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  • Getting Serious about Dog Bite Research: What We Know and What We Don’t That Could Make a Difference Presented by Janis Bradley

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Getting Serious about Dog Bite Research: What We Know and What We Don’t That Could Make a Difference Presented by Janis Bradley

  • Wednesday, September 30, 2020
  • Saturday, September 30, 2023
  • Virtual Audio and Presenter Files

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For decades, researchers have been producing papers that look at what can be loosely described as the epidemiology of dog bites through a variety of lenses. Generally, they conclude with well-intentioned recommendations on how to reduce the frequency of dogs bite to people. The studies themselves, unfortunately, often conflate injurious and non-injurious incidents and pathologize aggression. The academic medical literature in particular is riddled with fear mongering, while the vast majority of dog bite injuries are at the Band-Aid level, while these in turn are dwarfed by the bites that do no physical harm at all. But these papers often lead to discrimination against specific groups of dogs and alarmist responses when a pet expresses any grouchiness. Studies often have the ability to do harm in the real world, despite authors’ best intentions and earnest caveats.  Researchers have a responsibility to be mindful of this.

Meanwhile, the rate of injurious dog bites remains the same. The only reliable source of injurious dog bite data in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Top of Form’s emergency department reporting system, shows that the rate at which dogs hurt people with their teeth remains remarkably stable. Both good science and good advocacy suggest that we might be better off admitting that we don’t know why this is so and focusing on how to find out. For example, since the ways that people live with dogs have changed considerably in the last few decades, and dog professionals have been busily making and publicizing dog bite prevention recommendations, it is possible that we don’t actually know what, if anything, would change the rate of these events.  

If we want to continue pursuing this issue at all, it is time to reconsider which research questions might yield answers relevant to human welfare. This presentation will make the case for focusing on the bites that actually impact public safety, those that cause significant injury. A better understanding of how to reduce the incidence of human injury is unlikely to be achieved as long as researchers continue to lump all dog bites into a single category regardless of severity.  

Learning Objectives:  

  • Understand the current situation—things have been pretty much the same for decades. 

  • Question what has been studied and how. 

  • Consider more productive approaches. 

Your Presenter

Janis Bradley

Janis Bradley is the author of Dogs Bite, but balloons and slippers are more dangerous, the complete guide to research on dog bites, along with Dog Bites: Problems and Solutions for The Animals and Society Institute, and The Relevance of Breed in Selecting a Companion Dog for the National Canine Research Council.

Between 2000 and 2009, she trained more than 400 professional pet dog trainers at the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Academy for Dog Trainers, and, in 2011, founded the Dog Training Internship Academy.

She is director of communications and publications at the National Canine Research Council, a think tank whose mission is to produce, support and distribute the best current science studying domestic dogs in the context of a human environment. She has co-authored papers regarding canine behavior for peer reviewed journals and has spoken at numerous professional conferences.

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