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Dog attacks on humans, including those which have resulted in the death of the victim, have become increasingly common in the late 20th and early 21st centuries[How to reference and link to summary or text]. There is much debate over whether the attacks can be blamed on the prevalence of certain breeds of dogs or whether they are due primarily to the actions or inactions of the dogs' owners.
Dogs are by default (after the clearing of larger or more dangerous predators) the most powerful predators other than humans in many parts of the world. They remain cunning, swift, agile, strong, territorial, and voracious despite domestication; even small ones have large, sharp teeth and claws and powerful muscles in their jaws and legs, and can inflict serious injuries. The lacerations even from inadvertent dog scratches, let alone deliberate or reckless bites, are easily infected. Large dogs can knock people down. To be sure, dogs are far more reliable than other predators of like size (for example, leopards and cougars smaller than some breeds of dogs) and most larger herbivores. Dogs and humans are usually clever enough to recognize the folly of potential threats to each other and avoid danger, recognizing humans as themselves similarly predatory, or have mutual affection that precludes attack.
Should affection or mutual respect not exist (as with feral dogs), should a dog be conditioned to become an attacker, or should someone intrude upon a dog's territory and pose a threat, then the natural tendencies of a predator manifest themselves in a dog attack in which the dog, like all other formidable predators, uses its predatory abilities to defend itself.
Education for adults and children, animal training, selective breeding for temperament, and society's intolerance for dangerous animals combine to reduce the incidence of attacks and accidents involving humans and dogs. However, improperly managed confrontations can lead to severe injury from even the most well-tempered dog, much like most humans can be incited to violence given sufficient provocation.
There are many signs that a dog is about to attack, such as barks. A wagging tail indicates an attempt to communicate excitement, but a territorial dog may wag its tail at a chance to defend its home. A highly disturbed dog may sometimes emit confusing or misleading signals, yelping or jumping.
Human behavior as provocationEdit
Most human behavior (especially by people unfamiliar with dogs) can potentially evoke a predatory or aggressive response from some dogs. Not every dog responds to all or even any of these behaviors with aggression. However, some do. These behaviors include:
- Approaching dogs already fighting
- Attacking a dog or its companions (which could be other dogs, humans, or even cats), or acting in a manner that the dog perceives as an attack (for example, a sudden enthusiastic hug or inadvertently stepping on any portion of the dog's anatomy, such as a paw or tail).
- Attempting to take food or water away from a dog, or moving towards a dog's food or water or between a dog and its food or water, even inadvertently.
- Threatening a puppy in the presence of an adult dog, especially its mother.
- Looking a dog directly in the eyes. In dog communication, this is an act of dominance or aggression. This is more dangerous when on the same visual level as the dog (such as small children), or when the human is unfamiliar to the dog.
- Approaching a sick or injured dog. Note that older dogs, like people, often become "cranky" and develop a tendency to become "snappish".
- Related to the previous point, failure to recognize a dog showing signs of insecurity or fear and continuing whatever behavior is causing the dog's anxiety to increase, until "fear biting" occurs. Again, an older or chronically infirm dog is liable to develop feelings of vulnerability and anxiety, and therefore become less tolerant and more aggressive.
- Running away from a dog: the atavistic chase-and-catch instinct is not fully lost, and most dogs can outrun and overtake the average human.
- Similarly, the natural instinct to jerk one's hands upwards away from an inquisitive dog often elicits in the dog a strong impulse to grab and hold, or at least to investigate, resulting in the dog jumping on the person and thrusting its head towards the raised hands.
- Ignoring "Beware of Dog" signs: trained attack dogs, unlike most dogs, may attack an intruder without warning.
- Startling a resting or sleeping dog.
- Entering a dog's "territory" and behaving in an unfamiliar pattern or being unfamiliar to the dog. The dog's territorialism, powerful senses, and latent ferocity makes almost any dog, irrespective of size, a powerful deterrent to burglars. The territory that a dog recognizes as its own may not coincide with the property lines that its owner and the legal authorities recognize, such as a portion of a neighbor's backyard.
Many adoption agencies test for aggressive behavior in dogs, and destroy any animal that shows certain types of aggression.
Even dogs considered to be "family-friendly", such as Golden Retrievers, are capable of biting a child. A parent would rarely leave a child alone with an unknown pitbull, but people forget that even a cute dog is still a dog. Just because a dog typically has a good temperament does not mean that it is safe to leave a child alone with it. Since children are most easily harmed by dogs, there are a few steps that can be taken to ensure no harm comes to a child, or to the dog by extension:
- Teach children to never to approach a dog that they don't know.
- Always ask the owner if you can pet their dog. Owners know the temperament of their dogs.
- Approach dogs from the front. They could be startled if approached from behind and at the least may knock you over.
- Refrain from making sudden jerky movements. This could make the dog think you are playing or being aggressive.
- Never allow unsupervised play by young children with any adult dog or puppy -- even one's own. An accident only takes few seconds.
- Intervene and stop play if it looks too rambunctious or boisterous. Children aren't as durable as puppies. Puppies regularly bite as a part of regular play with other puppies.
- Always watch children to see what they are doing with the dog, and if what they are doing is dangerous or not.
Training and aggressionEdit
In a domestic situation, canine aggression is normally suppressed. Exceptions are if the dog is feral, trained to attack intruders, threatened, or provoked. It is important to remember that dogs are predators by nature and instinct is something that never completely disappears, and that predatory behavior against other animals (such as chasing other animals) may train a dog or a pack of dogs to attack humans. It is possible to acclimatize a dog to common human situations in order to avoid adverse reactions by a pet. Dog experts advocate removal of a dog's food, startling a dog, and performing sudden movements in a controlled setting to train out aggressive impulses in common situations. This also allows better animal care since owners may now remove an article directly from a dog's mouth, or transport a wounded pet to seek medical attention.
Small children are especially prone to provoking dogs, in part this is because their size and movements can be similar to prey. Also, young children may unintentionally provoke a dog (pulling on ears or tails is common, as is surprising a sleeping dog) because of their inexperience. Because of a dog's pack instincts, more dominant dogs may view children or even adults as rivals rather than as superiors, and attempt to establish dominance by physical means. Any attempt at dominance behavior, no matter how tentative, should be extremely firmly discouraged as early as possible, to affirm to the dog that all humans are pack superiors. To avoid potential conflicts, even reliably well-behaved children and dogs should not be allowed to interact in the absence of adult supervision.
Dogs with strong chase instincts, especially shepherds, may fail to recognize a human being in its entirety. They may fixate on specific aspect of the person, such as a fast-moving, brightly colored shoe, as a prey object. This is probably the cause for the majority of non-aggressive dogs chasing cyclists and runners. In these cases, if the individual stops, it immediately loses interest since the prey has stopped. This is not always the case, and aggressive dogs might take the opportunity to attack.
Additionally, most dogs who bark aggressively at strangers, particularly when not on "their" territory, will flee if the stranger challenges it. Conversely, there is always the danger of the occasional dog who will stand its ground and escalate the situation.
When dogs are near humans they normally become less aggressive. This is because familiarity with human beings cause a lower likelihood of attack. However, it should not be assumed that because a dog has been with many humans it will not attack anybody. If a dog feels a potential threat it may attack. Caution needs to be taken when approaching new dogs for the first time. Each dog is an individual and should be treated as such.
Dog attacks on humans that appear most often in the news are those that require the hospitalization of the victim or those in which the victim is killed. Although it is possible for small dogs to seriously maul or kill humans, it is more difficult for them to do so than it is for large, muscular breeds.
Considerable controversy reigns about such legislation. Proponents might argue that pit bulls and certain other breeds are inherently aggressive towards humans and shouldn't be allowed at all, or they might simply argue that since the breed is so popular, they are often owned by irresponsible owners who provide insufficient training or, worse, aggressiveness training, and that controlling the breed is the best way to control the irresponsible owners.
Opponents might argue that no breed is inherently aggressive towards humans or that regulating one breed simply moves the irresponsible owners to start focusing on breeds that haven't yet been regulated, moving the problem to other breeds.
It is extremely difficult to establish the inherent human aggressiveness of a breed in general. To establish meaningful results, research would have to consider such factors as the following:
- What proportion of a breed's owners are knowledgeable about dog training? When a breed's popularity increases, it might be more likely to be the first choice among owners with no previous experience with dogs because it's the breed with which they're familiar. Novice owners might not know how to properly socialize a dog of any breed.
- What proportion of owners deliberately encourage aggression in their dogs, or keep their dogs in a manner which fosters aggressive traits? This would be a difficult number to discover, because it seems likely that not many owners would readily admit to it. Also even though it may not be intended to train a dog to be aggressive, it is well documented that many dog owners do inadvertently teach a dog to think of itself as dominant.
- What proportion of dogs involved in acts of human aggression came from a known mother or father who exhibited human aggression? This can happen in any breed, and responsible breeders would generally not breed such a dog. However, as a breed's popularity increases, people who know nothing about breeding or genetics (or who don't care), might breed dogs who otherwise shouldn't be bred.
- What proportion of that breed in the community exhibits human aggression? For example, if there were 5,000 pit bulls in a given area, and 5 attacked humans during the previous year, but there were 100 of some other breed in the same area and 5 also attacked humans, statistics would suggest that the other breed is a far more aggressive breed than pit bulls, with 4,995 pit bulls behaving quite decently. Most statistics published show only the number of dogs of various breeds involved in attacks, not the percentage of dogs of that breed in the area who were involved in attacks. Any popular breed is more likely to show up with more attacks because there are simply more dogs, just as a less popular breed will show up as having a higher percentage of attacks because there are simply fewer dogs.
One approach that acknowledges that it's hard to determine the dangerousness of a specific breed takes the strategy of regulating all dogs over a certain size or weight, which would greatly reduce the chance of a dog being large enough to inflict serious harm. This, of course, would remove from circulation most of the hundreds of breeds available in the world today, most of whom would never deliberately harm a human.
Although research and analysis suggests that breed-specific legislation is not effective in preventing dog attacks, with each new attack, pressure mounts to enact such legislation, despite indications that dangerous dog legislation would be more effective—that is, focusing on specific individual dogs having exhibited signs of human aggression. The controversy is bound to continue.
Legal issues (United States)Edit
Although using a firearm against an attacking dog may seem acceptable, laws in the United States which prohibit cruelty to animals, discharging a firearm in a city, and reckless endangerment may limit the extent to which a person is legally able to defend themselves in this way. [How to reference and link to summary or text] There will generally be no legal defense to taking such action where the dogs involved were not acting aggressively towards humans.  
Some state laws hold dog owners liable for the harm or damage that their animal causes to people or other dogs. For example, in recent years, Florida dog bite laws have been changed so that prior vicious tendencies may no longer be needed to prove owner liability. In Texas, as of September 1, 2007, `Lillian's Law' has taken effect, whereby the owner of a dog that causes death or serious bodily injury may be charged with a second or third degree felony when the attack takes place outside the dog's normal place of confinement (Texas Health & Safety Code Chapter 882).
- CDC statistics
- ^ Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998, Jeffrey J. Sacks, MD, MPH; Leslie Sinclair, DVM; Julie Gilchrist, MD; Gail C. Golab, PhD, DVM; Randall Lockwood, PhD. JAVMA, Vol 217, No. 6, September 15, 2000.
- ^ World Almanac and Book of Facts 1985. Doubleday.
- ^ World Almanac and Book of Facts 1988. World Almanac Books.
- ^ Breed-Specific Legislation in the United States. Linda S. Weiss, Michigan State University - Detroit College of Law (2001). Animal Legal and Historical Web Center
- ^ "Nonfatal Dog Bite--Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments", CDC MMWR, July 4, 2003.
- ^ Dog Owner Liability, Legal Center For The Injured (2007)
- Rover's Law - Megan's Law for Bad Dogs
- Dogs Bite but Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous by Janis Bradley, 2005