What Causes Fatal Dog Attacks & How Can We Prevent Death by Dogs?

As always, there is a lot of discussion about how we can introduce laws to tackle the problem of dangerous dogs. It’s a heated debate often grounded in media hype, misguided prejudices and emotion.

Rather than make kneejerk decisions on what we THINK we might know about serious and fatal dog attacks we should be prepared to focus on what we DO actually know. Agreed?

What we know should ALWAYS be the basis for what we do, rather than taking action based on what we THINK we know, particularly when it comes to legislation that has enormous consequences for decades to come.

Here’s why.

What we *think* we know is that there are certain types’ of dog owners who have certain *types* of dogs that are the source of the UK’s dangerous dogs problem.

Hoodies? Status dogs? Weapon dogs? Street gangs? Drug dealers?

Well, that’s what some — ill informed, misguided types — *think* we know. Are they a problem? Absolutely. But we can categorise them a lot easier if we just accept this — a bad dog owner is a bad dog owner not because of who they are, what they look like or what they do for a living, but because of how they treat, train and use their dogs. Nothing else.

If a dog is trained to protect a drug dealer, he’s a guard dog. So if all dogs that have been encouraged to guard their owners/families are now to be categorised as weapon’ dogs then we have a lot of weapon dogs in the UK.

Here’s an idea. If someone is a drug dealer, they’re a criminal. Get them off the streets. If someone is out terrorising members of the public or fellow criminals with a weapon’ dog, here’s an idea — they’re ALREADY breaking the law. Get them off the streets.

So, what DO we know?

Take a look:

Cadey-Lee Deacon: Killed at her grandparent’s home by two dogs (Rottweilers) when the dog’s owner was not present. The death took place at the home where the dog’s lived. The family home.

Ellie Lawrenson: Killed at her grandmother’s home while under the supervision of her grandmother. The dog’s (Pit Bull) owner was not present at the time of the attack. The attack took place at the place where the dog lived. The family home.

Archie-Lee Hirst: Killed at his grandparent’s home while under the supervision of someone who was not the dog’s (Rottweiler) owner. The attack took place at the dog’s home, the family home, in the yard outside but the dog’s owner was not present at the time of the fatal attack.

Jaden Mack: Killed at his grandmother’s home whilst his grandmother (the dog’s owner) fell asleep, giving the dogs (Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Jack Russell Terrier) unrestricted access to the child who himself had been left on a table. The fatal attack took place at the dog’s (family) home whilst, in the same building, the dog’s owner was not physically present at the time of the attack (as she was sleeping).

John Paul Massey was killed by his uncle’s dog (Pit Bull) whilst in the care of his grandmother. The attack took place at the family home, the place where the dog lived. The dog’s owner was not present at the time of the attack.

18-month old Zumer Ahmed girl lost her life to a dog (American Bulldog) that belonged to her Uncle. The dog’s owner was not present at the time of the attack which took place in the family home where the dog lived.

On 26th of March 2013, 14-year old Jade Anderson lost her life. She was found deceased following an attack by what is thought to be four dogs. The dogs owner was not present at the time of the attack.

There are more cases like this, not just in the UK.

Breeds involved:

Rottweiler (x2 in Cadey Lee Deacon’s case, 1 in Archie Lee Hirst)

Pit Bull — Ellie Lawrenson / John Paul Massey

Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Jack Russell Terrier — Jaden Mack

Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Bull Mastiff – Jade Anderson

American Bulldog

So, 7 fatal dog attacks and 7 remarkably similar circumstances — attacks ALL happened at the location where the dog lived (dog’s family home) and in ALL cases the owner of the dog was NOT present at the time of the attack taking place.

These are the facts.

It’s not status dogs’ or hoodies’ or any one particular breed of dog that is responsible for killing people. It’s a lack of awareness about how dogs behave, think and react in particular circumstances. Family dogs in family homes are responsible for these 7 fatal dog attacks.

I’ll briefly touch on something from personal experience.

I have two dogs. One of those dogs gets very stressed (and I use the word advisedly) when either myself or my wife leaves the house, even for a short time. If we both leave, she settles down quickly and understands the routine involved, but if ONE of us leaves, she gets agitated, runs from room to room, stares out of the windows, paws at the doors and gets herself in to a generally unhappy state. No amount of consoling or attempts to distract her will do the trick until the family is all back together as one unit. Interestingly, my other dog does not do this. She is calm and balanced and doesn’t seem to care when people come and go, whether it’s me or my wife.

All dogs have their own individual personalities.

Forget breed traits for a moment (and please don’t think for a second that I am ignoring the importance of genetics and breeding in what makes a particular dog tick) and think about this: regardless of who the dog’s parents and grandparents happen to be, their individual personality is shaped by a hugely diverse spectrum of other, environmental factors.

My Labrador and my Rottweiler have been given very, very (almost identical) upbringings — yet one of my dogs gets incredibly agitated when either myself or my wife leaves the home and the other doesn’t care. One of my dogs is particularly fond of meeting children, one is indifferent to them. One of my dogs welcomes people who visit my home wearing a uniform with a wagging tail, the other wants to send them packing.

If you were to ask me whether I thought it’d be OK for me (or my wife) to go out and leave my dogs in the care of someone who wasn’t their owner whilst children would be present, I’d say no. Conclusively no. No. No. Not happening. No.

I’m NOT being wise after the event. I’m not being a smart Alec.

Do I trust’ my dogs?

No! Of course I don’t. They’re dogs. I especially don’t trust’ my dogs if I’m not even there. Placing trust in one’s dog to not eat a sausage during a training exercise is fine. Trusting a dog to behave EXACTLY how you think it’ll behave when you’re not there, isn’t. There’s no real upside to such a bet. The upside, if there is one, is; nothing bad happens. The potential downside…doesn’t bear thinking about.

Think about this; have you ever been to someone’s home where there’s a dog and the dog’s owner is not there? The person who feeds the dog, trains the dog, can CONTROL the dog is away and the dog’s been left with someone who, whilst they may know the dog, doesn’t really have the same connection with it as the owner? I have. And it can be quite an interesting experience. A dog that spends a few hours acting up’ or being naughty/aggressive/unruly/unpleasant to be around suddenly turns in to soppy, obedient puppy the minute they’re reunited with their master.

I’ll relate a true story about the most dangerous dog I’ve ever encountered.

My (now) wife worked at a quarantine kennels for a while. I worked at kennels in the next county as a dog trainer. We were both experienced working in kennels and, as anyone who’s worked in kennels will know, you get to see ALL elements of canine behaviour. Dogs are placed in a different setting and their owners removed from the environment and it’s then that you get to see which dogs are happy to be without their owners but perhaps get upset at being in a strange, funny smelling, noisy environment.

You get to see which dogs just pine and pine for their missing friends. You get to see which dogs have been well trained and, despite not being happy, will still comply with commands even from a stranger. You get to see which dogs are perfectly friendly but have clearly never been taught a basic command in their lives. You get to see which dogs absolutely LOVE being in such a dog-filled environment and don’t seem to give two hoots about their owners not being there. You get to see other people’s dogs behaving in all manners of ways.

In all of this, I can safely say the type of BREED happens to be utterly, utterly irrelevant in relation to how the dog reacts to this environment. No two Dobermans act the same, no two German Shepherds react the same way and you’ll find you’re just as likely to get a bite from a Labrador or a Border Collie as you are from a Rottweiler or a Bull breed.

The most dangerous dog I EVER encountered was, as it happens, a Border Collie.

My (now) wife called me to let me know that a dog had come in the quarantine kennels but he was actually a boarder rather than a quarantined dog.

She told me the dog was launching itself at kennel staff from his kennel and that nobody had been able to get close to entering his kennel. (Bear in mind, these are experienced kennel staff, used to working with many different dogs in a quarantine environment).

I was asked whether I could come over and take a look at the dog and see if I could get in to his kennel and calm him down and get him to be a bit happier and a little less bitey.

A Border Collie? I thought. How bad can it be?

Jumping at the chance to act the hero, I drove over and went to see the dog.

Firstly, this was the largest Border Collie I’ve ever seen. He was (intact male) easily bigger than the Rottweiler I currently own. He was big and he was very, very (VERY) hostile.

Just walking up to his kennel, he flung himself to the front, made himself big and gave a display that could not be mistaken for anything other than extreme territorial aggression.

He was in a confined space and he wanted everyone to know that, if you entered it, he’d be willing to bite. Not just nip and retreat, bite, bite and bite some more. To say he meant business would be an understatement.

I spent a lot of time trying all manner of approaches. I tried the friendly approach. The food through the kennel approach. The pick a ball up and see if that interested him approach. The submissive approach. The assertive approach. The downright hostile approach. I tried everything I knew — and I have worked with a number of rehabilitation case dogs who were very aggressive — but absolutely nothing worked. This was a dog that would not be subdued, at all.

I admitted I couldn’t really help in terms of getting close with the dog and advised that, for the duration of his short stay at the kennels, the staff would be best advised to use the built in, sliding kennel partition so as to ensure the dog was never allowed to come in to contact with a person.

I’ve worked with more than 2,000 dogs and would like to think I have a reasonably fair ability at calling a dog’s personality. I’ll confidently go on record and say that I believe this dog had the capacity to kill. He REALLY meant business.

But here’s where the story reaches its point.

When that dog’s owner came to collect him, he turned in to the soppiest, most playful, friendly dog you could ever wish to meet. He just melted. His tail wagged, his ears set back, his hostile ”I’ll kill you if you so much as come within an inch of my kennel” personality just dissolved. As fast as that. The SECOND his owner came for him, he changed.

Was he a dangerous dog?

Well, I think I already called that. He WAS the most dangerous dog I ever met. Ever. UNTIL his owner turned up, whereupon he instantly became a different dog. His personality changed like the flick of a switch.

Did he have the capacity to attack and seriously injure (possibly kill) someone? I have absolutely NO doubt that he did. But again, there’s a caveat — he became a snarling, hostile dog when his owner was not there and he found himself confronted by people he didn’t know. WHEN his owner was there, he’d lie on his back to have his belly tickled by all. What a nice dog, you’d think. But a more accurate way of putting it would be; what a nice, friendly dog (when his owner’s around), what a completely unhinged, dangerous creature (when his owner wasn’t about).

We’ve lost 6 children in under 5 years to dog attack in the UK. We must all agree, that’s 6 too many.

In ALL cases, circumstance was far, far more pertinent than the type’ of owner or even the type’ of dog.

What is missing is education and awareness. A distinct lack of understanding as to the risks associated with unattended dogs, children and an owner not present.

Whilst we have constant debates about so-called status dogs’ and trying to define a breed as being dangerous based entirely on what that breed happens to look like or who its parents were, we can — tragically — expect more of the same. More deaths, more ignorance — and that’s ignorance condoned by the Government.

As a nation, we must surely accept that we would ALL be better off if dog owners were more dog aware.

Not *some* owners. Not certain *types* of owners or owners of certain *types* of dogs, all dog owners. If all dog owners knew more about dogs and what makes dogs dogs, we’d benefit. All of us. Dog owner or not.

What we have here is a people problem, not a dog problem. People who are not fully aware of how dogs brains work.

Dogs CAN grow up with children and be an exceptionally positive influence on youngsters, but a simple lack of awareness about what circumstances can lead to tragedies as a result of dogs doing what dogs are capable of doing is what’s costing youngsters their very existence on this planet and it is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Our current law doesn’t work.

The question is, will the Government be intelligent enough to recognise that fiddling around the edges of a bad law will not provide the answers we need? That focussing on types’ of owners or dogs won’t prevent deaths? Or that the problem of killer’ dogs is by no means confined to the mean streets of the UK, but — in fact — is most likely to manifest itself in a family home with a family dog, being cared for by grandma whilst the dog owner happens to be somewhere else.

This isn’t what we *think* might be true. This is what we KNOW to be true.

It’s time for the Government to come clean on the DEFRA consultation and acknowledge what the RSPCA have confirmed; that they’ve already made their mind up regarding key aspects of dangerous dogs legislation.

No breed bans.
No BS!

Education is the answer.

Published by Ryan

Ryan O'Meara is a former professional dog trainer, author, speaker & founder of multiple digital media companies.

23 comments on “What Causes Fatal Dog Attacks & How Can We Prevent Death by Dogs?”

  1. Great article, great insight…I also used to work in kennels and experienced quite terrifying dogs who seemed to transform in to playful puppies for their owners. I never really read in to it much more than assuming the owner just knew how to handle the dog – but now it all ads up.

    Very interesting….

  2. Great article.

    As a dog owner myself, one of the things I find truly irritating, as it just sets up the situation for tragedies to happen, is that many dog owners do not ensure that their dog knows his place in the pecking order of the family. Every dog we’ve had over the years has always known his place in his ‘pack’. It’s as critical to the well-being of the dog as much as it is to the humans.

  3. ryan as always a well written and informative article. if only the scaremongers wouls also listen. we are wondering what the potential impact on our project will be. we have a bull mastiff x rottweiler and a staffy x as part of our group of dogs -to be honest they work better than all the others……and act as positive ambassodors.
    people need to stop treating dogs as our therapists, our babies, and angels and learn to accept they are dogs, and meet their dog needs, and accept they will act as dogs, not angels, given the right,or wrong,set of circumstances.
    thanks for speaking the truth.

  4. Loved this article however one point I’d like to make. If it wasn’t for the hoodie culture of wanting to have a really tough looking dog then there wouldn’t be so many people breeding staffys, crosses and so called tough dogs. I think the DDA is a pile of nonsense and am all for BSL being scrapped. Education is what is important. But it’s about time the owners of the dogs were held responsible instead of the dogs and breeds being slaughtered for it.

  5. Thank you so much for such an excellent article it made a penny drop for me in relation to behaviours I have seen in several dogs of different breeds. I have always been very diligent at protecting my dogs from situation that could force them to make a poor choice, and educate my puppy buyers in this too. Having read everything above it has put a light on for me as to some other aspects we should be looking at to keep our dogs safe from people being inappropriate. Thank you.

  6. Very interesting and truthful article. Thank you. I have recently started an e-petition to protest to the Government to control and regulate the horros of dog breeding by irresponsible owners, to enable the RSPCA to track the past and present ownership of a dog (as they can then be prosecuted) and to stop immediately the sale of dogs on the internet (often used for fighting, baiting, status, weapons etc)… see http://www.kateswish.co.uk.

    It is so sad that we have lost another young life with Jade being mauled to death recently. I understand that Jade’s family have also created an epetition to ‘force a crackdown on dangerous dogs’. My worry is that that breeds such as bull breeds, rotties etc will be classed in this category, when in fact, we all know it is the owner who should claim the title of ‘dangerous’.

  7. You do make a lot of sense but I think it is a little simplistic. I have been a dog trainer and behaviour advisor for nearly 20 years and have found the opposite in a lot of cases especially when the owner is present. I used to have a dog that would not allow anyone near me even my husband (he was a rescued cruelty case and he did over attach) when I was there no one could sit next to me (did all the usual of course) but if I wasn’t there he was hubby’s best friend!

    I have also had a lot of problem and unsocialble dogs because of the owners ignorance, the dogs actually behave worse when the owner tries to take control because they do not know what they are doing and the dog does not feel safe and behave worse when the owner is there.

    I am not going to gainsay the article because it really is good and makes a lot of sense but it just goes to show that it is just not as simple as that.

    Personally I think they should bring in licensing for someone to own a dog. It could be self funding because of course you would have to pay for the licence to be deemed competent to have a dog. It will never happen though because the government would tie it all up in red tape and it would not be policed correctly.

    Saying all this some breeders should have to have a competence test, there are more bad ones than good. It should be outlawed to breed dogs outside in kennels. Breeders should have to justify each puppy sale. At the moment I have an 83 year old man who has been sold a staffy puppy who is now 5 months old and has already pulled the man over. I recently had an elderly couple who were sold 2 german shepherd puppies because they were told as there was two they would not have to do anything they would teach each other!! Two should never be sold at the same time to the same home. They were both males and by the time they were 10 months they were at each others throats quite literally, they are undersocialised and not good with humans either.

    A lot needs fixing and it will always be the dogs who pay the ultimate price. It is not just the drug dogs, the hoodie dogs, breeders and owners ignorance plays a big part as does greed. One of my customers paid £1575 for a cockapoo!!!! and it moults. That breeder will just sell her dogs to whoever can afford it. John Rogerson reknowed trainer behaviour bod said that there should be a ceiling on the price you can pay for a dog and it should be set at £50 it would then cost too much to produce a litter and reduce the numbers of litters. Again simplistic but it could help. Lets face it we need some kind of help just leaving the situation as it is, is just not good enough.

    The worst individual dogs I ever met. Border collie, Rottie, German Shepherd.

    Thank you Ryan, it has made people think about this dreadful subject in positive and commonsence way.

  8. Excellent article Ryan! You are of course correct in your thinking. I agree that the answer is better education for all dog owners. There are some simple base line facts that can help keep dogs and people safe. If everyone was aware of them, and every dog owner encouraged think carefully about what they do with their dog. I too have seen dogs change from lovely dogs to nightmare dogs when owners where absent. One of my own dogs, one day took it upon herself to guard the coat id left lying in a sunny field, whilst I nipped into a bush nearby t0 have a wee as I was miles from a toilet. I thought no one was about, id not seen anyone all day, but when I came out of the bush, my dog was stood on a pathway, preventing a young couple from preceeding, as she was guarding from about 15 yards, my coat. I know this dog had the capacity to bite. She had already bitten a burgular who entered my house in the middle of the night. Once I was back at her side her snarling diminished, I learnt something that day, apologised profusely and never let that happen again. A dog who follows his owners rules when his owner is there, has to make up his own mind what the rules are, when his owner is not there. my dogs are great with kids. All three of them. Would I leave them alone with a child unsupervised? Nope. Why not? Because I can not control what might happen if im not there. And in my view it would be the same as leaving a child alone with a gun or a sharp knife. Just not worth the risk. Great article. I hope it gets heard… Well done you! Denise x

  9. Very good article – I do think there should be some control regarding breeders but I don’t think it should be set at £50.00 – people will take on dogs with no ability to pay for their vets fees/insurance (which I believe should be compulsory) training classes (also should be compulsory). The breeders should be for one thing – improving their breed and should ensure their puppies go to people who will work and walk them as the breed needs (i.e. I have my 2 GSDs – they have a great deal of walking and also working every day plus weekly (at least) training classes, they both have the Good Citizen Gold award and partake in Obedience and Heelwork to Music training and competitions – they are very relaxed dogs. I would trust them 100% with myself but they are my responsibility and I would not leave them -hence why I have a caravan – when I took on my dogs my holidays abroad weren’t needed any more! Just for the record the most dangerous individual dogs I have ever encountered were the following breeds: Golden Retriever, Husky, Old English Sheepdog and Airedale, plus a Labrador that was always off lead who would walk over to another dog and just bite without provocation. The main thing pointed out in this article is that it is a people problem rather than a dog problem! The only problem with dog licenses is that it is only the law abiding people who will be caught out by maybe forgetting to renew one day – like with cars, the people who have complete disregard for the law get away with it until they end up running someone down and then are discovered without insurance and a license etc – if people flout the law and get a dog in an under hand way they will get away with it – and they will teach that dog to be aggressive. I also hate to say it but it does have a bit to do with the type of people and family who have these dogs – you hear about the attacks and could almost draw a character of what the people would look like – and then you see the photo and you’re right. But it is definitely a people problem which ever way you look at it!

  10. Ryan has got this absolutely right, he’s hit the nail on the head.
    I have experienced this type of behaviour with one of my own dogs. I am talking about the dogs behaviour when I was not around, the dog took charge when I was not in the house.

    I totally see where he is coming from and understand what he is saying..

  11. Good post.

    One of the worst dog bites I ever had was from a chihuahua. It attacked my calf from behind as I was moving away from him. I was protected by thick pants.

    People think it’s funny and how bad could it have really been … until I mention that it was just at crawling baby face level.

  12. Great article…agreed with 100% of it.
    I have (and always will have) Border Collies..and yes, I’ve seen and experienced some very dangerous ones (usually when visiting Farms)

    I won’t even get out of my Car, until their owner is with them…they then accept you as a welcome visitor.

    Ignorance, is definately NOT ‘Bliss’ when it comes to Dogs!

  13. I can understand what he is saying, but what can you do about it? Very few owners can afford to be with their dogs 24 hours a day. I spend as much time with my territorial male as I can, but there are still times I can’t be with him. So do I cage him at home while I am not there – in which case he is cornered if anyone does break in. I’ve tried taking him to work, but he frightens the clients. I’ve spoken to the rescue centre I got him from and they say its a training issue – but he is fine when I’m there, and I can’t train the whole of the British population. So do I put him down IN CASE he does something when I’m not there. Great article, but how about some answers to how it can be dealt with?!

  14. I had a grooming parlour in Zimbabwe. The first dog to bite me was a Pom! The dog that really damaged me, with permanent scars to my face, was a Scottie!

    I totally agree that all dogs can be dangerous given the circumstances; the difference is the amount of damage that can be done by, say, a Chihuahua, compared to, say, a St Bernard. Its a question of size and weight.

    The owner is always responsible for the dog’s behaviour and anyone who leaves a dpog with a child unattended does not deserve to have either.

  15. i to have worked in kennels and seen similar situations, another thing i have noticed is lately a lot of male dogs are left intact these days, which can heighten their aggression and make them more territorial. also many years ago most people would have wanted to see the their new puppies parents before purchasing it, especially if they were taking the puppy home to live young children, and this combined with a lack of knowledge of dogs behavior and psychology and experience on how to train them, plus for a lot of dogs especially in towns and city, total lack of exercise for an animal designed to run and hunt over many miles, leaves many of these animals bored agitated and boisterous, which can lead them to be ticking timebombs.

  16. Very interesting reading BUT how many other dogs are in the same situation (without owner present) and don’t kill children? I wholly agree with you that the ‘dangerous dogs’ are unfairly labelled as they are as trustworthy as the average dog when they are in the care of knowledgeable, responsible people but they are often not in the right environment and are a ticking time bomb and a danger to all children they may come into contact with. No dog should be left unattended with small children but if a breed that doesn’t lock jaws attacks they are unlikely to kill. Many years ago when I was young lots of my schoolfriends sported scars from various dog nips and bites. Some were quite nasty but none were fatal. I would imagine they were nips that taught a lesson to many children. Sadly when the above mentioned breeds do the same it ends in a fatality. Its probably not the dogs fault but nothing will change whilst any tom, dick or harry thinks they have the knowledge and environment suitable for a dog that is highly capable of killing.

  17. We have had dogs most of our lives but we only picked Dog’s that needed a home, like they had been badly abused etc etc. Now dont get me wrong we are not great dog handlers, but the dogs we got had issu’s, one was a cross between a rottweiller and a alsation, the other was a Border Collie who had been abused by a drug addict,i will keep this short so when my daughter brought her home the border collie a lady who lived along way away asked my daughter to take her as she new her boyfriend would kill it so me and my father gained a border collie, my father had to carry her out of the car ash she was so frightend and she wet herself, it took us 2 years to get her to the stage of now being great with us and she trusted us and loved us so much, but there is no way i would of left her with anybody because i know if me or dad are not there she would get frightened again and just might bite, our other dog was a cross between a rottweiler and alsation but we new this dog and he was the totally opposite of Lady my border collie he had been brought up with children and a nice family but, we took him on as his owner died and nobody wanted him he was a magnificent dog huge but very very loveable. But with other Dogs that are big and intimadating he would go for the throat and do not know what would happen, we kept him on a lead but on the big field he knew alot of other dogs so we allowed him off the lead to run with them, They have crossed over now but we miss them terrible, but not once would we have ever left them with anybody else, and my father made sure that those two dogs were learnt pretty strict rules, and if they got out of line when we first got them my father just had to speak a certain way and use the bite like the dog whisperer does and they new not to do it, people do need educated and the dog’s trained properly as well.But Dogs are so loving and got me through a couple of bad times i had, i knew when i was down and came over and sat with me and just getting love off them made me feel better!Dogs can be amazing let us keep it that way please!

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