Statistics or propaganda…..
Clifton’s “Analysis”Part II:
In Part 1 of my look at Merritt Clifton’s study of dog bites [“Dangerous breeds,” dog bite statistics, and the Merritt Clifton report: Numbers] I showed that Clifton’s tabulation of press accounts is incomplete, inaccurate, badly edited and misleading. Readers have no way to access the original news stories and follow-up articles; breeds of dogs aren’t accurately recorded; and there is a huge discrepancy between press accounts of dog attacks and hospital data.
Clifton follows his list of severe bites with a brief section of comments on selected attacks. No footnotes or links are provided: in fact, there are no citations anywhere in the report.In Part 1 of my look at Merritt Clifton’s study of dog bites [“Dangerous breeds,” dog bite statistics, and the Merritt Clifton report: Numbers] I showed that Clifton’s tabulation of press accounts is incomplete, inaccurate, badly edited and misleading. Readers have no way to access the original news stories and follow-up articles; breeds of dogs aren’t accurately recorded; and there is a huge discrepancy between press accounts of dog attacks and hospital data.
Clifton follows his list of severe bites with a brief section of comments on selected attacks. No footnotes or links are provided: in fact, there are no citations anywhere in the report.
In the Analysis section Clifton writes:
The tallies of attacks, attacks on children, attacks on adults, fatalities, and maimings on the above data sheet must be evaluated in three different contexts. The first pertains to breed-specific characteristic behavior, the second to bite frequency as opposed to the frequency of severe injuries, and the third to degree of relative risk.
These facts are evident, or should be evident, to anyone. As the AVMA task force on dog aggression states:
Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite. Invariably the numbers will show that dogs from popular large breeds are a problem. This should be expected, because big dogs can physically do more damage if they do bite.
Clifton’s comments are in green — mine are in red.
Of the breeds most often involved in incidents of sufficient severity to be listed, pit bull terriers are noteworthy for attacking adults almost as frequently as children. Numbers again: Clifton doesn’t know how often pit bulls bite children or how frequently they bite adults. He has no idea how often they bite at all. No one does. This is a very rare pattern […] What pattern? Without knowing anything about a biting dog’s health, care or condition, its quality of ownership, victim behavior and so forth, there are no patterns. Captain Arthur Haggerty, a well-known dog trainer, wrote that in cases where a pit bull bites, the owner almost always has a criminal record. That might be a pattern worth investigating.Pit bulls seem to differ behaviorally from other dogs in having far less inhibition about attacking people who are larger than they are. Which pit bulls? Out of the country’s three million or more pit bulls, which ones “differ behaviorally”? Mr. Clifton, meet Mr. Gladwell. Once again, Clifton refuses to acknowledge that other factors may be involved when a pit bull bites: abuse, starvation, life on a chain. They are also notorious for attacking seemingly without warning, “Notorious?” According to whom? Barring health problems and/or abuse, all dogs exhibit a pattern of negative or abnormal behavior before a bite. a tendency exacerbated by the custom of docking pit bulls’ tails so that warning signals are not easily recognized. Where on earth is it “the custom” to dock pit bulls’ tails? Seriously. Is there any substantiating evidence for this statement? Because no one docks pit bulls’ tails. Ears, sometimes — tails, never [unless the tail is injured]. Thus the adult victim of a pit bull attack may have had little or no opportunity to read the warning signals that would avert an attack from any other dog. How many of the pit bulls involved in this list of attacks had docked tails? “We have no idea”? I thought so.
Rottweilers […] seem to show up disproportionately often in the mauling, killing, and maiming statistics simply because they are both quite popular and very powerful[…] A “large, popular breed,” in other words — as opposed to those notorious pit bulls with their rare behavioral patterns.
German shepherds are herding dogs, bred for generations to guide and protect sheep. Please. German shepherds are show and companion dogs, and no, they have not been bred for generations to work sheep. For the last century they have been bred for conformation; for police work and protection sports; and to be pets. Most modern GSDs have as much “herding instinct” as a bulldog, and based on what I’ve seen at AKC “herding trials,” as much talent on stock. In modern society, they are among the dogs of choice for families with small children because of their extremely strong protective instinct. How does he know? They have three distinctively different kinds of bite [I can’t believe I’m reading this]: the guiding nip, which is gentle and does not break the skin; the grab-and-drag, to pull a puppy or lamb or child away from danger, which is as gentle as emergency circumstances allow; and the reactive bite, usually in defense of territory, a child, or someone else the dog is inclined to guard. The reactive bite usually comes only after many warning barks, growls, and other exhibitions intended to avert a conflict. When it does come, it is typically accompanied by a frontal leap for the wrist or throat. Unbelievable. There is not a shred of evidence for these statements, and I’m speaking 1) as a former owner of both American-bred and Schutzhund-bred German shepherds, and 2) as one with a fair amount of literature in my possession relating to this breed. If German shepherds are bred for any sort of bite, it’s the full-mouthed protection-sport bite, and that same type of bite is admired by the relatively tiny but dedicated group of GSD boundary-style herding enthusiasts here and in Germany. “Three distinctively different kinds of bite”? I thought I’d seen it all after reading a few years’ worth of AKC Gazette breed columns [“Collies must have an oblique eye set in order to scan the horizon for sheep”], and then something like this comes along. The “three different bites” concept has nothing to do with the millions of GSDs in North America and even less to do with the realities of stockwork. Seriously, where did this “three distinctive bites” business come from? Is it from the Gazette? Enlighten us. Because it sounds as if it was made up out of whole cloth.
Because German shepherds often use the guiding nip and the grab-and-drag with children, who sometimes misread the dogs’ intentions and pull away in panic, they are involved in biting incidents at almost twice the rate that their numbers alone would predict: approximately 28% of all bite cases, according to a recent five-year compilation of Minneapolis animal control data. Yet none of the Minneapolis bites by German shepherds involved a serious injury: hurting someone is almost never the dogs’ intent.
Again: I can’t believe I’m reading this.
GSDs “are involved in biting incidents at almost twice the rate that their numbers alone would predict” — because they are trying to lead or pull children out of danger? There is nothing to support this claim: zero, zip, nada. And what’s up with the reference to Minneapolis AC data? Is this a “Look! Something shiny!” gambit? Because in Clifton’s own study, GSD attacks result in a higher percentage of maimings [60%] than pit bull attacks do [55%]. And yet — again with no supporting evidence –Clifton states that when German shepherds bite, “hurting someone is almost never the dogs’ intent.” He knows all the GSDs in the country, apparently, and reads their minds, too.
In the German shepherd mauling, killing, and maiming cases I have recorded, there have almost always been circumstances of duress: the dog was deranged from being kept alone on a chain for prolonged periods without human contract, was starving, was otherwise severely abused, was protecting puppies, or was part of a pack including other dangerous dogs. None of the German shepherd attacks have involved predatory behavior on the part of an otherwise healthy dog.
Neither Clifton nor [as far as anyone can tell] the press accounts he tabulated see fit to acknowledge “circumstances of duress” when a pit bull or other breed bites. Apparently pit bulls are never chained, never turned loose or abandoned to run in packs, never abused, always well fed and correctly socialized — unlike those misunderstood German shepherds.
Seriously, it’s unbelievable – unconscionable – that anyone writing about dog attacks would fail to acknowledge the abusive conditions surrounding most pit bulls that bite, and yet make such a raft of excuses for another breed, claiming, “There have almost always been circumstances of duress.” Is this intentional, or simply drawn from the press accounts themselves? Either way, the lack of objectivity is remarkable.
Clifton goes on to stress “the need for some sort of strong breed-specific regulation to deal with pit bulls and Rottweilers,” and chastises the “humane community” for refusing to see that adopting a pit bull is no different from adopting a mountain lion. He states that pit bulls and Rottweilers should be strictly regulated “if they are to be kept at all.”
And that’s just stupid.
Ban all dogs over 30 lb, and children (and adults) will still be maimed and killed by dachshunds and cocker spaniels. But the statement that will make knowledgeable, informed dog people beat their heads on rocks is this one:
Temperament is not the issue, nor is it even relevant. What is relevant is actuarial risk. If almost any other dog has a bad moment, someone may get bitten, but will not be maimed for life or killed, and the actuarial risk is accordingly reasonable. If a pit bull terrier or a Rottweiler has a bad moment, often someone is maimed or killed–and that has now created off-the-chart actuarial risk, for which the dogs as well as their victims are paying the price.
I think Clifton wants very much to say, “They’ll turn on you.” But a dog with a good temperament won’t do that. If your dog is elderly and confused, suffering from a brain tumor or seizure disorder or terrible thyroid problem, or is injured and in pain, he may bite regardless of a terrific temperament. Dogs aren’t robots. But dogs with good temperaments don’t turn on people. They don’t have chainsaw-massacre “bad moments.”
Dogs with unsound temperaments? Especially if they are unsocialized, untrained and badly managed, everyone around them is always at risk.
The bulk of dogs that bite are somewhere in the middle. One may have a sound temperament but was never socialized to children. Another may be a nice dog whose resource-guarding habit was never addressed. Some have just had all they’re going to take, like the Dalmatian who bit a boy that jumped from his bed onto the sleeping dog. And because children are small, many of these injuries are terrible.
“Bad moment” isn’t a scientific term. It’s a euphemism for something only “those breeds” do. It implies that no one really has to worry about “safe breeds,” and the trouble with this particular implication is that “safe breeds” already send hundreds of thousands of children – and adults — to hospital emergency rooms each year. The choice of phrase reflects all the misleading, inaccurate figures and statements that make the Clifton report such a hot mess: another sad measure of the general public’s “boundless, staggering ignorance about dogs.”
By …… Luisa
More to come…..