Defaming Rover: Error-Based Latent Rhetoric in the Medical Literature on Dog Bites

J Appl Anim Welf Sci. 2018 Jul-Sep;21(3):211-223. doi: 10.1080/10888705.2017.1387550. Epub 2017 Oct 25.


This article examines the accuracy and rhetoric of reports by human health care professionals concerning dog bite injuries published in the peer-reviewed medical literature, with respect to nonclinical issues, such as dog behavior. A qualitative content analysis examined 156 publications between 1966 and 2015 identified by terms such as "dog bite" or "dangerous dogs." The analysis revealed misinformation about human-canine interactions, the significance of breed and breed characteristics, and the frequency of dog bite-related injuries. Misinformation included clear-cut factual errors, misinterpretations, omissions, emotionally loaded language, and exaggerations based on misunderstood or inaccurate statistics or reliance on the interpretation by third parties of other authors' meaning. These errors clustered within one or more rhetorical devices including generalization, catastrophization, demonization, and negative differentiation. By constructing the issue as a social problem, these distortions and errors, and the rhetorical devices supporting them, mischaracterize dogs and overstate the actual risk of dog bites.

Keywords: Dog bites; errors; health care professionals; rhetoric.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Bites and Stings / epidemiology*
  • Bites and Stings / psychology*
  • Dogs / classification
  • Dogs / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Scientific Experimental Error