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.
This study is included as an example of reports on dog bites by human health care professionals. All of the authors are physicians at a women’s and children’s hospital in Australia. Often these studies are compromised by speculation and conclusions about dog behavior without benefit of an author qualified in these topics. In this study researchers examined dog bites in Australian children under the age of 18. The general human demographic findings were similar to those of many other studies. Among their sample of 277 children, young children (ages 0-4) were most prone to dog bite injury. There was a higher proportion of boys (57.4%) than girls. Most dogs involved (78%) were familiar to the children. However, this “familiar” classification must be taken with caution, as in this study, it is not established whether the dog and child actually knew each other, but rather simply that the person answering the questions at the emergency department knew who owned the dog. The goal of this study was to define the characteristics of dog bites and to identify useful prevention strategies. It is difficult to compare the incidence rates reported here to studies conducted in the U.S., however, since the rate of hospitalizations cited is 10 times that recorded for the same time period in the U.S. according to the CDC’s emergency department surveillance system (CDC WISQARS). It is simply not possible to determine from this study whether this actually indicates a much higher rate of serious dog bite injuries in this region of Australia than occurs in the U.S., or whether there was some difference in how the cases were selected or reported that accounts for the dramatic difference. This discrepancy highlights the difficulty of attempting to draw comparisons of incidence rates among medical treatment rates that may have differing recording protocols.
The researchers also investigated the body parts most frequently bitten among different age groups. The head and neck region were the most common areas for dog bites in young children, with the area shifting to extremities with age. They state that bull terriers (Pitbull terrier, Bull mastiff, and American Staffordshire terrier) and Jack Russell Terriers were the breeds most commonly involved, when documented. How these breeds were determined was not specified, and thus the problem of breed identification applies. The authors recognized this and advised readers to interpret the breed data with caution, “this was not commonly documented in the case notes and when reported, would have been reliant on correct identification by the family.” Furthermore, Chiam et al. (2014) denounced breed-specific legislation, noting that it failed in other locales and instead recommended legislation that focuses on public education and, when necessary, regulations specific to individual dogs.