In December, 2013, The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) published the most comprehensive multifactorial study of dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) to be completed since the subject was first studied in the 1970’s. It is based on investigative techniques not previously employed in dog bite or DBRF studies and identified a significant co-occurrence of multiple potentially preventable factors. A follow-up report  combined the findings from the 2000-2009 study with the period immediately following, 2010-2015.
The study and follow-up results confirmed the multifaceted approach to dog bite prevention recommended by virtually all previous studies, as well as by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Veterinary Medical Association.
70.4% of the DBRFs from 2000-2015 involved dogs that were not kept as family pets; rather they were only resident on the property. The distinction between a resident dog and a family dog was first proposed years ago by National Canine Research Council’s Karen Delise. Dogs are predisposed to form attachments with people, to become dependent on people, and to rely upon their guidance in unfamiliar situations. While it is extremely rare that dogs living as either resident dogs or as family pets ever inflict serious injuries on humans, dogs not afforded the opportunity for regular, positive interaction with people may be more likely, in situations they perceive as stressful or threatening, to behave in ways primarily to protect themselves.
The authors report that the breed of the dog or dogs could not be reliably identified in more than 80% of cases. News accounts disagreed with each other and/or with animal control reports in a significant number of incidents, casting doubt on the reliability of breed attributions and more generally for using media reports as a primary source of data for scientific studies. In only 18.2% of the cases in this study could these researchers make a valid determination that the animal was a member of a distinct, recognized breed.
The trend in prevention of dog bites continues to shift in favor improved ownership and husbandry practices, better understanding of dog behavior, education of parents and children regarding safety around dogs, and consistent enforcement of dangerous dog/reckless owner ordinances in communities. Having reliably identified the potentially preventable factors that co-occurred in their case file, the authors recommend their coding method as a way of enhancing the quantity and quality of information compiled in investigation of any serious dog bite-related injuries.
This study and follow-up report, and their comprehensive methodology offer an excellent opportunity for policy makers, physicians, journalists, indeed, anyone concerned with the prevention of dog bite-related injuries, to develop an understanding of the multifactorial nature of serious and fatal incidents.
For additional information on the 2000-2009 study, please read “Potentially preventable husbandry factors co-occur in most dog bite-related fatalities”:
For additional information on the follow-up report, please read “Update: Dog Bite-Related Fatalities in the United States, 2000-2015”:
DBRFs have always been exceedingly rare, though they can attract the kind of publicity that creates an impression that they are more prevalent than they actually are. The chart below shows the number for some common and uncommon injury-related fatalities for 2018 (2018 is the most recent year which CDC fatality counts are available).
All dog owners have an unequivocal responsibility for humane care, custody and control: providing a license and permanent id; spaying or neutering their dogs; providing training, socialization, proper diet, and medical care; and not allowing a pet to become a threat or a nuisance.
Increased awareness of these responsibilities is reflected in the percentage of DBRF investigations that result in criminal prosecutions of the owners and caretakers (compiled as part of National Canine Research Council’s exhaustive investigation of each reported case).
A DBRF was defined as a death determined by a coroner or medical examiner to be resulting from the mechanical trauma of a dog bite (cause or contributory factor). Persons dying of causes such as infection following a dog bite or other trauma associated with a dog-related incident (eg, a fall) were not considered DBRFs.
We strive to understand the circumstances surrounding each case carefully and correctly, in an attempt to increase understanding that can lead to effective prevention. This careful investigative process takes time, so each report is available approximately twelve months after the end of the year.
Updated March 4, 2020