog who has not been neutered.
CircumstancesDogs who are chained; dogs who escape through a broken fence on the owner's property; a child who wonders into the territory of a dog; a group of dogs either running loose in an urban or rural setting, or on rare occasions in a household setting.
VictimUsually a relatively defenseless person such as child or an elderly person



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