Fatal Dog Bites

Fatal dog bites are very rare, but obviously worth attempting to prevent if possible.

Factors thought to contribute to human fatalities from dog bites include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Male gender
  • Intact reproductive status
  • Poor health
  • Late and inadequate training and socialization
  • Lack of supervision
  • Defense of territory or puppies
  • Hunger
  • Predatory experience
  • Pack-dog experience
  • Age
  • Size
  • Behavior of victims
  • Absence of other people in the vicinity

These are hypothetical factors. There is not enough data to rely on them currently.

(Mills, 2017, p. 161).

Patronek study data from 2000-2009 dog bite fatality cases.

  • Absence of an able-bodied person to intervene
  • Incidental or no familiar relationship of victims with dogs
  • Owner failure to neuter dogs
  • Compromised ability of victims to interact appropriately with dogs
  • Dogs kept isolated from regular positive human interactions versus family dogs
  • Owners’ prior mismanagement of dogs
  • Owners’ history of abuse or neglect of dogs

This is from case-series descriptions, so is not complete evidence of risk.

Victims are often the young and elderly.

(Mills, 2017, p. 174).

It’s worth noting that there is zero evidence that dog breed plays a role in fatal dog bites, despite media and others promoting this as if it’s true. Individual dogs of any breed can bite with serious or lethal force. Breed specific legislation designed to ban certain dog breeds has not worked as a preventative to serious dog bites. Instead communities should focus on controlling the factors above (in the Patronek study) to prevent fatal dog bites.


Mills, D., & Westgarth, C. (Eds.). (2017). Dog Bites: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. Sheffield, UK. 5M Publishing Ltd.

[ISBN: 978-1-910455-61-6]

Note: There are graphic photographs in this book that may be distressing to readers (for example, crime scene photographs designed for professionals who deal with dog bites).

By Dan Raymer, CTC, BS

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