Dog bite risk and prevention: The role of breed (2023)

Literature review

May 15, 2014

This peer-reviewed summary has been prepared by the American Veterinary Medical Association Animal Welfare Division. While principally a review of the scientific literature, it may also include information gleaned from proprietary data, legislative and regulatory review, market conditions, and scholarly ethical assessments. It is provided as information and its contents should not be construed as official AVMA policy. Mention of trade names, products, commercial practices or organizations does not imply endorsement by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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Breeds implicated in serious bite injuries

In a range of studies, the breeds found to be highly represented in biting incidents were German Shepherd Dog,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,50 mixed breed,1,4,6,8,10,11,12,19,17, 20,50 pit bull type,5,9,13,16,21,20,22,23,24,25,26,27 Rottweiler,15,18,22,24,25,28 Jack Russell Terrier,21,25,26 and others (Chow Chow,7,23 Spaniel,14,26 Collie,3,29 Saint Bernard,20 and Labrador Retriever2).

If you consider only the much smaller number of cases that resulted in very severe injuries or fatalities,21,23 pit bull-type dogs are more frequently identified. However this may relate to the popularity of the breed in the victim's community, reporting biases and the dog's treatment by its owner (e.g., use as fighting dogs21). It is worth noting that fatal dog attacks in some areas of Canada are attributed mainly to sled dogs and Siberian Huskies,56 presumably due to the regional prevalence of these breeds. See Table 1 for a summary of breed data related to bite injuries.

Controlled studies

The prevalence of particular dog breeds can also change rapidly over time, often influenced by distinct peaks of popularity for specific breeds. It seems that increased popularity is sometimes followed by increases in bite reports in some large breeds. For example there was a distinct peak in American Kennel Club registration of Rottweilers30 between 1990 and 1995, and they come at the top of the list of 'biting breeds' for the first time in studies of bites causing hospitalization in the late 90s and early 2000s.25,28,15,58 While it must be noted that other fad breeds such as Dalmatians and Irish setters do not seem to make similar appearances, any estimate of breed-based risk must take into account the prevalence of the breed in the population at the time and place of serious biting events.17,31

(Video) Watch That Dog | Safety, Hazards, Training, Oregon OSHA

For example, researchers can compare well-documented bite cases with matched control households. Using this method, one study found that the breeds disproportionately involved in bite injuries requiring medical attention in the Denver area (where pit bull types are not permitted) were the German Shepherd Dog and Chow Chow.64

Other studies use estimates of breed prevalence that do not relate specifically to the households where the bites occurred, such as general community surveys, breed registries, licensed dogs or animal shelter populations (See Table 2.). A study in Rome, Italy where molloser dogs like mastiff are reputed to be the most dangerous dogs, found they were not disproportionately involved in biting incidents when taking into account their prevalence in the community.32 These prevalence referenced studies attribute higher risk to the German Shepherd Dog and crosses60,61,62,63,64, and various other breeds (mixed breed,62,63 Cocker spaniel,61,65 Chow Chow,64,65 Collie,61 Doberman,60 Lhasa Apso,44,65 Rottweiler,49 Springer Spaniel,43 Shih Tsu,43 and Poodle62).

Aggressive breeds

Based on behavioral assessments and owner surveys the breeds that were more aggressive towards people were small to medium-sized dogs such as the collies, toy breeds and spaniels.33,34,35,36,37 For example, a survey of general veterinary clientele in Canada (specifically practices in New Brunswick, Novia Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) identified Lhasa Apso, Springer spaniel and Shih Tsu as more likely to bite.43

While small dogs may be more aggressive their size means they are less likely to inflict serious bite injury except on vulnerable individuals or as part of a pack attack, which also allows dogs to seriously or injury healthy older children or adults.38,39 Referrals for aggression problems more closely approximate the breeds implicated in serious bite attacks, probably because owners are more likely to seek treatment for aggression in dogs that are large enough to be dangerous. Larger dogs (regardless of breed) are implicated in more attacks on humans40 and other dogs.41

Certain large breeds are notably under-represented in bite statistics such as large hounds and retrievers (e.g., Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers)35,43—although even these breeds may have known aggressive subtypes.42 Results relating to German Shepherd Dogs are mixed,36,43 suggesting there may be particularly high variability in this breed, perhaps depending on regional subtypes or ownership factors.

(Video) Dr. Ilana Reisner - Dog Bite Prevention Awareness

Pit bull types

Owners of pit bull-type dogs deal with a strong breed stigma,44 however controlled studies have not identified this breed group as disproportionately dangerous. The pit bull type is particularly ambiguous as a "breed" encompassing a range of pedigree breeds, informal types and appearances that cannot be reliably identified. Visual determination of dog breed is known to not always be reliable.45 And witnesses may be predisposed to assume that a vicious dog is of this type.

It should also be considered that the incidence of pit bull-type dogs' involvement in severe and fatal attacks may represent high prevalence in neighborhoods that present high risk to the young children who are the most common victim of severe or fatal attacks. And as owners of stigmatized breeds are more likely to have involvement in criminal and/or violent acts46—breed correlations may have the owner's behavior as the underlying causal factor.

Breed bans

Most serious dog bite injuries (requiring hospital treatment) in the United States are the victim being a young child54 and the dog being un-neutered and familiar (belonging to the family, a family friend or neighbor).32,47,48,54 Therefore responsible ownership and supervision is key to minimizing the risk of dog bites in communities.

While some study authors suggest limiting ownership of specific breeds might reduce injuries (e.g., pit bull type,49 German Shepherd Dog50) it has not been demonstrated that introducing a breed-specific ban will reduce the rate or severity of bite injuries occurring in the community.8,51 Strategies known to result in decreased bite incidents include active enforcement of dog control ordinances,52 and these may include ordinances relating to breed.53


Maulings by dogs can cause terrible injuries47 and death—and it is natural for those dealing with the victims to seek to address the immediate causes. However as Duffy et al (2008) wrote of their survey based data: "The substantial within-breed variation…suggests that it is inappropriate to make predictions about a given dog's propensity for aggressive behavior based solely on its breed." While breed is a factor, the impact of other factors relating to the individual animal (such as training method, sex and neutering status), the target (e.g. owner versus stranger), and the context in which the dog is kept (e.g. urban versus rural) prevent breed from having significant predictive value in its own right. Also the nature of a breed has been shown to vary across time, geographically, and according to breed subtypes such as those raised for conformation showing versus field trials.37

(Video) Dog Bite Prevention Video from

Given that breed is a poor sole predictor of aggressiveness and pit bull-type dogs are not implicated in controlled studies it is difficult to support the targeting of this breed as a basis for dog bite prevention. If breeds are to be targeted a cluster of large breeds would be implicated including the German shepherd and shepherd crosses and other breeds that vary by location.

See also:

National Animal Control Association Guideline Statement: "Dangerous and/or vicious animals should be labeled as such as a result of their actions or behavior and not because of their breed."

Summary tables

Table 1
Studies of serious dog bite injury by breed

​Period​Data source​NCountry​​Top two breeds edentifiedRef​
​1971​US Dept. Health​843United States (VA)​​mixed breed
German Shepherd Dog
​1971-1974Hospital records​50​​South AfricaGerman Shepherd Dog
Labrador Retriever​
​1973-1976US Dept. Health​​2618​United States (AL)German Shepherd Dog
​1979-1982​Health Dept. Severe attacks16​​United States (SC)pit bull type
Saint Bernard
1981-1983​​US Reservations772​United States​​mixed breed
unspecified pedigree
​1982​Hospital Records420​Canada​​German Shepherd
mixed breed
1982-1989​Hospital records​​146United Kingdom​pit bull type
Jack Russell Terrier
​1987-1988​HASS​487United Kingdom​mixed breed
German Shepherd Dog​
​1979-1998​Fatalities​27United States​pitt bull type
​1969-2007​Fatalities5​​New Zealandpitt bull type
1989​Hospital records​​168United States​German Shepherd Dog
pit bull type​
​1989Hospital records​75​​United Kingdom​German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
​1991Animal control records​​357United States​German Shepherd Dog
Chow Chow​
​1991+1994​Hospital records​198​United KingdomGerman Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
1989-1996​Hospital records​1109​​United States (CA)pit bull type
German shepherd
1990-2007​​Fatalities28​Canada​​mixed breed husky
"sled dog"
1995​Patients receiving rabies post-exposure​ prophylaxis​~8000​United States (PA)​German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
1991-2000​Hospital records​​654​SpainGerman Shepherd Dog
mixed breed​
​1996​Hospital records​1916​AustraliaGerman Shepherd Dog
Bull Terrier
1995-1997Animal control​​?​United Statespit bull type
Chow Chow​
​1997Hospital records​385​Canada​​German Shepherd Dog
Cocker Spaniel
1998-2002​​Hospital records​72​Canada​Rottweiler
German Shepherd Dog
2002​Accident compensation claims​​535New Zealand​Mixed breed
German shepherd dog​
​1991-2004​Hospital records​25​South Africapit bull type
German Shepherd Dog​
​1994-2005​Hospital records​341Austria​mixed breed
German Shepherd Dog
​1997-2003​Hospital records11​​United StatesRottweiler
German Shepherd Dog
2001-2002​ACC claims​​3020New ZealandGerman Shepherd Dog
pit bull type
2000-2004​Hospital records​593United Kingdom​Rottweiler
Jack Russell Terrier
2001-2005​​Hospital records551​​United Statespit bull type
​2002-2005​Veterinary referral​111​United States (PA)Springer Spaniel
German Shepherd Dog​
​2004-2005​Survey based on Dog Bite Line contacts​234​IrelandCollie
2001-2011​Hospital records​​436United Kingdom​​Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Jack Russell Terrier
2000-2012​Hospital records​​431SwitzerlandGerman Shepherd Dog
​2005-2009​Hospital records​40United States (SC)​Pit bull type
​2006-2009​Hospital records203​United States (PA)​Mixed breed
Pit bull type​

Table 2
Studies of serious dog bite injury by breed taking into account breed prevalence

Period​Data source​Prevalence estimate​N​Country​​Breeds identified as higher risk​Ref
1974-1975​Animal control​​Licensed dogs​?​United States (MD)​German Shepherd Dog and shepherd crosses
Doberman Pinscher
1976-1977​US Bases​Relative risk versus mixed breed​529​United States (IL, MO)​Collie
German Shepherd Dog
Cocker Spaniel
​1982​Pediatric practice​Non-biting pets of other patients​194United States (MO)​​German Shepherd Dog and shepherd crosses
mixed breed over 30lb
​1986-1987Health Unit​​Licensed dogs​318​Canada​​German Shepherd Dog
mixed breed
1991​​Plastic surgery cases​Prevalence in community146​Australia​​​German Shepherd Dog​50
​1991Animal control​​Case controls178​United States (CO)​​​German Shepherd Dog
Chow Chow
​1990-1993Hospital records​Survey​​356Australia​​​Doberman Pinscher
German Shepherd Dog
​1993​Shelter animals quarantined for bitingGeneral shelter admissions​170​United States (WI)​​​Chow Chow
Cocker Spaniel
Lhasa Apso
​1996Owner self-report (biters)​Owner self-report (non-biters)​​3226​Canada​Lhasa Apso
Springer Spaniel
Shih Tsu
2003-2004​​Shelter and Veterinary Hospital recordsRegistered dogs290​Italy​​Shepherd breeds​32


(Video) Dog Bite Prevention

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(Video) Dog bites and children: Study looks beyond breed to assess risk | Ohio State Medical Center


What dog breed is at risk for biting? ›

66% of Fatal Dog Bite Deaths Caused by Pit Bulls

Rottweilers made up 10%, followed by German Shepherds, mixed-breed, American Bulldog, Mastiffs, and Huskies.

Why breed-specific legislation is not the answer? ›

Because identification of a dog's breed with certainty is prohibitively difficult, breed-specific laws are inherently vague and very difficult to enforce. Breed-specific legislation is discriminatory against responsible owners and their dogs.

Does the CDC support breed-specific legislation? ›

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC recommends against using breed as a factor in dog-bite prevention policy and states: “Any dog of any breed has the potential to bite.”

Are breed restrictions effective? ›

Are Breed-Specific Laws Effective? There is no evidence that breed-specific laws make communities safer for people or companion animals. Following a thorough study of human fatalities resulting from dog bites, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided to strongly oppose BSL.

What breed of dog is responsible for most attacks? ›

Pit bull. No dog breed has a more ferocious reputation than the pit bull, being recognized as the most aggressive dog breed. According to Canine Journal (an organization that collects and analyzes dog bite attacks in the United States), Pit bull attacks are responsible for the deaths of 185 people in the last ten years ...

Is breed standard important? ›

Why Are Breed Standards Important? AKC Conformation has existed for hundreds of years and was started as a way to evaluate breeding stock. Dogs are not being compared to each other; they're being measured by how closely they conform to the standard of their particular breed.

Why are breed restrictions legal? ›

Breed restrictions came about to protect people from what some consider “dangerous" or aggressive dog breeds — especially pit bulls. In other words, if aggressive dogs aren't allowed in, there's likely less chance of attacks or dog bites within the apartment community.

Why you should not judge a dog by its breed? ›

The international team of 24 researchers concluded, “... dog breed is generally a poor predictor of individual behavior and should not be used to inform decisions relating to selecting a pet dog.” Their results showed that a dog's breed explained only 9 percent of the variation in behavior.

How can I get around breed restrictions? ›

7 Ways to Get Around Breed Restrictions
  • Get a Complete DNA Test. ...
  • Get Professional Training for Your Dog. ...
  • Rent from Private Owners Instead of a Company. ...
  • Get Pet Insurance. ...
  • Offer a Pet Deposit. ...
  • Create a “Resume” for Your Dog. ...
  • Register Your Pet as an Emotional Support Dog.

What states have breed restrictions? ›

The following 17 states prohibit their municipalities from passing breed-specific laws: Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts, Nevada, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Utah and South Dakota. California prohibits most breed-specific laws, ...

What happens if a dog breed is banned? ›

Dogs suspected to be a banned type are taken away from their owner and held in kennels. Many dogs find the process very difficult to cope with and can result in undesirable changes in health and behaviour. Dogs will then be examined by an expert using a set of standards which are mainly based on appearance.

Why is breed preservation important? ›

Everybody that breeds purebred dogs wants them to be happy, healthy, and long-lived. We also want to protect and preserve dog breeds for future generations, to use their amazing abilities to work for us and of course for companionship. This is the essence of preservation breeding.

Does banning specific dog breeds improve public safety? ›

The vast majority of peer-reviewed studies on the effectiveness of bans that target dogs based on their appearance or assumed breed, also known as BSL or breed-specific legislation, have concluded that the bans are entirely ineffective and do not reduce dog bites or improve public safety.

Does dog breeding affect behavior? ›

According to the findings, breed explains less than 10% of the behavioral variation in individual dogs; for certain behavioral traits and survey items, age or dog sex were the best predictors of behavior. Investigators failed to find behaviors that were exclusive to any one breed.

What is the number 1 dog breed? ›

The Labrador Retriever holds the top spot, and this friendly favorite has been No. 1 since 1991. Below, find ranked annual lists of AKC-recognized breeds.

Which dog is best for security? ›

Here are the 10 best dog breeds for home security:
  1. Akita. The fearless and bold Akita is a breed that deserves the utmost praise and respect. ...
  2. Belgian Mallinois. ...
  3. Bullmastiff. ...
  4. Doberman Pinscher. ...
  5. German Shepherd. ...
  6. Giant Schnauzer. ...
  7. Great Pyrenees. ...
  8. Pit Bull.
Mar 31, 2016

Which dog has the most aggression? ›

Rough Collies are the most aggressive dog breed, a new study of more than 9,000 pets has found. Research conducted by the University of Helsinki found that smaller dogs are more likely to behave aggressively, growl, snap, and bark compared to mid-sized and large dogs.

Which breed has the most dog attacks 2022? ›

Pit Bull have the greatest frequency of bites (25.07%), with Labrador Retrievers having the second highest rate of bite attacks (13.72%). Dog breeds with wide heads and weighing between 66-100 pounds are most likely to bite and attack.

Can you trust a dog after it bites? ›

Can a Dog That Bites Ever Be Trusted Again? With enough patience and care, many dogs can learn how to manage their stress levels more effectively. As you build better communication skills with your dog, you'll also start to rebuild your trust with them.

What is the purpose of a breed? ›

Simply explained, purpose-bred dogs perform a specific job, from hunting game to herding livestock to working in service to a person with disabilities, having the inborn qualities needed to succeed. Dog breeds truly became “breeds,” because of the specific skill sets they offered to improve humans' lives.

Does breed matter? ›

Does Dog Breed Matter? Yes, for Many Reasons. “While the personalities of individual dogs will vary, just as human siblings will have different personalities, a dog's behavioral tendencies will reflect their breed,” Dr. Bell says.

What is the most important factor to consider in selecting breed? ›

Health of the animal, Age, Temperament, Foraging ability, Fertility, Level of performance-milk, meat, fur and transport. Mass selection- Animals with superior characteristics (highly heritable breeds) are selected from a herd and then allowed to mate among each other at random.

Do I need permission to breed my dog? ›

A licence is required for either or both of the following: Breeding three or more litters of puppies in any 12-month period. Breeding dogs and advertising a business of selling dogs.

Is dog breeding forced? ›

Puppy-mill breeders force dogs to reproduce repeatedly until their bodies wear out from the strain of being continually pregnant in such impoverished, harsh conditions. At that point, female dogs are worthless to a breeder and are often dumped at an animal shelter, auctioned off, or cruelly killed.

Which dog breeds are ban? ›

The order, which took effect from November 15, has banned American Pit-bull terriers, Dogo Argentino, Rottweiler, Neapolitan mastiff, Boerboel, Presa Canario, Wolf dog, Bandog, American Bulldog, Fila Brasileiro and Cane Corso.

What age should you not breed a dog? ›

It is recommended to be finished breeding when your dog reaches the ages of five to seven. After this age, dog pregnancies are rather difficult on animal's bodies. Dogs are at a significantly greater risk of having miscarriages, being injured, or even dying during pregnancy after a certain age.

Does the breed determine dog aggression? ›

Pit bulls, rottweilers, dobermans are all considered aggressive dogs, while labs and corgis are supposed to be fun and docile. But while breeding might have something to do with temperament, a recent study suggests that a far better predictor of how aggressive a dog will be is what their owner is like.

Is it abuse to breed dogs? ›

Puppy mill breeding is done under very poor conditions, and is considered abuse in most (if not all) states.

What breed has the most dog bites 2022? ›

Pit Bull have the greatest frequency of bites (25.07%), with Labrador Retrievers having the second highest rate of bite attacks (13.72%). Dog breeds with wide heads and weighing between 66-100 pounds are most likely to bite and attack.

What is the number one dog that bites people? ›

Pit bulls are the top dogs most likely to bite humans, and it is important to make sure that they are taken care of to prevent issues. According to various fatality research statistics, 69 percent of all fatalities are caused by the pit bull.


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2. What Happens if my Dog Bites Someone? A Legal Perspective
3. All breed and no bite? A review of breed specific legislation
4. Pet X Talks - Deborah Turner - Canine Liability - Legal Issues to know and understand
5. Dog Bite Prevention Safety
(NC State Veterinary Medicine)
6. Are Dog Bites Really Preventable
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Author: Frankie Dare

Last Updated: 03/10/2023

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Author information

Name: Frankie Dare

Birthday: 2000-01-27

Address: Suite 313 45115 Caridad Freeway, Port Barabaraville, MS 66713

Phone: +3769542039359

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Baton twirling, Stand-up comedy, Leather crafting, Rugby, tabletop games, Jigsaw puzzles, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Frankie Dare, I am a funny, beautiful, proud, fair, pleasant, cheerful, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.