Why do some dogs attack again & again?
“One dog bites, then lets go, or walks away or pulls back on his own,” an ANIMALS 24-7 reader recently asked. “Another dog bites, continues to bite, refuses to let go, and cannot be dragged away. Do you have any stats on that?”
Indeed we do, through the efforts of a volunteer who in 2001 combed through our file data on more than 1,500 fatal and disfiguring dog attacks and incidents in which police shot a dog, to extract the data on serial and rampage cases.
At that time our data base did not yet include dog attacks on animals in which a person was not injured and/or a dog was shot by law enforcement. Now it does, and the findings pertaining to serial and rampage attacks on people appear to be at least equally applicable to serial and rampage attacks on other pets and hoofed animals, now claiming the lives of more than 50,000 animals per year.
“Serial” & “rampage” defined
Serial attacks involve dogs who attack on multiple occasions. Rampage attacks involve dogs who attack multiple victims on one occasion. Our data does not show which dogs bite and let go, as opposed to which dogs bite and grip, but the data does show which dogs attack with extraordinary intensity.
While the volunteer’s data compilation is now 15 years old, it may be contextually even more indicative now than then, since pit bulls and Rottweilers were then half as numerous as today, together amounting to about 3% of the U.S. dog population, compared with about 6% as of July 2020.
Pit bulls & Rottweilers
The disproportionately high involvement of pit bulls and Rottweiilers in serial and rampage attacks today might erroneously be presumed by a casual observer to be an artifact of their numbers, rather than reflective of those dogs’ “normal” behavior. The 2001 data analysis shows the opposite: what is seen today is what was seen 20 years ago, to an even more lopsided extent now than then.
As of 2001, pit bulls and Rottweilers together appeared to commit about two-thirds of the reported serial attacks on humans (65%), and more than three-fourths of the rampage attacks (79%).
Overall, about 5% of the dogs involved in fatal or disfiguring attacks on humans, or who were shot by police while attacking, had attacked a person or killed a pet on an earlier occasion.
Among the 59 dogs who flunked a second chance after biting a person or killing a pet were 28 pit bulls (48%), 10 Rottweilers (17%), and 21 dogs of 10 other breeds.
This finding, largely ignored by the humane community when initially reported, presaged a more sinister development. From 1858, when the first U.S. animal shelter opened, through 1999, just two former shelter dogs (both of them wolf hybrids) are known to have killed people. From 2000 to 2009, three shelter dogs killed people, among them a pit bull, a Doberman, and a bull mastiff. Since 2010, however, 75 former shelter dogs have killed people, including 52 pit bulls, five bull mastiffs, four Rottweilers, two German shepherds, a Lab who may have been part pit, and a husky.
The lopsided risk associated with giving bully breed dogs a second or third chance after attacking someone would be even greater if pit bull advocates were correct in asserting that pit bulls are more likely than other breeds to be killed after their first violent incident––which would mean that relatively few pit bulls get further chances, and that those who do are among the dogs considered least likely to be genuinely dangerous.
However, as of 2001, the rates of flunking second and third chances among pit bulls, Rottweilers, and other breeds were all closely comparable to their overall rates of involvement in life-threatening incidents, fatalities, and police shootings of dogs.
This suggested that neither pit bulls nor Rottweilers were subject to statistically quantifiable discrimination in deciding which dogs get extra chances.
Rampage attacks are defined as instances of a dog attacking multiple people or animals during a single incident.
About 10% of the dog attack cases in my files as of 2001 involved rampages in which a person was killed or maimed, and/or the dog is shot by police. Of the 153 dogs who rampaged, 89 (58%) were pit bulls; 32 (21%) were Rottweilers; and 32 (21%) were representatives of 14 other large breeds.
No dog smaller than a boxer was involved in a rampage attack, possibly because small dogs are more easily restrained after attacking their first victim.
What has changed?
Through January 20, 2002, the ANIMALS 24-7 log of life-threatening and fatal attacks showed that pit bulls had over the 20 preceding years committed 592 (45%) of the 1,301 total attacks qualifying for inclusion. Rottweilers had committed 291 (22%) of the attacks.
Currently, pit bulls have committed more than 7,200 of more than 10,500 total fatal and/or disfiguring attacks. Altogether, more than 85% of the fatal and disfiguring attacks since 1982 have been committed by “bully” breeds, including also Rottweilers, Presa Canarios, Cane Corsos, Dogo Argentinos, et al.