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What A New Dog Bite Study Gets Wrong

A new study by researchers at Ohio State University explored the risks of dog bite injuries to children’s faces, as well as the severity of bites based on dog breed, size and head structure. According to the study, pit bulls pose the most risk to children, followed by mixed-breed dogs. These results would seem to be really good news for the haters of these dogs and supporters of breed bans (I’m looking at you, dogbites.org).

But before those folks with a “Kill all pit bulls!” mentality get too excited, let’s talk about the major problems with this study. For one thing, most people aren’t very good at identifying dog breeds. And for another thing, how often a breed happens to appear in a couple of hospitals’ bite records is not an accurate indication of how dangerous that breed is in the community at large.

To determine the riskiest breeds, the Ohio State researchers reviewed 15 years of dog-related facial trauma cases from just two hospitals – Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the University of Virginia Health System. They also looked at dog bite studies dating back to 1970 that reported the breeds.

The study was published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, a journal that provides information about the prevention and care of ear, nose and throat disorders in infants and children. Its lead author is Dr. Garth Essig, who is an otolaryngologist — not a dog expert. According to a press release, “Doctors want parents of young children to use this information when deciding which dog to own.”

Here are just a couple of reasons why parents should not use this information for this purpose.

Even Veterinarians and Shelter Workers Have Difficulty Identifying Pit Bulls

In a 2015 University of Florida study, four veterinarians and 12 shelter workers who had all worked with animals for at least three years were asked to identify the breeds of 120 dogs. Up to 48 percent of the time, the participants identified dogs with no pit bull DNA as pit bulls.

The study showed that the “reliable inclusion or exclusion of dogs as ‘pit bulls’ is not possible, even by experts,” Julie Levy, DVM, Ph.D., its lead author, said at the time.

The Ohio State researchers were mistaken “to assume that people landing at an emergency room actually know what breed of dog bit them,” notes dog behavior expert Clive D. L. Wynne, Ph.D., director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, in Psychology Today. “Consequently, for most of the 26,000 dog bites in this study, the breed identity is just a shot in the dark.”

AVMA Says Dog Bite Statistics Aren’t Really Statistics

“Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite,” stated the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in a 2001 report on dog-bite prevention. “Invariably the numbers will show that dogs from popular large breeds are a problem. This should be expected, because big dogs can physically do more damage if they do bite, and any popular breed has more individuals that could bite.”

Because there’s no consistent data available on breed populations and bites, a 2000 study by doctors and veterinarians also determined it is difficult to accurately calculate a bite rate for any one breed.

Without knowing how many dogs of different breeds live in a community, “information about bite numbers is quite useless,” Wynne writes.

This Study Is the Pits for Many Dogs

What’s especially troubling about the flawed Ohio State study is that it may result in even more pit bulls ending up (or remaining) in animal shelters. It could convince cities like Denver to continue enforcing breed bans. Insurance companies will likely use it to support their refusal to provide policies to owners of certain “dangerous” breeds, making it more difficult for these dogs to finding loving homes.

As Wynne points out, a study that determines why, how and when people get bitten by dogs would be very useful — unlike the Ohio State study. “Tragically, however, their analysis only adds noise to an already complex and confusing situation,” he writes.

Hopefully most parents who are considering adopting a dog will tune out this noise. “Remember, it is not a dog’s breed that determines whether it will bite, but rather the dog’s individual history and behavior,” the AVMA advises.

All parents should take these important precautions to prevent bites from happening in the first place — no matter what breed a dog happens to be.

Photo credit: Getty Images

What A New Dog Bite Study Gets Wrong

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