Defaming Rover: Error-Based Latent Rhetoric in the Medical Literature on Dog Bites.

To best understand this article in the context of the literature on growling, snarling, snapping, and biting behavior (incidence and correlates), please see National Canine Research Council’s complete analysis here.

Article Citation:
Arluke, A., Cleary, D., Patronek, G., & Bradley, J. (2017). Defaming Rover: Error-Based Latent Rhetoric in the Medical Literature on Dog Bites. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 1-13. doi:

National Canine Research Council Summary and Analysis:

The purpose of this study was to examine the accuracy of reports on nonclinical issues (e.g., dog behavior) in published papers on dog bite injuries authored by human health care professionals (HHCPs). The sociological technique of qualitative analysis was used to examine 156 papers published between 1966 and 2015 that met the authors’ criteria for inclusion. Criteria included first and majority authorship by HHCP’s, dog bites as the primary topic, and discussion of dog behavior, dog bite epidemiology, and/or public policy recommendations regarding interactions between dogs and people. Both specific information presented as factual and the latent or underlying meaning of language used in the articles were examined.
This qualitative analysis (comprised of immersion through reading and rereading until no new types of errors or rhetorical devices emerged) revealed various categories of errors and emotionally laden rhetorical devices. Misinformation included errors in reporting canine behavior including biting behavior and interactions with people in general. Distortions of the nature and frequency of dog bite-related injuries fell into four categories generally recognized in the social sciences: generalizing, catastrophizing, demonizing, and negative differentiating. For example, one paper’s authors insist on generalizing about particular breeds of dogs as “bite prone” despite their own finding of no statistically significant correlation between breed and bite frequency or severity. Another delivers breed-specific generalizations when only 1% of their study sample reported breed at all. HHCP’s catastrophize about dog bites as an “epidemic” by conflating seriously injurious and harmless bite numbers. Varying groups of dogs are demonized as having a “killer instinct,” or as “notoriously vicious,” or “ferocious in disposition.” Dogs in general are described as “part wild” and subject to being “excited to a frenzy by the smell and taste of blood.”
The authors* conclude that many people confer medical professionals with a special authority to speak on almost any topic, and the kind of distortions found in the dog bite literature written by HHCP’s can lead to unjustified fears on the part of the public and “panic policy making” on the part of lawmakers. The authors recommend that HHCP’s refrain from offering opinions regarding nonclinical issues related to dogs unless this is done in consultation with experts in animal behavior.
*Please note that this work was supported by National Canine Research Council. Donald Cleary, Gary Patronek, and Janis Bradley are all affiliated with National Canine Research Council as employees or paid consultants.
Abstract and Link to Full Text of the Original Article:
Page updated September 25, 2019