When properly trained, taken care of, and supervised, dogs can be wonderful pets and companions for people of all ages. From working breeds to the loveable household pooch, dogs have earned a place in homes and workplaces across the greater United States. However, it’s important to remember that all dogs can cause considerable harm when startled, attacked, or provoked.

A study by DogsBite.org revealed that an average of 14,025 U.S. citizens are hospitalized annually due to dog bite injuries. By understanding the basics of dog behaviors and warning signs, you may be able to avoid a potential bite or protect a loved one from harm. We took a closer look at recent data on dog attacks in the U.S. to better understand why dog attacks arise and how the risk of serious injury can be reduced.

What Factors Make a Dog More Likely to Attack?

Although there are always exceptions, canines frequently attack when they feel cornered, frightened, or threatened. Nearly three out of five dog bite victims are children younger than fifteen years old. Of this particularly vulnerable demographic, roughly two-thirds of the bite victims are young boys. It is theorized that one of the reasons that children are attacked so much more frequently than adults is because of their inability to understand a dog’s body language.

A stressed, aggressive, or fearful canine often displays warning behavior before biting. The dog may:

  • Bite at the air
  • Show bared fangs
  • Face the potential victim with a tall, widened stance
  • Stand with a slowly moving tail and stiff ears
  • Snarl or bark aggressively and repeatedly

In many situations, these warning signs are enough to alert an adult to the potential danger, and they can get away from the dog before being attacked. However, during a study published in the Journal of Nursing, Social Studies and Public Health, only one in three children recognized the behavioral signs of a fearful dog. Overall, the study’s participants only identified a dog’s emotion correctly 17% of the time. Without the ability to accurately recognize potentially dangerous situations, children frequently bear the brunt of an aggressive dog’s attack.

What Age Range Suffered the Most Fatal Dog Attacks in 2020?

Breaking down DogsBite.org’s data from 2020, the most recent year for which fatal U.S. dog bite statistics are available, we see that nearly one of three victims of fatal dog attacks throughout the year were aged 0-9. Young adults suffered multiple lethal attacks, with six victims falling into the 10-18 or 19-29 age rank. Three of these victims were fatally attacked by pit bulls.

Fatal U.S. Dog Attacks by Victim Age Range in 2020

Which Dog Breeds Caused the Most Fatalities From 2005 to 2020?

When the term “dog bite” comes to mind, you probably don’t think of your neighbor’s cuddly Pomeranian. Most life-threatening dog bites come from large, strong dog breeds. However, a dog’s size and bite force does not necessarily make it any more likely to be aggressive. An individual canine’s training (or lack thereof), environment, and temperament offer strong insights into their potential to attack. We were able to gather data on fatal dog attacks from 2005 through 2020 to see which breeds were responsible for the majority of lethal bite incidents.

As displayed in the graph below, pit bulls caused the most deaths over the sixteen-year timeframe by far, with 380 fatal attacks. With 51 lethal bite incidents over the same period, Rottweilers caused the second-most deaths. Nearly 62% of the victims were under the age of nine, with just over 36% of the bite victims falling into the age range of 0-2.

Fatal U.S. Dog Attacks By Breed from 2005 to 2020

Can Dog Attacks Be Avoided or Redirected?

It’s important to remember that not all dog attacks are preventable. While dogs do frequently alert their potential victim via their behavior, posturing, or by snarling aggressively, some canines may bite unexpectedly or with very little warning. If you become aware of a dog displaying threatening behavior, try your best to remain calm and encourage anyone near you to do the same. Dogs may instinctively attack if you respond fearfully. Never turn your back or run from the aggressive canine. Some dog trainers recommend making yourself appear bigger and avoiding eye contact.

If you can safely and calmly put distance between yourself and the canine, do so. If the dog attacks, yell for help right away. If additional passerby come to your aid, the dog may be scared off. An attacking canine will often clamp onto the first thing they bite. If you’re carrying something or wearing a loose article of clothing, try and redirect the dog’s attack with it. Should the dog bite you and latch on, don’t try and force it off you. It may not be dislodged, and your wounds may be worsened. Attempt to subdue the dog, thus encouraging it to release you.

When a dog bites, the victim should always visit a doctor or emergency room as soon as possible. If the dog has a virulent infection, such as rabies, even a minor bite wound may cause serious injury or death.

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