Objective: To summarize breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks during a 20-year period and to assess policy implications.
Animals: Dogs for which breed was reported involved in attacks on humans between 1979 and 1998 that resulted in human dog bite-related fatalities (DBRF).
Procedure: Data for human DBRF identified previously for the period of 1979 through 1996 were combined with human DBRF newly identified for 1997 and 1998. Human DBRF were identified by searching news accounts and by use of The Humane Society of the United States' registry databank.
Results: During 1997 and 1998, at least 27 people died of dog bite attacks (18 in 1997 and 9 in 1998). At least 25 breeds of dogs have been involved in 238 human DBRF during the past 20 years. Pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers were involved in more than half of these deaths. Of 227 reports with relevant data, 55 (24%) human deaths involved unrestrained dogs off their owners' property, 133 (58%) involved unrestrained dogs on their owners' property, 38 (17%) involved restrained dogs on their owners' property, and 1 (< 1%) involved a restrained dog off its owner's property.
Conclusions: Although fatal attacks on humans appear to be a breed-specific problem (pit bull-type dogs and Rottweilers), other breeds may bite and cause fatalities at higher rates. Because of difficulties inherent in determining a dog's breed with certainty, enforcement of breed-specific ordinances raises constitutional and practical issues. Fatal attacks represent a small proportion of dog bite injuries to humans and, therefore, should not be the primary factor driving public policy concerning dangerous dogs. Many practical alternatives to breed-specific ordinances exist and hold promise for prevention of dog bites.