NCRC conducts comprehensive investigations into each incident.  No other group or agency, public or private, other than law enforcement, has approached our systematic rigor. This section discusses what we have learned and its implications for public policy.

Dog bite-related fatalities (DBRFs) are only a minuscule fraction of even medically treated dog bite-related injuries. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its last report on DBRFs more than 20 years ago. 1

A substantial body of evidence shows that dog ownership confers both physical and psychological benefits to people.2 Nevertheless, the loss of a life due to a dog bite-related injury can affect a community deeply. The victim may have been a child. The dog may even have been a family pet, though we should resist the temptation of thinking of all the dogs as family pets, without regard to their lived experience with human beings. See Resident Dog vs Family Dog.

These catastrophic events can devastate a family and deeply shock a community. Out of respect for all, preventing future loss demands critical thinking. We should evaluate the most complete information we have about dogs and how people should take care of them.

In the mid-20th century, media coverage of DBRFs became intense and fearsome. As a direct consequence, several academic papers, including a series supervised by medical officers from the CDC, tallied the annual total of these incidents and discussed them in peer-reviewed literature. The common thread running through these papers was that DBRFs were a tiny percentage of dog bite injuries and did not imply additional government regulation or different standards of dog keeping than those already well known and understood.3

These papers published breed labels obtained from news reports. However, the authors could not confirm the journalists’ sources. The authors cautioned readers that they could not be certain of their breed identifications and that even experts disagreed when looking at the same dog. National media coverage of these papers paid little or no attention to these cautions. See NCRC’s Visual Breed Identification Literature Review. The media damned certain groups of dogs based on unreliable identifications, and frightened people about something that was fantastically unlikely to happen to them.

The CDC-sponsored paper published in 20001 made national news. By now there was a feedback loop that created the impression that unverifiable breed correlations were accurate. A call for breed bans and restrictions persists among a small coterie of non-professional advocates.

Thirteen years after the CDC’s 2000 report, JAVMA published a new paper examining the DBRFs which had occurred in ten years following the last year included in the CDC’s casefile, 1998.4 Injury epidemiologist Dr. Jeffrey J. Sacks, the lead author four-paper CDC series, was the second author of this new project. The 2013 paper remains the most comprehensive investigation of DBRFs ever published. The authors reliably identified seven factors they considered potentially preventable, that is, within the control of people. They identified four or more of the seven factors as co-occurring in more than 80% of the incidents in the casefile. Breed was not one of the factors they could reliably identify. They were only able to assign a breed attribution in forty-five of the 256 cases. Twenty breeds and breed mixes were identified. They based this on available pedigrees, interviews with breeders, and photographic evidence deemed reliable by two veterinary behaviorists. These identifications did not constitute a representative sample even of this tiny casefile. The authors also noted that media sources reporting on the same incident disagreed on the breed assignment, leading them to conclude that: “. . . imprecision in breed assignment also brings into question the reliability of the breed information used in previous studies of DBRFs, which were based solely on media reports of breed.”5
More recently, a team from the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT examined thousands of dog owner questionnaires and sequenced the genomes of more than two thousand of the dogs who were the subjects of the questionnaires. Neither breed nor mix of breeds were found to be reliable predictors of a dog’s agonistic response. 6 Another study published in February of 2023 that surveyed dog owners using two validated psychometric tools found that the breeds evaluated – eight breeds subject to breed-specific regulation and seventeen not subject to breed regulation – did not differ from each other in terms of aggression. They concluded, as did the Broad Institute study, that presumed breed is not a reliable predictor of aggression. 7

While the dog population has grown much faster than the human population, the number of dog bites victims seeking medical attention has remained stable. 8

This is consistent with other available data about dog bites. The number of reconstructive surgeries performed annually on account of dog bites is fairly constant.9  The number of losses paid by homeowners’ insurers on account of liability for a dog bite injury has remained steady.10  The number of Postal Service personnel reporting having been bitten by a dog has actually declined in the 21st century. 11

In comparison with the dramatic increase in the dog population, the number of DBRFs has remained extremely small. Since 1971, the US dog population has more than doubled. It is now approximately 83 million, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.12 In some years, there may be only one DBRF for every 2 million dogs. In other years, it may be higher; but it is never higher than one DBRF for every 1.6 million dogs. These ratios are evidence of how rare DBRFs are and cannot be used to predict the behavior of an individual dog, or of a group of dogs, however those dogs are described or characterized.

Based upon analysis of decades of data, up to and including 2021, and comprehensive investigation of hundreds of incidents, we consider it highly unlikely that the frequency or distribution of potentially preventable factors co-occurring in dog bite-related injuries or fatalities will change meaningfully in the future. We have for many years had in hand the important lessons regarding responsible dog keeping to be learned from these incidents.

We share with every other party concerned about dog bite-related injuries or fatalities the hope that our communities can prevent as many of these incidents as possible. We will continue to investigate all DBRFs systematically and thoroughly to remain the most reliable source on this emotionally laden issue.

We will continue to remind community leaders of the true dependence of dogs on humans and of our profound influence on their lived experience. We know that no single factor can explain a tragic outcome. The potentially preventable factors reliably identified are within the control of people. Communities can help dog owners do the right thing for their dog, regardless of presumed breed or appearance, and for their neighbors.  See Effective Policies that help keep communities safe. 

  1. Sacks, J.J. Sinclair, L, Gilchrist, J, Golab, G, Lockwood, R. (2000) Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol 217, No. 6, 836-840.
  2. For the effect of dog ownership on physical activity, see: Westgarth C, Christley RM, Jewell C, German AJ, Boddy LM, Christian HE. Dog owners are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than people without a dog: An investigation of the association between dog ownership and physical activity levels in a UK community. Sci Rep. 2019 Apr 18;9(1):5704. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-41254-6. PMID: 31000795; PMCID: PMC6473089. For a general discussion of dog ownership and human health, see: Serpell, JA. (1991). Beneficial effects of pet ownership on some aspects of human health and behaviour. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 84, 717–720. For a discussion of biopsychosocial effects, see: Gee, NR, Rodriguez, KE, Fine, AH, & Trammell, JP. (2021). Dogs supporting human health and well-being: A biopsychosocial approach. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 8, 630465.
  3. Winkler, WG.(1978) Human deaths induced by dog bites, 1974-75. Public Health Reports, September-October 1977, Vol. 92, No. 5, 425-429; Pinckney, L.E., Kennedy, L.A. (1982) Traumatic deaths from dog attacks in the United States. Pediatrics, 69; 193-196; There were four papers produced in association with the CDC. The fourth, covering
    the years 1979 – 1998, included the data published in the previous three (See Footnote 1).
  4. Patronek,G, Sacks, JJ, Delise, K, Cleary, DV, Marder, A. (2013) Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the United States (2000-2009). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol 243, No. 12, December 15, 2013.
  5.  Patronek et al. (2013), Page 1734
  6.  Morrill, K, Hekman, J, Xue, L, et al. (2022) Ancestry-inclusive dog genomics challenges popular breed stereotypes. Science 376, 475, 29 April 2022.
  7.  Hammond, A, Rowland, T, Mills, DS, Pilot, M. (2022) Comparison of behavioural tendencies between “dangerous dogs” and other domestic breeds – Evolutionary context and practical implications.  Evolutionary Applications. 2022; 15: 1806-1819. 
  8.  See Medically Attended Dog Bites. For the years, 2001 to 2021, the number of Americans going to an ER on account of a dog bite was estimated to be approx. 368,000 in 2001. For 2020, the last year for which the CDC has published data, the estimate was 322,000. Data obtained from www.wisqars.cdc.gov/reports.  Accessed 6/9/2023. 
  9.  Data available from American Society of Plastic Surgeons. https://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/plastic-surgery-statistics. Accessed June 9, 2023.
  10.  Data available from Insurance Information Institute. iii.org. Accessed 6/9/2023. 
  11.  The total of bites reported by USPS delivery persons was approximately 5300 in 2022; 5714 in 2018; 6549 in 2015. See the releases USPS has published: https://about.usps.com/newsroom/national-releases/2023/0601-usps-releases-dog-bite-national-rankings.htm; https://about.usps.com/newsroom/national-releases/2019/0411-usps-releases-dog-attack-national-rankings.pdf; https://www.postal-reporter.com/blog/postal-service-releases-annual-dog-attack-city-rankings/ (All accessed 6/9/2023)
  12.  For the 1971 dog population estimate of 33.4 million, see Djerassi, C, Israel, A, Jochle, W. (1973). Planned Parenthood for Pets? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 29(1), pp. 10–19. Available at Planned Parenthood for Pets?: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Vol 29, No 1. For the dog population as of 2020 as estimated by American Veterinary Medical Association see Pet population still on the rise, with fewer pets per household (avma.org) (Accessed 6/9/2023)

Family Dog vs. Resident Dog

Family Dogs are Rarely Involved 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.

Potentially Preventable Husbandry Factors Co-Occur in most Dog Bite-Related Fatalities​

A Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published comprehensive multifactorial study of dog bite-related fatalities

Update: Dog Bite-Related Fatalities in the United States, 2000-2015