Does your dog bite? (on dog bite studies and foregone conclusions)
A new article in last week’s Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) reported on the epidemiology of dog bites in Multnomah County, Oregon as tallied by its Animal Services department. The paper pinpointed those most at risk (5 to 9 year-old boys) and the profiles of the most frequent offenders (unneutered purebred males owned by lower-than median income households).
I guess the target’s not a big shock. Boys at these ages are growing large enough for dogs to respond to the challenge they increasingly pose in the household’s social structure. If you’ve ever lived with one of these humans, you’ll also vouch for their bouts of erratically injudicious, occasionally violent behavior. As they say, boys will be boys.
Then there’s the biter:
Unneutered male makes sense. Everyone knows more testosterone = more of a hair trigger for aggressive impulses. But “purebred” adds something else to the equation: Why are purebreds more likely to bite over others?
Finally comes the last bit of this study, the one that really gets me thinking: the economic factor. Why are poorer families are at higher risk of dog bites? Does it have to do with their resources and education level when it comes to training their dogs? Or is it more likely a cultural issue and the predilection of certain lower-income cultures for aggressive dogs employed for protection?
It may be an issue of household density as well. Smaller houses, smaller yards, territoriality, etc. But who knows? After all, these were the only bites reported (presumably by hospitals and aggrieved individuals or their parents).
Wouldn’t the sampling error inherent in the population of those more likely to go to the hospital instead of a private physician or to those more likely to report a neighbor’s bite to a child also skew the demographics of a study like this? And might not the sampling error extend to the reporting of breeds as well? (e.g., My sister’s dogs look like Rottweilers to the average non-dog person…but they’re not.)
One thing I do know: There isn’t any dog bite research (I know of) that delves deeply into the mechanics of dog biting. Most are this-breed-or-that type studies that always seem to neglect anything but the most superficial attributes of the biter or bitee.
Given that studies like this are used so commonly to defend breed-ban legislation, it seems to me that they need to go a tad further than an evaluation of 636 dog bites in a population of 47,000 “licensed” dogs over the course of twelve months in one county in the Pacific Northwest. Any thoughts?