Every so often a dog bite attack will attract a lot of media attention, complete with gruesome and sensational details to get views and clicks, but lacking any useful information that could help us understand the context and causes of the attack.
Few know the actual dog bite statistics by breed — how often dog bites actually occur, the severity of these bites, and which dog breeds bite the most.
In the US, dog bite injuries are not a significant source of hospitalizations. Nearly 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year, meaning that your odds of getting bitten are around 1 in 70. 81% of those bites cause little to no injury and do not require medical attention.
Fatal dog attacks in the US are even more unlikely at 1 in 112,400. For some context, the odds of dying from heart disease (1 in 6) or from chocking on food (1 in 2,618) are significantly higher.
There’s a lot of statistics you can find on the internet on dog bite injuries with different categories and metrics. We’ve summarized the latest research on dog bites so you can be better informed on which dogs tend to bite, why, and what responsible pet owners should do to keep themselves and others safe.
Dog Bite Statistics by Breed
By far the most common way of organizing data collected on dog bites is by breed. Most data focuses on the following five:
#1 Pit Bull
Pit Bulls have a reputation for being the most aggressive dog breed, because they are largely bred and desired for aggression and strength for guarding, attacking and illegal dog fighting.
When a Pit Bull attacks it can often be unprompted and they are found to attack adults and children at equal rates. Their bites can be powerful and dangerous, particularly if they hold their bite and don’t immediately release.
There is a myth that once Pit Bulls have bitten down, their jaws can lock, making their bite extra deadly. This is not true; no dog has a “locking” jaw. But a dog can choose to hold a bite for an extended period of time, causing even greater damage.
Many sources say that Pit Bulls, when socialized correctly, can be loving pets and very good with children.
According to PETA, Pit Bulls are some of the most abused dogs in the world because of the brutality of illegal dog fighting. They are often mutilated, starved or injected with steroids to heighten their aggression and are brutally killed either in the ring, or when they are no longer useful to their owners.
People generally have a negative outlook on Pit Bulls which means they spend three times as long in shelters as other dogs and make up around 40% of the dogs euthanized.
Rottweilers were originally bred to herd livestock, but today they are used in search and rescue missions, as guard dogs and as police dogs.
Rottweilers are thought to be generally good-natured, eager to work and even tempered, but may become destructive and out of control if not properly socialized, exercised and mentally stimulated.
#3 German Shepherd
Also originally bred to herd livestock, German Shepherds are mostly used now as military and police dogs.
They are valued in these roles for their high energy, protective instincts, aggression and alertness.
While these traits may be positive for these other functions, they make German Shepherds more likely to bite humans, especially humans they don’t know.
#4 Presa Canario
Presa Canario’s originate in Spain and were bred to be herding dogs, guard dogs and used in dog-fighting.
Dog fighting in Spain was legal until 1936, and may have continued illegally.
Presa Canarios, like Pit Bulls, attack adults and children at equal rates.
#5 Wolf-Dog Hybrids
Wolf-Dog hybrids make this list because they are less domesticated than other dogs. While other dogs may bite for many reasons including feeling scared or defensive, attacks by Wolf-Dog hybrids often take on a predatory character. Again, many of their attacks are made on children.
Other breeds worth mentioning
Siberian Huskies were originally bred as working dogs in Siberia and other northern, cold climates.
Attacks by Huskies are often registered as those done by semi-wild animals, because they spend a lot of time alone living in deserted areas and were probably not properly socialized.
Huskies that live with a family in a household setting are still quite challenging pets. Because they are very intelligent and athletic, a husky who is bored from insufficient training, exercise and stimulation may exhibit bad behavior.
Originally bred as a guard dog to nobility in Japan, Akita’s can be a little standoffish if not properly socialized.
Most reported Akita attacks were against children and inside the home.
Boxers are a popular breed to own because they are known to be quite affectionate with children, however children also make up a significant proportion of Boxer attacks.
This breed typically has a very strong jaw, which increases the severity of their bite.
Chows are not necessarily bred to be aggressive, but they are very independent and are sometimes described as having a cat-like temperament.
They have a low tolerance for rough play. This means that they also are known to bite or attack children if they are provoked.
They are additionally known to be suspicious or aloof with strangers, possibly finding them threatening.
Unknown or Mixed-Breed
A study in 2019 by the National Canine Research Council showed that the category of dog raking 1st for bites was ‘unknown’ because it is often hard to identify breed based on a witness testimony.
Ranking 3rd in this study behind Pit Bulls was ‘mixed-breed’ dogs, accounting for 21.2% of bites.
This should make us wonder – is it really useful to categorize dog bites by breed if it doesn’t seem to be a relevant reference point for a significant amount of dog bite cases?
Let’s look at some more inconsistencies with organizing bite stats by breed.
How Breed Characteristics Impact Bite Statistics
While some of these breeds to have a predisposition to be aggressive, all breeds of dogs can act aggressively and bite for a variety of different reasons.
Physical characteristics might offer a better explanation as to why these outrank other breeds in terms of bites.
Smaller dogs, like Chihuahuas for example, may bite just as much as some of the breeds on this list, but their lesser size and strength means their bites would at worst cause a minor injury, go unreported, and therefore not show up in dog bite statistics.
An attack from one of the previously mentioned breeds however, would have a greater likelihood of causing severe injury and requiring an emergency room visit.
The above breeds have more dangerous bites because they largely possess the following physical characteristics associated with dangerous dog breeds:
- Strong musculature
- Voluminous head
- Muscular, bulging cheeks
- Large and strong jaw
- Robust, wide and deep mouth
- Parallel, straight and robust forelegs
- Muscular hindquarters
Things to Consider When Organizing Dog Bite Statistics by Breed
Looking at dog bites by breed is useful in some ways, because it allows us to identify the physical and temperamental characteristics which make a specific breeds bite more dangerous or likely.
However, analyzing dog bite statistics solely by breed could possibly overemphasize the role of breed temperament in dog bites and attacks at the expense of other important variables.
This emphasis on breed could lead to the inaccurate interpretation of available data. Dogs bite people for different reasons and in different situations, and breed may play little to no role.
The National Canine Research Council couldn’t identify breed as a relevant factor in 80% of dog bite cases. They argue that breed is highlighted primarily in the media to make dog attack stories more sensational and engaging.
A literature review done by the American Veterinary Medical Association made a similar argument.
Based on a review of existing studies on dog bites, they found that breed not to be a dependable marker or predictor of dangerous behavior in dogs. According to them, the following indicators are more reliable as they focus more on the context of an attack.
A study commissioned by the US National Center for Injury Prevention and Control found that male dogs were 6.2 times more likely to fatally bite a person than their female counterparts.
However, male and female dogs are equally as likely to bite from being possessive over food or a cherished items.
It’s estimated that 78% of dogs are kept for the purpose of guarding, fighting, breeding or image enhancement according to the ASPCA. When a dog is owned for these reasons and not as a loved member of the family, it can foster aggressive behavior in dogs stemming from the trauma they experience.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, dog attacks increased by 300%. Spending more time at home likely increased the stress levels of dogs as well as humans which has lead to more attacks. People also had significantly more time in contact with dogs, creating a higher number of opportunities for bites.
Dogs who are not neutered or spayed are 77.9% more likely to attack a person because dogs who aren’t fixed tend to exhibit more territorial and aggressive behavior.
Even dogs who are fixed can smell when another dog is intact, which can lead to territorial and aggressive behavior in fixed dogs.
Overall, a dog who isn’t spayed or neutered is more likely to cause or provoke a conflict than those who have been. However, neutering a dog that has bitten is no guaranty that the dog will not bite again, as the behavioral factors that caused them to bite in the first place still exist.
Abuse and Neglect
Cruelty and neglect towards animals is a near universal issue and happens in both urban and rural communities as well as across socioeconomic divides.
Intentional abuse towards a dog will traumatize the dog. Traumatized dogs are more likely to attack out of fear or in self-protection because it does not feel safe.
Organized cruelty like dog fighting is an activity that not only traumatizes and hurts dogs, but it values dogs for their ability to attack and kill other living beings.
Even less overtly violent practices like chaining a dog up outside constitutes neglect and cruelty. This practice makes the dog feel desperate, miserable and stunts their socialization to humans and other dogs.
According to CDC’s dog bite statistics from 2020, chained and tethered dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite or attack than dogs who live as family dogs.
Finally, dogs which are fostered from a shelter may have experienced abuse or neglect, which if left unaddressed, can mean that dog is more likely to attack even if the current owners are not actively abusing it.
This evidence suggests that dog bites and attacks might be a symptom of a larger animal welfare issue.
It is especially in these situation that proper training becomes crucial.
If an owner has not taken their dog’s training very seriously, that dog is more likely to act out aggressively, which can result in a bite or attack. Without proper training, the owner will likely not be able to gain control of the situation if a dog begins to act out.
Training also contributes to the socialization of a dog allowing them to become familiar with different situations so that they don’t feel threatened and act out in the first place.
Well socialized dogs are also more aware of their subservient role to humans and are able to settle hierarchy differences with other dogs without fighting.
Bites in Children
One of the commonalities amongst all the breeds mentioned above, is that children seem to make up a significant portion of dog bite victims. The rate of dog bite accidents is highest for those between the ages of 5-9 according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
This reiterates the importance of teaching children how to read a dog’s body language so that they can safely play and interact, or simply keeping them away from unknown dogs or dogs that have not shown good bite inhibition.
So Is It Useful to Organize Dog Bite Statistics by Breed?
The data seems to indicate that some breeds may have a predisposition to be aggressive and that their physical characteristics might make their bite more severe. But, it’s also true that good socialization, training and humane treatment can have a huge impact on the likelihood of that dog behaving aggressively.
Approaching dog bite statistics with this contextual approach allows us to think about what we as pet owners can do to reduce incidences of bites and attacks, even in breeds of dogs found on this list.
Considering context also keeps us from relying too much on deterministic approaches to a dog’s temperament based on breed.