What a New Dog Bite Study Gets Wrong

A new study by researchers at Ohio State University explored the risks of dog bite injuries to children’s faces, as well as the severity of bites based on dog breed, size and head structure. According to the study, pit bulls pose the most risk to children, followed by mixed-breed dogs. These results would seem to be really good news for the haters of these dogs and supporters of breed bans (I’m looking at you, dogbites.org).

But before those folks with a “Kill all pit bulls!” mentality get too excited, let’s talk about the major problems with this study. For one thing, most people aren’t very good at identifying dog breeds. And for another thing, how often a breed happens to appear in a couple of hospitals’ bite records is not an accurate indication of how dangerous that breed is in the community at large.

To determine the riskiest breeds, the Ohio State researchers reviewed 15 years of dog-related facial trauma cases from just two hospitals – Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the University of Virginia Health System. They also looked at dog bite studies dating back to 1970 that reported the breeds.

The study was published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, a journal that provides information about the prevention and care of ear, nose and throat disorders in infants and children. Its lead author is Dr. Garth Essig, who is an otolaryngologist — not a dog expert. According to a press release, “Doctors want parents of young children to use this information when deciding which dog to own.”

Here are just a couple of reasons why parents should not use this information for this purpose.

Even Veterinarians and Shelter Workers Have Difficulty Identifying Pit Bulls

In a 2015 University of Florida study, four veterinarians and 12 shelter workers who had all worked with animals for at least three years were asked to identify the breeds of 120 dogs. Up to 48 percent of the time, the participants identified dogs with no pit bull DNA as pit bulls.

The study showed that the “reliable inclusion or exclusion of dogs as ‘pit bulls’ is not possible, even by experts,” Julie Levy, DVM, Ph.D., its lead author, said at the time.

The Ohio State researchers were mistaken “to assume that people landing at an emergency room actually know what breed of dog bit them,” notes dog behavior expert Clive D. L. Wynne, Ph.D., director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, in Psychology Today. “Consequently, for most of the 26,000 dog bites in this study, the breed identity is just a shot in the dark.”

AVMA Says Dog Bite Statistics Aren’t Really Statistics

“Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite,” stated the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in a 2001 report on dog-bite prevention. “Invariably the numbers will show that dogs from popular large breeds are a problem. This should be expected, because big dogs can physically do more damage if they do bite, and any popular breed has more individuals that could bite.”

Because there’s no consistent data available on breed populations and bites, a 2000 study by doctors and veterinarians also determined it is difficult to accurately calculate a bite rate for any one breed.

Without knowing how many dogs of different breeds live in a community, “information about bite numbers is quite useless,” Wynne writes.

This Study Is the Pits for Many Dogs

What’s especially troubling about the flawed Ohio State study is that it may result in even more pit bulls ending up (or remaining) in animal shelters. It could convince cities like Denver to continue enforcing breed bans. Insurance companies will likely use it to support their refusal to provide policies to owners of certain “dangerous” breeds, making it more difficult for these dogs to finding loving homes.

As Wynne points out, a study that determines why, how and when people get bitten by dogs would be very useful — unlike the Ohio State study. “Tragically, however, their analysis only adds noise to an already complex and confusing situation,” he writes.

Hopefully most parents who are considering adopting a dog will tune out this noise. “Remember, it is not a dog’s breed that determines whether it will bite, but rather the dog’s individual history and behavior,” the AVMA advises.

All parents should take these important precautions to prevent bites from happening in the first place — no matter what breed a dog happens to be.

Photo credit: Getty Images

41 comments

Maria P
Maria P2 days ago

thank you

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Peggy B
Peggy B11 days ago

TYFS

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Peter B
Peter B11 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Michael F

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Christine V
Christine V12 days ago

Pit bulls can be just as loving as other dogs.

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Alea C
Alea C12 days ago

It's always the owner's fault if their dog bites a kid, and it's sad that pitties are usually blamed because pitties make great pets.

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Margaret F
Margaret F12 days ago

We should do a study that surveys the type of dogs in a community and the number of bites reported based on info from this article. Then we would know how many dogs DON'T bite! Also concentrating on facial bites is not a true representation of actual dog bites. Obviously children are more in danger of dog bites including facial bites for many reasons: children's actions around dogs can be confusing or threatening to a dog (not blaming children) and their short stature puts faces on the same level of many dogs. Parents and adults in general, need to recognize potential problems to protect their children from dog bites.

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Mitch D
Mitch D12 days ago

As the parent of 2 fabulous pit bulls, this study is crap!

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Wesley S
Wesley Struebing12 days ago

"Insurance companies will likely use it to support their refusal to provide policies to owners of certain “dangerous” breeds, making it more difficult for these dogs to finding loving homes." Or for those home already with one of those breeds (Rottweilers, in our case) who were denied renewal of our homeowners' insurance because we had a Rottie. We finally DID find a company that would insure us - and then WE dropped our auto coverage from that original company and went with someone else. That study is wrong on so many different levesl, but this article does a good job of pointing out a few idiocies.

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Sheila D
Sheila D12 days ago

There was a study done several decades ago that indicated most dog bites came from Cocker Spaniels. There were only three breeds listed in the study that were NOT involved in the death of a human being. I don't remember all three, but one was a Bassett Hound. I do remember that toy breeds were not excluded. At that time, Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Huskies were considered "dangerous " breeds. Personally, I want to know what people were doing when they got bit. More often than not, it's the person's fault (or the adult if a child is involved). Dogs can only take so much, just like people. Thanks for the post.

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