Animal behavior factors associated with New York dog bite fatalities
Below, I report two New York dog bite fatalities that occurred in late 2015. As a dog bite expert, I have chosen to write about these instances because in each the principles of animal behavior science can be applied to better understand how and why the dog acted as it did.
The first of two New York dog bite fatalities occurred on November 8, 2015 in Elmont, New York. A 9-year-old girl was savagely attacked and killed by a pit bull belonging to a tenant while playing in her father’s backyard. The dog was still engaged in its assault, lunging onto the victim’s neck and head, when police arrived. Fatal dog attack factors present in this case were that the dog killed the victim on familiar home grounds, the attack was persistent, and the fatal dog bites were inflicted to the head and neck of the victim. Prior to the attack, the owner of the pit bull posted a picture of his dog clenching down on strengthening equipment, with a caption reading “The beast!” The owner of the dog was arrested at the scene for an offense unrelated to the dog attack. Consistent with this are research findings which suggest that people who are criminally inclined gravitate towards ownership of “dangerous” breeds.
The second incident occurred a week later in Oneida County, New York, where an 11-month-old was killed by the family pit bull-shar pei mix. The toddler and his three sisters, ages 7, 10, and 12, were playing with the dog in the house when it unexpectedly attacked the toddler. The dog reportedly was a family member who had never shown any signs of aggression during his two years with the family.The toddler was rushed to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead due to facial and neck injuries. After the attack, the dog was seized, placed in quarantine, and shortly thereafter euthanized at the family’s request.
Animal behavior features present in these two New York dog bite fatalities have been reported in other fatal dog attacks. Namely, the victim was young, the dog was on its own turf, a pit bull type dog was involved, the dog was a family member, the dog had shown no signs of aggression to people prior to the incident, and the fatal bites were inflicted to the neck. Concerning the latter, although widely believed, there is no scientific evidence that dogs intentionally aim their bites to the neck area of a person.
On the other hand, animal behaviorists believe that children are especially prone to dog bite injury, in part, because of their frequently erratic movements and the occasional shrill type vocalizations, particularly during play, and their lack of ability to read and understand subtle social signals delivered to them by dogs. However, in regard to the attack by the Shar-Pei, the dog did not attack the children it supposedly was playing with but rather attacked and killed the toddler. Assumedly, the toddler was probably close by, and the dog “redirected” its aggression away from the familiar children to the relatively unfamiliar toddler. Redirected aggression is an animal behavior phenomenon that occasionally happens when a dog enters an aggressive motivational state. This occasionally happens when a person attempts to break up a fight between several dogs.
Richard Polsky, PhD is a certified dog behavior consultant. He has been retained as an expert by personal injury attorneys on many occasions and has qualified in court in New York as a dog bite expert. Dr. Polsky has a strong interest in studying the circumstances surrounding fatal dog attacks.