Posts Tagged ‘Merrit Clifton’

New Dog Bite Study : Ny Statistik om Hundbett

New Dog Bite Study

New Dog Bite Study

The Healthcare Cost &released a new statistical brief Utilization Project just  on Emergency Department visits relating to dog bites (based on #s from 2008. The study doesn’t go into a lot of detail on methodology, but it does seem to be a more comprehensive study than many that are out there.

According to their numbers, there were 316,200 emergency department visits in 2008 from dog bites.  Of those, 9,500 involved overnight stays.

*Now, note that there are 77.5 million owned dogs in the US — that means that .4% of dogs will be involved in an incident that requires an ER visit and .01% will be involved in an incident that involves an overnight stay.  So with that many owned dogs, only 1 out of 10,000 will be involved in an incident that would require a hospital stay each year.  So dogs are incredibly safe.

Also, according to the study there were more than 30 million emergency department visits a year, and nearly 3 million hospitalizations — so about 1% of all ED visits and .3% of hospitalizations are from dog bites.

Of the injuries involved in hospitalizations, 43% included skin and tissue infections, 22% open wounds to extremeties, 10.5% open wounds to the head, neck and trunk, 5.3% fractured upper limb, 2.1% tissue disease, 1.1% infective arthritis and osteomyelitis, 1.1% Septicemia, 1.1% crushing injury or other internal injury, 1.1% fractured lower limb.

The total number of of hospitalizations of 9,500 is the highest number since numbers were recorded in 1993.  And the number have been steadily increasing over that time — however, much of that is due to an increase in population — as the number of hospitalizations per 100,000 people has been pretty consistently between 2.7 and 3.0 over the past 13 years (with a peak of 3.4 in 1995).  This also doesn’t take into account the significant increase in pet ownership over the past 2 decades.

Children 5-9 were most likely to visit an emergency department, followed by children under 5 and children 10-14.

Hospitalizations were most common among older adults 65-84, 85+, followed by children under 5 and children 5-9. This makes sense as the older groups and the younger groups would be more vulnerable.

Not a lot in this study is truly earthshattering. I think most who follow this blog or the work of the NCRC will find these numbers consistent with what they already know.

I think of intrest is how the media has decided to cover this news — which only wants to focus on the increase in total dog bite cases (without context from the  increase in dogs or people):

Los Angeles Times – Man’s Best Friend?  Severe dog bite injuries have increased.

Health Leaders Media – Hospital Admissions, ED Visits for Dog Bites Surge

USA Today – Dog Bites man: Hospitalizations rise 86%

And all of the other reports to date have had similar headlines. So while they could have focused on the bites per capita remaining pretty consistent, or that dogs remain infinitely safer than almost anything else humans come in contact with (including other humans). But the dramatic fear mongering is the lead so far in all cases.

Which then leads me to our ‘friend’ Merritt Clifton’s numbers. Clifton has what he believes to be a detailed dog bite ‘study’ by breed. Clifton’s study covers dog attacks over the past 27 years – and includes 2,695 dog bites – so roughly 100 attacks per year. One hundred attacks per year represents 1% of the total hospitalizations from dog bites each year and .03% of all emergency department visits each year.

Because Clifton relies only on media reports for his ‘study’, it is not only not complete, it’s not a representative sample — because it is subject to media bias — which has shown that it would rather focus on the dramatic and fear mongering.  And Clifton buys into it hook, line and sinker.

Public officials need to focus on actual data when making policy decisions.  By doing so, they can make an actual impact on the number of hopsitalizations from dog bites vs paying lip service to it. And the data continues to show that dogs do not represent a major risk in most communities — and that the majority of the risk involves young children.  That risk can be minimized through educating parents on how to introduce dogs to young children and to never leave their children alone with dogs unsupervised. But making decisions based on actual data, and not dramatized fear-mongering is the only way to make positive steps.

Read more about this : KC DOG BLOG

New Dog Bite Study from HCUP (and some thoughts on the media coverage of it)

Dog Attack Statistics & Merrit Clifton

Scientific Studies

Some food for thought before we delve into this complicated subject, stated elegantly by an expert on dog attack statistics:

There are many studies and data related to dog bites and dog attacks. However, dog attacks on humans occur in the course of complex interactions between two sentient beings and occur in the most uncontrolled and unscientific settings, involving dozens of variables and circumstances which cannot be measured accurately.

For these reasons, there is no “science” behind any of the studies conducted on cases of dog attacks.—Karen Delise (NCRC website, Dog Bite Statistics: Science or Junk Science?)               Wrong numbers not statistics

Dog Attack Statistics: A Primer

by J. Thomas

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”—Benjamin Disraeli

Hur man ljuger med statistik

Hur man ljuger med statistik

Journalists who wish to use dog bite statistics in their articles must be familiar with proper interpretation of those statistics and must also have a fundamental understanding of the flaws that are inherent in the most popular dog attack studies available today. Unawareness of these flaws almost certainly guarantees misinterpretation of the numbers. Many journalists have already fallen into the traps presented by these studies, either by drawing their own incorrect conclusions or by perpetuating another journalist’s mistakes.

Where do the numbers come from?

There is no uniform dog bite reporting procedure, nor is there a national agency charged with collecting such data. Dog bite data is collected and reported haphazardly. Animal control departments, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and state health agencies may all collect different types of data, or none at all.

For example, when this author contacted Jim Schuermann, Staff Epidemiologist (Zoonotic and Vectorborne Diseases) of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Surveillance Group of the Texas Department of State Health Services, in March 2005 to inquire why the state of Texas no longer tracked dog bite statistics, he replied:

I’m sorry to report that this program has been discontinued. There was never a legislative mandate which required animal control agencies to submit reports on Severe Animal Bites. Although the Zoonosis Control Division highly encouraged all animal control agencies to voluntarily submit these reports, we would receive only 500 to 600 reports a year, and none of the major metropolitan areas (Amarillo, Brownsville, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, Laredo, Lubbock, or San Antonio) participated. As I’m sure you can imagine, without data from these cities the information we did manage to collect was severely limited in scope. We completed a program review and realized that the information collected could not be proven to be scientifically representative of the entire state and that analysis of the small data set we did collect did not reliably reflect statewide trends.

Because fatal dog attacks are so rare, they are slightly easier to track, and the CDC attempted one major study using fatal dog attack statistics (see below for analysis of the study). However, because fatal attacks represent an infinitely small fraction of all attacks, they cannot be considered representative of all dog attacks.

Several studies have attempted to gather dog bite information from news articles and other news media; in fact, Merritt Clifton’s often-referenced dog attack “study” relies entirely on news media. This is a particularly unreliable source of information about dog attacks, as shall be explained next.

First, not all dog attacks are covered by the media, and it is unclear what criteria is being used by the news media to decide whether or not to report a particular attack. If all dog bites were reported, approximately 915 dog bites would be featured in the news every day. To date, no one is tracking all of these dog bites.

And second, the news media frequently misidentifies breeds and types of dogs. Breed identification is next to impossible, especially in the case of mixed breed dogs (the majority of dogs in the U.S.). It often consists of a wild guess based on appearance, not DNA testing or any truly scientific method of identification. Journalists may record a dog’s breed based on statements from a victim, a neighbor, an animal control officer, a police officer, or a dog owner—none of whom may be experienced with breed identification. Journalists may also make a wild guess based on their own visual assessment of the dog. News media also tends to identify dogs as “pit bulls” even when they are not pit bulls. Corrections, if they are made, are usually obscure. Thus, breed-specific data from studies that rely on media sources to identify breeds must be considered non-scientific and unreliable.

Risk Assessment and the Population Problem

One of the most common and enduring myths surrounding the oft-abused CDC report on fatal dog attacks (see below) is that it somehow demonstrates that certain breeds of dogs are “more likely” to attack or kill than other breeds.

The CDC has made it clear, both in the preface and the conclusion of their study, as well as on their website below the link to the study, that the study’s statistics cannot be interpreted in that manner.

In order to determine whether a breed of dog is “riskier” than another breed, a standard risk calculation must be performed. The easiest way to understand this calculation is through an example.

If you record one bite by a green dog and ten bites by purple dogs, which is more likely to bite—a green dog or a purple dog? If you look at the numbers alone, you might think that purple dogs are more dangerous than green dogs, because there are more bites by purple dogs.

However, it turns out that there are five green dogs total, one of which bit. And there are one hundred purple dogs total, ten of which bit. Now which type of dog is more likely to bite? Based on the data, one out of five green dogs have bitten, or 20%, while only one out of ten purple dogs have bitten, or 10%.

Once we know what the total population of green and purple dogs is, we are able to calculate risk.

And as the CDC has determined, it is not possible to accurately provide total population data for all breeds or types of dogs. Additionally, there are a number of complicating factors, including how to categorize mixed breed dogs.

And to add to the difficulty, while risk assessment might work if all dogs were genetically identical and were raised and kept in identical environments, this does not reflect reality. Individual dogs have widely varying temperaments and are raised and trained by different owners in different environments, so there are a number of factors beside breed that play into whether a dog is likely to bite or not. In fact, there are a handful of environmental factors (such as the way the dog is kept) that are far more predictive of aggressive behavior than a dog’s breed or type. (Delise, 2002, 2007)

Correlation Versus Causation

Another logical fallacy that has been made when looking at dog bite statistics is the assumption that correlation equals causation: that is, when events are shown to be related, it is because one event causes the other.

For instance, it has been shown that senior citizens are more likely to vote than middle-aged individuals. There is a correlation between age and voting record, but it would be a fallacy to assume that old age somehow causes people to vote. Rather, other factors—such as how much time an individual can devote to participating in the election process, or how concerned a voter is about the issues to be voted on—must be considered. It is not necessarily the case that older people are somehow genetically driven to vote, but that they are mostly retired (giving them time to engage in voting activities) and also have concerns about health care and retirement benefits (common election issues).

Similarly, apparent correlations between dog breeds and numbers of fatal attacks can not be interpreted as proof that the dog’s breed is the reason why the dog attacks. Dog behavior, particularly aggression, is extremely complicated and involves a number of environmental and situational factors. Failure to recognize and analyze all of these factors results in misinterpretation and misapplication of statistics, with potentially dangerous results (such as the mythology of the dangerous/safe breed dichotomy).

A Closer Look At The Popular Studies

by Jackie Fitzgerald

Many studies have attempted to analyze the frequency and contributing factors of dog bites. Unfortunately, these studies are biased and use inaccurate counts of dog bites. There are numerous factors in a dog attack, many of which are not even considered in the major studies.

As dog attack expert Karen Delise says:

All dog bites/attacks are situational. Dogs bite in reaction to certain threats or stimuli—statistics about dog attacks purport to represent “canine aggression” however [they] do not take into account ANY of the situations under which a bite occurred. (E-mail interview with Delise, 4/22/08)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998

This is perhaps the most misused and misunderstood dog bite report. Politicians and the media often quote this report inaccurately.

The main flaw in the CDC study is that it attempts to characterize dog attacks by breed, while ignoring all other possible factors.

Media as a source of data

The CDC study uses media accounts in their findings. The media is known to misreport and skew articles on dog attacks and misidentify breeds (see Difficulty of Breed Identification).

Missing data

The report also admits that it does not cover twenty-eight percent of fatal dog attacks. It is not clear what the study results would have been if all fatal dog attacks were included.

Miscategorization and misidentification

In the study, on the chart showing the number of dog bite-related deaths, the CDC has divided the attacks into sections titled Purebred and Crossbred. The CDC has listed Pit Bull-type and Husky-type under both the Purebred and Crossbred divisions. A “type” is not a breed.

Pit Bull-types are often categorized as dogs with short fur and a boxy head. There are over twenty breeds of dogs that fit this description, including the American Bulldog, Boxer, Olde English Bulldogge, Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, Bull Mastiff, American Pit Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino, Tosa Inu, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Dogue de Bordeaux, Fila Brasileiro, Presa Canario, Catahoula Leopard Dog, Cane Corso, Black Mouth Cur, and the Shar Pei.

Husky-types are often identified as medium sized dogs with long fur. This is extremely vague. Dogs that meet this description include the Akita Inu, Shiba Inu, Alaskan Malamute, Samoyed, Elkhound, Hokkaido Inu, Laika, Siberian Husky, Chow Chow, Alaskan Husky, and the Greenland Dog.

It is inaccurate to list all such breeds under one title; such groupings distort the study’s findings. Yet few people could recognize all these breeds correctly.

The CDC study uses inconclusive sources, fails to account for breed misidentification, and erroneously groups breeds.

Study conclusion

Despite the study’s flaws, the study authors conclude that breed-specific legislation is inefficient; BSL fails to recognize that any dog of any breed can exhibit aggressive behaviors.

Merritt Clifton
Dog Attack Deaths and Maimings, U.S. and Canada, 1982 through 2007 (updated yearly)

Merritt Clifton’s study is a medley of newspaper articles that present a very biased and inaccurate overview of dog bites. It is more of an incomplete tally of severe bites than a study.

Media as only source of data

Clifton’s only source for his findings is the media, and he focuses on cases that required “extensive hospitalization.” This term is never defined in his article. It might mean stitches, or it might mean amputation.

Missing data

In the beginning of the study, Clifton states that attacks by police dogs, guard dogs, dogs trained to fight, and dogs whose breed may be uncertain are excluded. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume a good number of attacks are not included. This might leave the reader with the assumption that Clifton has included all other dog attacks.

The CDC reports in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that of the “333,700 patients treated for dog bites in emergency departments in 1994, approximately 6,000 were hospitalized.” (July 4, 2003 article at

However, Clifton lists only 2,363 bites total—and that is over the 25 years that he has tallied media reports of attacks.

If approximately 6,000 people require hospitalization each year because of a dog attack, then over 25 years, there would have been 150,000 people hospitalized. Yet Clifton has apparently only found media reports for 1.6% of all these attacks.

Clifton’s report therefore implies that the remaining 98.4% of bites that required “extensive hospitalization” according to the CDC were by non-identifiable types of dogs or police, guard, or fighting animals. This is highly unlikely. Clifton’s data is so incomplete as to make it virtually useless for analyzing patterns related to severe dog attacks.

Miscategorization and misidentification

On Clifton’s list of all dog attacks and the dogs’ breed, he makes several mistakes.

He lists the Australian Blue Heeler, the Australian Cattle Dog, the Blue Heeler, and the Queensland Heeler as separate breeds. These are all different names for the same breed. Listing these attacks under separate breed names skewed the results of the study.

It should be noted that Clifton does not attempt to divide pit bull attacks into separate breed names. If he were to do so, it is not clear what his study results would show; “pit bull” is a generic term for at least three different breeds of dogs, and dozens of other breeds are often lumped into the “pit bull” category based on their similar appearance.

There are also 33 attacks that were supposedly done by “Bull Mastiff (Presa Canario).” Bull Mastiffs and Presa Canarios are distinctly different breeds, and if there is question about which breed the dog is, this attack should not be listed as a “clearly identified breed.”

The report also attempts to identify the predominant breed in dogs. Clifton gives no reason as to why he listed an attack as being done by an Akita/Chow mix instead of a Chow/Akita mix. How did he determine that Beagle was the predominant breed in the attack done by a Beagle/German Shepherd Dog?

Clifton makes several spelling mistakes throughout his report. Misidentified breeds listed as a “Chox mix,” “Dauschund,” “Doge De Bordeaux,” “Fila Brasiero,” “Buff Mastiff,” “Great Pyranees,” and “Weimaeaner” compromise Clifton’s credibility.

Inability to determine risk scientifically

In Clifton’s analysis, he attempts to evaluate dog behavior based on breed, bite frequency, and “degree of relative risk.”

Yet Clifton has shown numerous times in his report that he cannot identify a breed properly, or even spell breed names correctly.

Both bite frequency and degree of relative risk are impossible to calculate. No one knows how often breeds bite since hundreds of bites go unreported. And to attempt to determine a “degree of relative risk,” Clifton would have to know every factor that contributed to every dog bite.

Even the CDC concluded at the end of their own flawed study (see above) that there is no way to determine relative risk:

There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill.

Merritt Clifton apparently does not understand the many factors that go into a reliable calculation of relative risk, nor does he wish to acknowledge that trained researchers realize that many, if not most, of those factors can never be known or calculated.

Misapplied and misinterpreted data

Clifton’s analysis section is full of faults and absurd assumptions.

Of the breeds most often involved in incidents of sufficient severity to be listed, pit bull terriers are noteworthy for attacking adults almost as frequently as children. This is a very rare pattern . . . Pit bulls seem to differ behaviorally from other dogs in having far less inhibition about attacking people who are larger than they are.

As discussed, Clifton has tallied less than two percent of all severe dog attacks. He clearly has no idea how frequently pit bulls—or any other type of dog, for that matter—bite.

Furthermore, without knowing all bite factors, including the dog’s health, condition, sexual state, training, environment, and the behavior of the victim, there is no way Clifton could possibly conceive any possible pattern or difference as to who pit bulls attack.

Since Clifton is tallying media articles, his conclusion seems to be more telling of media coverage of dog bites. If one was to assume that the media is more likely to publish a pit bull attack than an attack by another type of dog, and more likely to publish an attack on a child than an attack on an adult, it stands to reason that while media-reported pit bull attacks include both adults and children, media reports about other types of dogs’ attacks may only be considered newsworthy when a child is involved. Thus, it may appear that pit bulls are overrepresented in attacks on adults.

Misunderstanding of dog behavior and ignorance about breed standards

They [pit bulls] are also notorious for attacking seemingly without warning, a tendency exacerbated by the custom of docking pit bulls’ tails so that warning signals are not easily recognized. Thus the adult victim of a pit bull attack may have had little or no opportunity to read the warning signals that would avert an attack from any other dog.

All dogs exhibit warning signs. Pit bull expert Diane Jessup, a retired animal control officer and police dog trainer, stated in her book The Working Pit Bull, “all Pit Bulls do give some warning that they are going to attack.”

Studies have indicated that, generally, people do not understand dog body language. A person may not recognize that a dog standing very still, legs apart, tail waving slowly, is indicating an impending attack. When one cannot identify all possible threat behaviors, it might appear that a dog is attacking without warning. Clifton provides no evidence to show that victims are oblivious to impending attacks by pit bulls at a greater rate than impending attacks by other dogs.

Clifton’s statement that pit bulls’ tails are customarily docked demonstrates his lack of familiarity with the breed-type. A list of traditionally docked breeds can be found on the Council of Docked Breeds website ( None of the pit bull breeds, to include the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrer, can be found on this list. Nor can any of the breeds that are occasionally mistaken to be “pit bulls,” such as the American Bulldog, Bull Mastiff, and Bull Terrier. Tail docking has never been common or customary with any of the pit bull types. Docking the tail of an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier or Staffordshire Bull Terrier means immediate disqualification from the show ring.

To substantiate his assertions that 1) pit bulls customarily have their tails docked, and 2) tail docking results in an inability for people to read canine body language, Clifton would need to provide evidence that a disproportionate number of pit bulls or attacking dogs have had their tails docked, and further, that a dog’s tail is the primary predictor of an impending attack. He provides no such evidence.

There are over 50 different breeds of dogs, including the Cocker Spaniel, Airedale Terrier, German pointer, Jack Russell Terrier, Poodle, and Corgi, whose tails are traditionally docked. (Council of Docked Breeds) If tail docking inhibits the communication of impending aggression, why are tail-less breeds not disproportionately represented in any list of severe and fatal attacks?

Excuses for some breeds’ behavior

Rottweilers . . . seem to show up disproportionately often in the mauling, killing, and maiming statistics simply because they are both quite popular and very powerful . . .

Clifton excuses Rottweilers’ attacks due to the fact that they are both popular and powerful. Yet pit bulls, who are also popular and strong, are not given this same excuse.

In the German shepherd mauling, killing, and maiming cases I have recorded, there have almost always been circumstances of duress: the dog was deranged from being kept alone on a chain for prolonged periods without human contract, was starving, was otherwise severely abused, was protecting puppies, or was part of a pack including other dangerous dogs. None of the German shepherd attacks have involved predatory behavior on the part of an otherwise healthy dog. [sic]

Here Clifton excuses German Shepherd attacks due to outside factors. This implies that no other type of dog in his study attacked because it was left neglected, abused, chained or left untrained and unsocialized. Yet he offers no proof to substantiate the idea that all other cases he recorded involved trained, socialized, beloved family pets.

[I]t is sheer foolishness to encourage people to regard pit bull terriers and Rottweilers as just dogs like any other, no matter how much they may behave like other dogs under ordinary circumstances.

Clifton implies that pit bulls and Rottweilers no longer behave like dogs under extra-ordinary circumstances. What those extra-ordinary circumstances are is unstated, and how pit bulls and Rottweilers suddenly become behaviorally different under those circumstances is not demonstrated in the report.

To imply that pit bulls and Rottweilers are not to be regarded as dogs even though they act like ordinary canines is absurd. Clifton’s agenda is quite clear—he badly wishes to portray pit bulls and Rottweilers as somehow unique—but his “study” is so flawed that he cannot prove any of his sweeping generalizations.

Temperament is not the issue, nor is it even relevant. What is relevant is actuarial risk.

Here Clifton returns to the idea that, somehow, we can calculate the “riskiness” or “relative danger” of particular breeds or types of dogs. As demonstrated earlier in this article, it is not possible to do this.

Furthermore, it is totally bizarre to say that temperament is not an issue. Temperament plays a huge part in dog attacks, as any canine behaviorist or dog bite researcher would agree. A very large dog may be able to do a lot of damage if it bites someone, but if the dog is extremely placid by nature (temperament), there’s very little danger to the public. On the contrary, a smaller dog may do less damage if it attacks, but if it is extremely aggressive, it could maul or kill someone. To suggest that temperament isn’t even relevant is ridiculous.

If almost any other dog has a bad moment, someone may get bitten, but will not be maimed for life or killed, and the actuarial risk is accordingly reasonable. If a pit bull terrier or a Rottweiler has a bad moment, often someone is maimed or killed—and that has now created off-the-chart actuarial risk, for which the dogs as well as their victims are paying the price.

Clifton’s own “study” disproves his assertions. His own tally of severe and fatal dog attacks includes over 50 different types and breeds of dogs. It seems clear that dogs of all types can have “bad moments” that result in severe injury.

Study conclusion

Clifton concludes in his article that he “[does] not know how an effective, fair, enforceable, humane dangerous dog law could be constructed.” He goes on to propose breed-specific legislation as the solution to dangerous dogs, yet provides no scientific evidence that BSL actually works.

Jaclyn Barnes
Ownership of High-Risk (“Vicious”) Dogs as a Marker for Deviant Behaviors: Implications for Risk Assessment

Jaclyn Barnes’s study is an attempt to find parallels between choice of dog breed and criminal activity. The study attempts to help law enforcement identify “risk factors” that would lead a person to cause harm to either themselves or others by dog breed.

The study used 355 owners of “licensed or cited dogs that represented high or low-risk breeds.” Some of the owners had a “criminal background,” which included minor traffic citations.

Barnes used the Ohio Revised Code definition for “vicious dog” to classify high-risk dogs for the purposes of the study. However, Ohio considers all pit bulls to be prima facie vicious dogs. For this reason, all pit bulls were automatically placed into the “high-risk” category regardless of the individual dogs’ behavior.

[S]ome breeds, namely Pit Bulls, may qualify as “vicious dogs” simply by reputation, not because a specific dog has behaved in a harmful manner.

The study therefore defines a “high-risk” dog as a dog that without provocation has killed or seriously injured a person, killed another dog, or is a pit bull.

Potential for skewed population due to breed misidentification

The study author does not explain how breeds are identified, but the reader supposes that the breed is taken off either license or citation paperwork. This means that, in the case of a license, the owner decides what a dog’s breed is. In the case of a citation, an animal control officer probably decides what a dog’s breed is.

This naturally leads to a serious question about identification accuracy, especially since most dogs are not purebred. For instance, animal control officers may be inclined to over-identify troublesome dogs as “pit bulls” because the category is broad and vaguely defined, and because Ohio’s BSL gives animal control more tools to deal with problematic “pit bulls” than with other types of problematic dogs, thus encouraging them to declare dogs “pit bulls.”

Barnes also observes that “some owners license a HR [high risk] dog such as a Pit Bull as another breed, such as Boxer” to avoid the automatic designation of “vicious” that Ohio places on pit bulls. Obviously, this suggests that Barnes’s population may be skewed due to the effects of BSL; some dog owners are intentionally misidentifying their dog’s breed, and Barnes has no ability to correct for this problem. This means that data for the other breeds tallied by Barnes may actually have been data for pit bull mixes that were intentionally recorded by the owners as a different breed.

Barnes also includes two “breeds” that aren’t recognized by any reputable kennel club—the “Ahra” and the “Terripoo.” It is not clear what an Ahra is, but Terripoo might be a mix of poodle and terrier, so the latter, at least, should have been included as a “mixed breed.”

Concerns about population selection

Furthermore, examination of the base population studied by Barnes raises some serious concerns. Barnes collected the study population by choosing from citations issued by the Cincinnati SPCA and by choosing from licenses issued by Hamilton County in Ohio.

Presumably these choices were random, yet a look at the breed tally raises eyebrows immediately. Only one Labrador Retriever is included. It is hard to understand how random selection of 355 dogs would only produce a single Labrador Retriever. Similarly, only eight mixed breeds are listed. By contrast, 153 Pit Bulls were included in the 355-dog total.

It is unclear how supposedly random selection produced such a bizarre population makeup. Barnes does not explain why this occurs.

Breed bias

The study also shows apparent breed bias. As mentioned previously, there is one Labrador Retriever included, under “high-risk cited,” and it has a notation next to the listing. The note declares that the dog was only listed because it attacked and killed another dog.

What was it about this attack that required a notation? Dogs that kill other dogs are already included as “high-risk” as mentioned in the study. Was it the condition of the attack that prompted Barnes to include the notation? Or was it the fact that no one expects a Labrador to be capable of attacking?


Despite so many serious issues with Barnes’s study setup and population selection, Barnes goes on to conclude that there is a correlation between ownership of a “high-risk” dog and criminal convictions. She correctly cautions that this cannot be translated into a cause-and-effect relationship.

It is the opinion of this author that the mere fact that the study was performed in an area with BSL immediately brings about narrow results that cannot be applied to the rest of the U.S. Had this study been done in a place with no BSL, this author feels that the results would have been distinctly different.

Sources and Resources

Barnes, Jaclyn. “Ownership of High-Risk (“Vicious”) Dogs as a Marker for Deviant Behaviors: Implications for Risk Assessment.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 2006.

Bradley, Janis. Dogs Bite: But Balloons and Slippers Are More Dangerous. James & Kenneth Publishers, 2005.

Bradley, Janis. “Dog bites: Problems and solutions.” Animals and Society Institute, 2006.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998.”  It does not identify specific breeds that are most likely to bite or kill, and thus is not appropriate for policy-making decisions related to the topic. Each year, 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs. These bites result in approximately 16 fatalities; about 0.0002 percent of the total number of people bitten. These relatively few fatalities offer the only available information about breeds involved in dog bites. There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill :

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dog Bite: Fact Sheet

Clifton, Merritt. “Dog Attack Deaths and Maimings, U.S. and Canada, 1982 through 2007.” Self published.

Delise, Karen. Fatal Dog Attacks: The Facts Behind the Statistics. Anubis Press, 2002.

Delise, Karen. The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths, and Politics of Canine Aggression. Anubis Press, 2007.

The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression

National Canine Research Council.

Statistics Help For Journalists.

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Media och kamphundar

A couple of months ago, a writer from the Denver Post acknowledged that his newspaper was guilty — as charged – of over-reporting dog bites attributed to ‘pit bulls’ vs other types of dogs. In Denver, the newspaper had covered individual dog bite incidents 20 times in the past 5 years — and the breed or type of dog was mentioned on only 9 occassions — in 8 of those, a ‘pit bull’ was the dog responsible.

Now, a reporter/blogger in San Francisco took it upon herself to look at how the San Francisco Chronicle has faired in its reporting.

According to her information, since 2005, the newspaper has covered 34 specific dog attacks.  ”Pit Bulls” were responsible for 22 of the attacks — and in every single instance the ‘breed’ of dog was mentioned in the headline.

However, in the 12 articles about incidents not involving ‘pit bull’ type dogs — not a single article had the breed of dog involved in the attack in the headline.  Even the writer acknowledges that her paper may be responsible for over-reporting as well.

What the writer fails to note, is the headlines only tell a partial story.

According to numbers that I obtained through an FOI request a couple of years ago, in the time period of July 1, 2004 – August 15, 2007, ‘pit bulls’ accounted for 17.7% of all of the dog bites recorded by San Francisco animal control.  So while bites by ‘pit bulls’ accounted for 17.7% of all bites, they accounted for 65% of all dog bite stories – -and 100% of the stories where the breed type was mentioned in the headlines.

This is a common theme when it comes to media reporting — I noted this about a year ago about reporting in Mobile, AL also.

As more newspapers begin to acknowledge their role in creating the hysteria, we can begin changing the narrative from being about breed-hysteria, and more about actual causes of bites and attacks which will make a real difference in dog bite safety. It also continues to slash away at any credibility dog bite ”studies” based solely on media accounts may have ever had.

In the Denver Post and the San Francisco Chronicle we have 2 of the 10 largest circulation newspapers in the country admitting that they are guilty…hopefully this will be a trend that will lead to the problem being fixed.

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Tidningarna skriver bara om kamphundar.

Hur mycket är medias fel….. 
In July, the Denver Post published a provocative article questioning the role of the media in the pit bulls’ ”bad rap,” including the tendency to over-report attacks instigated by ”pit-bull-type” dogs while under-reporting incidents involving other breeds.
Petey, the pit bull from Little Rascals.

Petey, the pit bull from Little Rascals.

You don’t need to look very hard or be very bright to come to the conclusion that pit bull attacks sell papers. The National Canine Research Council recently issued a report that shows how similar attacks over a four-day period involving four different types of dogs resulted in significantly different media exposure. And the ASPCA issued a statement that the media has repeatedly told them that they have no interest in reporting attacks involving non-pit-bull-type dogs.

Last year, the blog posted a story about a TV station in Mobile, Alabama that mentioned the breed in 100% of dog bite stories involving pits. Pit bulls, however, were only involved in about 20% of the dog bites in the community (also behind Labs).

To explore the potential bias of his own news agency, the reporter from the Denver Post looked at article headlines over the past five years and found that the paper had covered 20 different stories involving dog attacks. Nine had the breed of dog in the headlines and eight named pit bulls. (One named a Rottweiler.) When you put this into the context that ”pit bulls” make up only 8% of the dog bites reported in the state of Colorado — and aren’t even the top biting dog in the state (Labs were #1) — you might begin to wonder why the city of Denver went to the trouble of banning the breed in the first place.

(It’s interesting to note that the term ”pit bull” is a slang term used to describe three distinct breeds: the American Pit Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. These three targeted breeds achieved a combined passing canine temperament score of 86.6% — a higher passing percentage than the Golden Retriever’s 83.6%.)

So how does the San Francisco Chronicle’s reporting fare, you ask? Inspired by the Denver Post story, I did a quick search in the Chronicle’s archives for ”dog attack,” which yielded 34 stories about specific dog attacks on humans written between January 1, 2005 and today. While 22 of those articles mentioned the breed in the headline (100% named pit bulls as the attackers), the other 12 articles, which involved attacks by other breeds (including shepherd mixes, Boxers and a Golder Retriever mix), had only generic ”dog attack” headlines, rather than outing the specific breed. Media bias? It certainly looks that way, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Nearly every time a pit-bull-attack story appears in the news, it ignites new fervor for breed-specific legislation (BSL). However, the mass banning of specific breeds has been shown to be ineffectual when it comes to dog-bite prevention. Most BSL legislation that has been implemented has been costly, problematic to enforce and has ultimately not solved the problem. Most laws on the books contain vague language to determine what a pit bull is and often completely ignore the responsibility of the owner. Spaying and neutering of animals, proper training and socialization and responsible breeding are all important factors in preventing dog bites.

In Denver’s case, the apparent media bias of its newspapers and television stations has helped spur countless lawsuits, the senseless killing of thousands of dogs and mountains of legal fees paid at taxpayer expense to support a ban that hasn’t helped to solve the problem for which it was originally proposed: to reduce the overall number of dog bite incidents.

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Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada,

September 1982 to December 22, 2009,

 Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada

September 1982 to November 13, 2006

by Merritt Clifton editor, ANIMAL PEOPLE





In Clifton’s 2006 study (that covers media-reported bites from 1982 – November 13, 2006), Clifton’s numbers suggest that there were 2,209 ”attacks doing bodily harm” and 1,323 ”maimings”.
In Clifton’s 2009 Study (which covers bites from 1982-through the end of 2009), Clifton reports 2,694 ”attacks doing bodily harm” and 1,493 ”Maimings”.
So from 2006 to 2009, Clifton reports 485 ”attacks doing bodily harm” and 170 ”maimings”
However, Clifton takes it one step further. He also pulls out the total number of attacks by ”pit bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios and their mixes”.
In 2006, Clifton shows this number to be 1,638 ”attacks” and 893 ”maimings”.  In 2009, he shows 2,147 ”attacks” and 1108 ”maimings”.

So in the time frame, he shows 509 attacks doing bodily harm by his selected groups of breeds and 215 maimings. So in the past 3 years, Clifton’s ”report” shows that pit bulls, rottweilers and presa canarios were responsible for MORE  attacks and maimings than he shows even happening — which is obviously impossible

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