Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Don't Judge By Breed - Look Beyond the Stereotype

So many animals - especially dogs - arrive in this world with a bad reputation because of their breed.  The misconceptions, stereotypes, and ignorance contributes to the numbers left in pounds, shelters, and rescues.  Sadly, it is these ill-perceived breeds that are over-looked and left to endure in shelters or be "put down" because of no hopes of a home due to their "savage" potential.

Dog breeds that seem to suffer this misconception frequently include Rottweiler, American Bulldog,  American Pit Bull, American Staffordshire Terrier, Chow-Chow, Doberman, German Shepherd, Great Dane,  Husky, Malamute, Saint Bernard, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and dog's of cross-breeds of the aforementioned breeds. (See CDC Dog Breed Related Fatality Report for more information.)    However, the Dog Breed Related Fatality Report holds several surprises of the "family friendly" breeds in addition to the above breed - Basenji, Collies, Dachunds, Golden Retrievers, and Yorkshire Terrier are actually found listed.

You have to dissect the frequently Media-misquoted Dog Breed Related Fatality Report by the CDC and take in consideration the overall statistics of dog bites (see CDC: Dog Bite:Facts for more info).  According to the CDC Dog Bite: Fact page that 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs EACH YEAR in the United States.  In addition the CDC reports each year, 800,000 Americans seek medical attention for dog bites; half of these are children.  Of the 800,000 seeking attention, 386,000 require treatment in an emergency department and about 16 die.

Now armed with a few statistics from the CDC Dog Bite: Fact page, let's look at the CDC Dog Breed Related Fatality Report (DBRF Report).  The DBRF Report evaluation period was over a brief period of 20-years and only reflects reports that are breed specific- all other reports not specifying a breed were removed from consideration; fatalities that were not a direct result of attack- secondary causes like infection, rabies-related, death by trauma but not bitten were removed as well; "dogs at work" such as police or military use were removed; and one consideration to interpreting data is that cross-breeds were tallied under both breeds, i.e. Great Dane-Rottweiler: 1 tally to each breed - 1 Great Dane and 1 Rottweiler.  The total of cases considered  in the DBRF Report was only 227.  (Remember that's 227 cases considered out of a 20-year period with an average of 4.7 million bitten Americans per year.  That's roughly 227 cases out of approximately 1 billon bites over the 20-year period. That doesn't really seem enough to quantify a breed as "dangerous".)

In the 20-year period consideration of 227 cases, more than 30 breeds were indentified in the DBRF Report  and a total of 433 dogs. Of those attacks the CDC DBRF Report breakdown of deaths were:

160 human deaths, only 1 dog was involved
49 deaths,2 dogs were involved
15 deaths, 3 dogs wereinvolved. 
Four and 7 dogs were involved in 3 deaths each
5, 6, and 10 dogs were involved in 2 deaths each
11 and 14 dogs were responsible for 1 death each

According to the CDC DBRF Report, 227 considered cases broke down by restrained and unrestrained and location by:

55(24%) human deaths involved unrestrained dogs off their owners’ property
133 (58%) involved unrestrained dogs on their owners’ property
38 (17%) involved restrained dogs on their owners’ property
1 (<1%)involved a restrained dog off its owner’s property.

Now apply basic understanding of basic dog behavior - 171 of those dogs were in its' own territory, "their owner's property", when it responded and the person was fatally wounded.  Was the dog threatened?  Was the owner threatened?  Was the person not introduced to the dog?  Was the dog trained by its' owner to defend the property and family?  What was the person doing when they were bitten?

There are several very important aspects not addressed in this report: Was the dog approached by the human and bitten? Was the human "playing" with the dog when bitten?  Was the human trespassing when bitten? And in my opinion - a big variable is excluded - what was the human doing at the time of the bite?

The CDC itself points out issues within this study that have an impact on the information gathered -
  1. It was a short time span of 20-years
  2. Identifying breed is subjective, especially in cross-bred dogs, a breed may be mis-attributed
  3. The media sensationalizes attacks by particular breeds and that may skew data collection/interpretation
  4. There is no clear method for counting cross-bred dogs
  5. Reported dog related fatality bites are under-reported
  6. You have to consider population size of the breed to accurately attribute attacks
  7. Trending in breed popularity directly impacts the number of fatalities by breed
  8. There are physical attributes that impact a dog's likelihood to bite:  age, health, sex, heredity, early encounters, socialization, reproductive status
  9. Owner supervision and ownership behaviors
  10. Victim Behavior - a variable that has a direct correlation to why the attack occurred.

Anyone exposed to dogs or hoping to add a member to the family needs to understand that the CDC report often used and misused to characterized a breed as "dangerous" isn't 100% accurate.  You cannot judge a breed as a whole by using generalities. Each individual dog will behave differently - look beyond the stereotypes and spend time with the dog to learn about it.

Dogs-just like humans- have a personality and react differently to different situations and people.  Dogs-just like children- need to be taught, supervised, and loved - you can offer obedience and still have a friend in your dog.  You need to understand the language of a dog - body language, ear and eye behavior and so on to insure the safety of you, your family and the dog.  Just like humans, dogs get tired of being tugged, pulled, and played with and need breaks - insure they get them before they get "snappy".  Socialize the dog - get the dog out in the environment  it will be exposed to frequently and get it accustomed to the people, smells, and other animals.  Spend time with your dog - just like a bored kid they can get into bad habit or behaviors that will require your time, attention, money, and efforts to correct or repair.  Remember, dog's remember how they were treated and if that situation arises again they'll respond - be it good or bad.

Take time to look beyond the stereotype of the breed.  Each dog behaves differently- they are individuals.  Dogs are experiential being - that goes with them as the live and they draw on that experience to make decisions on how to respond - consider that.  All dogs have the potential to bite no matter the breed, it is up to you to insure the dog's boundaries are respected and to take ownership when the time comes to say - "hey, I think he/she needs a break."  It is you responsibility to educate yourself, family, friends and visitors to your dog's behavior - this could save a life.

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