Reality vs. Perception: Dog Bite-Related Fatalities in 2011

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Dog bite-related fatalities have always been exceedingly rare, yet they can attract the kind of publicity that creates an impression they are more prevalent than they actually are. NCRC is currently investigating 31 incidents in a dog population of over 78 million that occurred during 2011 that may qualify as dog bite-related fatalities. A final tally is subject to change as a result of NCRC investigations.* A number of cases have very little information available as they remain the subject of ongoing investigations. While 10 fatalities have already resulted in criminal indictments, several others are still under investigation by authorities. This report is preliminary to the final report which will be available in the first week of 2013. NCRC’s final report for 2010 is now available here.

NCRC continues to assemble the most accurate and comprehensive information available. Based on NCRC’s 20 years of experience investigating dog bite-related fatalities, the initial media reports will be supplemented or corrected with relevant, material information in over 90% of these incidents.

Setting the Record Straight

Official reports often do not agree with news accounts and/or contain important information that was either unavailable, or not of interest, to reporters at the time of the incident.

News reports published in the moment usually refer to the dogs involved as “family” dogs, implying that these were dogs whose owners interacted with them on a regular basis in positive and humane ways. Later investigation shows that most of the dogs involved in these incidents were “resident” dogs – victims of isolation, and often abuse or neglect. NCRC’s preliminary findings for 2011 are consistent with findings concerning the dog bite-related fatalities of years past. In 2010, the news media initially described the dogs in 29 of 33 (88%) dog bite-related fatalities as “family” pets, but investigations disclose that only 7 (21%) were family pets.**

The news media regularly describe dogs as members of specific breeds. Yet, NCRC’s investigations over the years show that a majority of the breed descriptors assigned by the news media cannot be documented or otherwise considered reasonable (through pedigree, DNA or otherwise). For example, NCRC investigations of the dog bite-related fatalities in 2010 showed that in only eleven of the cases could the breed descriptors assigned to the dogs be documented, or otherwise considered reasonable. Eight different kinds of dogs were identified in those eleven incidents. The breed composition of all the other dogs was indeterminate, whatever the news media reported about them. In fact, in three cases in 2010, news stories identified dogs and attributed breeds to those dogs that detectives later determined were NOT the dogs involved in the incident. The dog(s) responsible were never identified or captured. News outlets, having moved on to other, pressing issues, never corrected this.


There is no scientific evidence that one kind of dog is more likely to injure a human being than another kind of dog. There is no evidence that, absent circumstances specifically associated with mating or maternal protectiveness, a dog being intact should be understood as a cause of aggressive behavior toward human beings. And for every “resident” dog that injured a human being, multitudes sadly similarly kept injured no one.

Yet, as NCRC’s mission is to preserve the human-canine bond, these rare tragedies serve as a reminder that all dog owners have an unequivocal responsibility for the humane care (including proper diet, veterinary care, socialization and training), custody (including licensing and micro-chipping), and control of their dogs.

  • A dog bite-related fatality is one where a human being has died as a result of trauma, exsanguinations or avulsions attributable to dog bites.

** See “Resident Dog vs. Family Dog: What is the Difference?” at 1.pdf

18 thoughts on “Reality vs. Perception: Dog Bite-Related Fatalities in 2011”

  1. I own a pitbull which was rescued from a shelter and am truely sick of ignorant people being afraid of him because he’s a pit. I have a one yr old neice who is absolutely in love w him n not once have I been worried that she shouldn’t be around him. If she cries he’ll go over n sit next to her trying to comfort her. He’s not the greatest w other dogs but I know this and avoid contact w male dogs that are bigger than him, being that those are the only times he has a problem. I promise however if you walk into my house unannounced he won’t bite you but he will corner you next to the door n scare the shit out of you. Moral of this story is my pit, n all the pits ik are the biggest babies but don’t try to get to his momma or his baby girl cause he will not approve

  2. Any size dog can inflict a fatal injury. To the rocket scientist who said a chihuahua can’t cause a fatal injury, think again. They have teeth, all it takes is a bite to an artery and it can be fatal. I have news for you. Dogs are animals. You just never know with ANY of them. Just because WE domesticated them, doesn’t negate that fact. If you condemn an entire breed based on what a HUMAN teaches it or how it was bred, then you’re not worth the time or energy it would take to try and convince or educate you. You clearly have very little to no knowledge of breeding or raising dogs. You know nothing about Pit bulls or their reliability as family pets. Clearly you have just bought off on the propaganda that is spread about them. If you choose to practice breed discrimination based on what a handful of dogs have done due to their owners lack of or negative training that’s your business. All I have to say is thank God you aren’t in a position to decide whether or not we should just condemn a race of people based on what a handful of their group has done.

  3. There are systematic studies (Academy of Vet Sciences) etc that demonstrate different trends in temperament via breed, the results are perhaps unexpected (not to me, by personal experience). Some dog breeds are more likely towards fear/aggression, those being smaller breeds, chihuaha, cocker spaniel, etc. Only dog that viciously bit me was a chihuaha — yes, survivable, but quite unpleasant when you are 8 yrs old. Ive met pit/mixes I would trust with a baby. I also met one that was demented, and had a demented owner who trained it to be aggressive. It was euthanized when it became aggressive to the family. You could see it was a nervous wreck. I just hope THEY get a golden retriever next time, but it wouldnt suit THEIR need to exert fear through their dog. Rotties and Dobies— german shepherds — never met one that was not totally loving. I applaud the folks defending the “banned” breeds. Ignorance can only be overcome by experience and learning.

    • Sadly, I have seen plenty of aggressive Golden Retrievers. A bad owner can make any dog aggressive, whether it be through their actions or inaction. 🙁

    • Are you kidding me? People like that should not own a dog at all. 99% of the golden retrievers in my town are dog-dog aggressive and many are perfectly willing to bite people as well. Breed has little to do with it, in fact pits are more difficult to wreck (dog-human aggression anyways) because of their breed in the first place. These dogs were bred to never show aggression to humans even when highly aroused, so in the fighting ring they could still be handled. Golden retrievers, labs, etc were never bred for this specific trait, and are easier to mess up. The only way bites and fatalities will end is when we get rid of these dog vs human and “coolness” behaviors in our own population.
      I do agree however that education needs to become more prevalent, if those who set forth breed bans put more time into educating the public on dog language (aka what a dog about to bite looks like) bites would dramatically decrease. Of course, it is human nature to blame the biter, and turn everything black and white.

  4. @Nancy – “Some breeds are simply bred to do bad jobs. Frankly, I no longer keep terriers because they are so reactive. Anytime you breed a dog to chase a rat down a hole,you really aren’t thinking about creating a cerebral pet. You have bred an animal to exterminate.”
    Since your profile picture is of a dauc, I can only assume you know their history as rodent hunters? They were bred to go to ground, same as terriers – so… will you be getting rid of that little exterminator? Since it was bred to do a bad job, according to you.
    There is nothing you can say, no fake stats you can cite, and no ignorance and fear you can spread that will ever make me stop fighting for the pit bull type dog. I have 2 rescues, both with bad pasts. Their present and future are wonderful, however. And that is all that matters.

  5. Oh dear Nancy may God pray for your ignorant soul. I don’t understand how you could accuse a whole breed of innocent animals. Educate and advocate that’s my mission, I hope that some day you can understand.

  6. Nancy is a perfect example of the uneducated people who perpetuate the myths about certain breeds and facilitate the senseless killing of millions of dogs each year. She doesn’t have a single fact to back up her claims because there are none. There is not one single shred of scientific evidence to support anything she says and yet that has not, and will not, stop her from continuing to make these claims. People like her don’t care about the truth.


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