The Anatomy of a Dog Attack

When a dog attack is reported we will often hear the same old phrases bandied about.

“It came out of the blue”

“It was totally unprovoked”

“We didn’t see it coming”

“It was totally out of character”

Like many other dog lovers I hate those above phrases, and many other similer ones.  Weer’d manages to get me to twitch on fairly regular basis when he reports on a dog attack and refers to dogs “just going off” (I understand why he phrases it that way, but it still makes me twitch, I mostly manage to refrain from lecturing at him…..).

The National Canine Research Council studies deaths caused by dogs.  Their intense scrutiny of each death caused by a dog has resulted in some interesting statistics.

In 2011 (the last year full data is availible for), 21 of the 31 canine caused deaths were caused by “resident dogs”, these are dogs who do NOT live in the household, they are isolated from positive human interaction and training and are often chained in the yard with little contact with the family.  These are the junkyard dogs, the dogs kept in basements, or chained to the front porch to be “guards”.  These aren’t dogs who’re family pets, loved and cared for.

In only 8 of those 31 cases was there evidence to confirm the breed of the dog.  No one breed is responsible for a signifigant number of deaths in the USA.  Unless you consider “the media called it a pitbull but no one can produce DNA or pedigree to prove it” a breed.

In the cases of “family dogs”, dogs who lived in the household, they are often new to the household, or had a medical problem.  Infants are often left unattended with a dog, and an infant so completely resembles a prey animal that even a good tempered dog will have trouble.  In a fatal dog attack that happened just recently the child was riding the dog as if he was a horse!  In that case the dog didn’t even really attack the child.  He bit the child once, in a manner considered by dog behaviorists to be a last ditch warning that an attack is immenent.  Unfortunetly the bite was to the child’s head, and the child’s parents didn’t seek medical attention promptly.  And before you wonder at the parents who’d allow their child to treat a dog so, its unfortunetly very common, to the point where videos on youtube show it on a regular basis.

Just recently K9 Magazine put out an article on The Anatomy of a Dog Attack.  If you have ANY interactions with a dog I highly recommend reading it.  They run through an example senerio that is entirely to possible if any person’s daily life.  Their example dog is a highly loved pet, who saw a set of interactions in a completely different manner than the humans involved.  Its fictional (I think), but a very good example of how oblivous humans can accidently trigger an attack.

1. Max spots a man walking toward his and his owner’s garden – ‘his territory’

2. Not unduly worried, Max paid little attention to the stranger until John shouted in Henry’s direction. To Max, this was a clear signal to ‘watch for danger’

3. Obediently, Max sat at the front gate and watched for that danger.

4. He attempted to signal to Henry by putting his tail in the air and growling, that he was prepared to defend his owner and territory.

5. As Henry gets closer, Max again postures but now spots Henry’s aggressive body language, his wide eyes refusing to overt their gaze a clear signal of intent. Henry’s point blank refusal to alter his path, a sure fire gesture of defiance.

6. As John runs inside, Max’s thoughts turn to escape. He now believes John is as scared as he is and they should both seek shelter from the safety of the house.

7. Too late. As Henry enters the garden (Max and John’s territory) Max does what he thinks his owner needs him to do. He defends against the threat.

8. As Henry runs away and John panics, Max takes this as a sign that he should increase his attack, his canine instincts now in complete overdrive.

So let us again question whether John was correct when he explained to Police that Max’s attack was unprovoked.

Was it unprovoked? Not at all.

Was it unjustified in human, social terms? Absolutely.

Was it avoidable? Totally.


Dogs do not bite people without reason. They do not attack out of the blue. They do not launch into savage, frenzied assaults without provocation despite what you will undoubtedly read in news reports when the next dog attack hits the press.

There are NO devil dogs. There are NO unprovoked dog attacks. There IS a huge gap in understanding amongst some dog owners about why dogs attack and until we can bridge that gap in education people will continue to be attacked and more and more dogs will join Max, their memories destroyed along with their bodies.

As someone who owns a dog of a highly protective breed I have learned what the signals are that my dog is seeing a need to protect.  I don’t yell out greetings, I don’t ignore my dog when someone new approaches.  I wish more people did the same.

Please take the time to read the attacked links, and watch the video in the one.  They contain information that everyone who interacts with dogs ought to know.