Look at Real Solutions for Dog Bite Numbers on the Rise


Being exploitative, blaming breeds, for example, isn’t the answer to lower dog bites, as Dog Bite Prevention Week just came its conclusion. While dog bite numbers – and even fatalities are on the rise – there is no dog bite epidemic. About 85 people die annually in forklift accidents, which is about twice as many as succumb to dog bites. Today, there are about 90 million dogs, more than ever before in the U.S. Of course, just one fatality is one too many and the goal isn’t only to lower overall bites but also severe bites and fatalities. And right now, they all appear to be headed in the wrong direction.

For years now, Animals 24-7, a blog by Clifton Merritt, as well as other social media creators, instead of proposing solutions, only offer knee-jerk responses or blame specific breeds.

The National Dog Bite Prevention Week 2024 guidelines, for instance, advise people to “Be responsible about approaching other people’s pets.  Ask permission from the owner before approaching a dog.”

The post by Clifton points out that mail carriers, other delivery personnel, and casual passers-by rarely have that option. In his post he refers to a recent attack of a mail carrier in Omaha, NE.

And, in part, Clifton is correct. But the problem has zero to do with breed, per se or often even the individual dog but instead responsible dog ownership. Most dog bites are preventable.

Don’t allow a dog to bolt out a door or allow dogs to be in backyards without adult supervision. Is it that simple. If the family kept the dog indoors, this mail carrier wouldn’t have been bitten.

One concern about dog bites on the rise is that once again breeds have begun to be targeted because of people like Clifton. Today (as a result of genetic testing) we know that nearly all dogs with muscular wide shoulders and big blocky heads that we call pit bulls are merely mixed breed dogs. Two pit bulls which look similar might, in fact, have very different genetic backgrounds. So, targeting pit bulls is only profiling based on a look but not what a dog is. In dogs phenotype (what a dog looks like) doesn’t necessarily match genotype (genetics).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention years ago stopped tallying the breed presumed responsible for serious dog attacks because the breed was so often misidentified; besides the CDC (as do many animal behavior and animal welfare groups) confirms breed is irrelevant.

About me Merritt wrote, “Steve Dale,  the vehemently pro-pit bull host of two nationally syndicated pet talk shows,  and denialist of breed-specific pit bull behavior.” This is untrue. I am am pro dogs, all dogs, all presumed breeds.

I also know that dog breeds have been bred for thousands of years for a purpose. I don’t argue this FACT. Guess what, many retrievers do retrieve. Many herding breeds do herd. And many pit bull-lo0king dogs were bred for bull baiting and dog fighting a very long time ago, but never were bred to attack people. In some breeds more than others, many individuals have lost their hard-wired propensities anyhow. For example, many Irish Setters would have no clue what to do in the field and many Standard Poodles disdain water today, though they were originally bred to go into water.

Merritt also writes, “Having argued that pit bulls are not inherently high risk,  despite the data,  at the American Humane Association national conference in 2007,  when pit bulls had killed only 114 Americans and disfigured 648 in the preceding 24 years,  more than all other dogs combined,  Dale may now be expected to comparably dismiss that pit bulls have since then killed 549 more Americans and disfigured another 5,202.” Aside from this very long sentence being difficult to understand, where is the citation for that “data” offered? There is none. This is the world according to the author. The problem is that some readers out there may buy-in.

According to the CDC, Humane Society of the United States and American Veterinary Medical Associations, serious dog attacks occur because (in no special order). Note breed or mix of breeds is not mentioned:

  • Dogs are not socialized (or socialized appropriately).
  • Aversive/aggressive dog training methods.
  • Dogs previously ‘guilty’ of a bite (or bites) but nothing was done to help the dog.
  • Intact males (not because they are inherently aggressive. But they do sniff a dog in heat and jump fencing and run off, without adult supervision).
  • No adult supervision /children most often victims.
  • Not understanding (or ignoring) what dogs are trying to tell us.

Where breed bans were implemented decades ago, they have been mostly rescinded as they have not made communities any safer as was the original intent, according to a paper from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

Absolutely, we do need to pay attention and address the rise in dog bites. However, the solutions are complex and hopefully based on science rather than profiling.