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A case series of biting dogs: characteristics of the dogs, their behaviour, and their victims

By N. C. Guy, U. A. Luescher, S. E. Dohoo, E. Spangler, J. B. Miller, I. R. Dohoo, L. A. Bate

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The characteristics of 227 biting dogs, their homes, and their victims were gathered in a detailed telephone survey of general veterinary clientele in the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. All of the dogs had bitten either someone living in the same household, or someone who was a frequent visitor and was well known to the dog. There were 117 male and 110 female dogs included in this case series. Significantly more female dogs were neutered (P=0.03), 58% of the dogs were purebred, and the most commonly reported breed was the Labrador Retriever (n=15). The mean number of people living in each home was 3.13 (S.D.±0.08). Aggression which would traditionally be defined as dominant or possessive had been demonstrated by 75.6% of the dogs in at least one of 17 specific situations outlined in the questionnaire. Dogs with a history of this type of aggression were significantly older (P=0.02) and of lower body weight (P<0.001) when compared to the remainder of the dogs, and were more likely to be fearful of a variety of stimuli. The effect of fear in these dogs may be important in understanding the motivation for and treatment of aggression problems. For what the owner considered to be the worst bite incident, 42.4% could be attributed to behaviour which appeared to be characteristic of dominant or possessive aggression. If the reason for the worst bite incident was related to the commonly accepted criteria for dominance aggression, then the dogs were more often male and purebred. Owners of these dogs were also more likely to rank the bite as a more serious event (P=0.001). Adults were the most common victims of dog bites, and most injuries were to the hands and arms (56.2%). A minority of injuries (9.3%) received medical attention, supporting previous evidence that dog bites are greatly underreported. A bite requiring medical attention was scored as a more important incident by the owner and was more likely to have caused the owner to take precautions to prevent further injuries. Although the presence of aggression related to dominance was not associated with gender or breed, the severity of this form of aggression and its importance to the owner were greater for male and purebred dogs. These factors may explain the characteristics of dogs as they are reported by behaviour specialists working in a referral setting.

Date 2001
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 74
Issue 1
Pages 43-57
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/S0168-1591(01)00155-1
Author Address Clinical Behaviour Service, Department of Anatomy and Physiology, Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, 550 University Avenue, Charlottetown, PEI C1A 4P3, Canada.
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Aggression
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  4. Bites and stings
  5. Breeding
  6. Canada
  7. Carnivores
  8. Commonwealth of Nations
  9. Developed countries
  10. Diseases
  11. Dogs
  12. Fear
  13. Islands
  14. Mammals
  15. North America
  16. OECD countries
  17. peer-reviewed
  18. Pets and companion animals
  19. Primates
  20. sex differences
  21. surveys
  22. trauma
  23. United States of America
  1. peer-reviewed