Dog bite expert & animal behavior specialist

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Dr. Richard Polsky - The Dog Expert

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Risk factors associated with severe dog bite attack in South Carolina

Approximately 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten annually by dogs, and many victims sustained severe injuries that require reconstructive surgery, neurological treatment, hospitalization, and on rare occasion dog bite fatality happens. The victims of severe dog bite attacks are usually boys under 10 years of age, and are attacked by a dog they know.

One of the most frequently cited studies about severe dog bite attack on people was conducted by noted animal behaviorist, John Wright, PhD at Clemson University in the 1980s. Although dated, the study is still highly relevant. Dr. Wright examined dog bite attacks from dog bite data  collected from five county health departments in the Piedmont area of South Carolina between July, 1979 – June, 1982. (Severe attacks by dogs: Characteristics of the dogs, the victims, and the attack settings. Public Health Reports, 1985, Vol. 100, 55-61).

A severe dog bite attack was not defined in terms of physical damage inflicted to the victim. Rather, the Wright defined a severe dog bite  according to the behavior of the dog. Specifically, a severe attack was defined as one in which the dog “repeatedly bit or vigorously shook the victim and the attack was extremely difficult to stop.”

Using with these criteria, Wright found 16 incidences of severe dog bite attack based on his review of 5,711 reported incidences.

The most important findings were as follows:

  • Stray dogs were not involved in any instance;
  • 88% of the attacks occurred on or near the dog’s territory;
  • 60% of the dogs had aggressive histories prior to the incident;
  • Most victims were boys under eight years of age;
  • The  head and neck region was the most frequently bitten area on the victim’ s body;
  • 50% of the incidences involved a dog who was chained, or had just broken free of a chain;
  • 75% of the incidences involved attacks on people who knew the dog;
  • Most victims had no interaction with the dog and received no warning (e.g. growl, snarl, bark) from the dog prior to being attacked;
  • Five of the 16 incidences involved pit bull type dogs. Three incidences involved cocker spaniel type dogs, and three incidences involved St. Bernards. Only one incident involved a Rottweiler. No incident involved a pure bred German Shepherd or Doberman pinscher.
  •  Severe dog bite attack on people occurred at a rate of approximately 2.8 per 1000.

These results provide further insight into the characteristics of severe dog bite attacks on people in the United States. The findings probably generalize to other Western countries. The study is rather dated since it was reported in the mid-1980s. Nonetheless, most of the findings are consistent with more recent results about dog bite epidemiology. The only significant change may be some the breeds involved. Thirty years ago, severe attacks on people by aggressive St. Bernards were widely publicized and not unusual in the United States. In contrast, more recently, a disproportional number of severe dog bite attack on people (including dog bite fatalities) are inflicted by breeds that have become more popular. Mastiff type dogs, like the Bull mastiff, Dogo Argentenio, Presa canario, and Cane Corso, immediately come to mind.