Question: It seems there have been many articles in our newspaper recently about people being bit by dogs. Is this a serious problem throughout the United States? Are some breeds of dogs more likely to bite people than others? Most of the newspaper stories are about large dogs attacking children or elderly people. Are veterinarians concerned about the number of vicious dogs living in our communities?
Answer: It is a great understatement to say that people being bitten by dogs in the United States is a serious problem. It has been estimated that between four million and five million people are bitten by dogs each year. About one million of these people seek medical attention each year, and more than 300,000 are treated in emergency rooms. More than half the victims of dog bites each year are younger than 12. Millions of dollars are paid out by insurance companies each year because of dog bites.
Since more than 50 percent of dog bite incidents involve family pets, many attacks are not reported. This is probably due to many people fearing that something horrible, such as confiscation or euthanasia, will happen to their dog if the incident is reported.
Although some breeds are thought to be more dangerous than others, no scientific documentation exists to demonstrate that any breed of dog is more likely to bite than any other. However, bites by large dogs are more likely to be treated and reported because of the severity of the injuries. Likewise, bites by large dogs are more likely to be written about in newspapers because the injuries are more sensational. Also, bites by the most popular breeds often tend to get reported more often simply because there are more of these dogs in our homes.
There are many reasons why dogs bite people. Although genetics can be a factor, early socialization and environmental conditions are very important. Most dogs must be taught how to behave while living with people. Breed characteristics should be considered when selecting a dog. Obviously, very large breeds are usually not well-suited for living in small apartments. Likewise, it is not usually advisable to place a large, rambunctious puppy in a household with very small children. Many attacks are provoked by children who do not know how to act around dogs. Both dogs and children must be taught how to act around each other.
Most veterinarians are concerned about people being bitten by dogs and work within their communities to promote dog-bite prevention programs. Many veterinarians are involved with programs designed to help educate children about proper behavior around dogs. Most veterinarians do not hesitate to recommend euthanasia of unsafe or unpredictable dogs that cannot be maintained in safe environments.