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Carrie

Even if the statement that "more people are admitted every year for non-dog bites than dog-bites" refers to human bites, I don't think it's reasonable to compare them. Humans bite because they are (a) children, (b) insane, or (c) defending themselves from harm. I.e., human bites are not often randomly perpetrated by strangers while the victim is walking down the street. I have bitten someone once, but it was in defense of my life, not in response to a threatening gesture.

Animals can bite for any of a number of reasons, but they are probably more likely to bite strangers than a human is.

Helen

I loved your pitbull story. I shared it with 2 colleagues and looked forward to a great conversation about how the article related to our work: it is so easy to jump to the wrong conclusion and so difficult to take the time to understand a situation, look at it from all sides and come up with the right solution. Funny, neither of my colleagues were able to see past the actual story - one had a bad experience with a dog in the past and the other actually owns a docile pit bull and her hopes of moving to Denver were dashed.

Rachel

Interesting how Steve feels the need to post a "refutation" link to his blogspot archives, but when you get there you can't post any comments...in fact you can't seem to do so on his blog either. Or on his VDare articles. What are you afraid we might say, Steve?

Jones

What aboout the kitties!! Won't someone please think about the kitties!!!

Lobes

My friend has a German Shepherd cross bred with a timberwolf (apparently the wolf blood fixes a genetic hip problem endemic to shepherds) and its scarier than it is fierce.

I on the other hand have an engaging little cattle dog that just bites people non-stop. We are constantly having to fend off irate neighbours and passers by that have been nipped.

Carpundit

I think the premise is insufficient to support the conclusion.

Even assuming, arguendo, that people bites cause more ER visits than dog bites every year, we need more information before we draw conclusions. How many people are there in the universe of potential biters? How many dogs? How many pit bulls, specifically?

It just strikes me -intuitively- that it's wrong to suggest I am more likely to be bitten by the leasher than the leashee. Maybe I am, but the single fact provided is insufficient to support that conclusion.

Steve

Malcolm - thanks for the inspiration with Blink, it was a wonderful read, and will bring valuable insight to many people. I appreciate the brevity, it wouldn't do to have a 500 page book called "Blink". But I hope you're not done, you could spend a lifetime investigating the implications in various human endeavors. May I suggest one? The Dalai Lama has spent most of his life fascinated with neuroscience - particularly brain plasticity, which suggests that with discipline and practice we can in fact change the way we think at the most fundamental level. Your various explorations about what's "hidden behind the door" and suggestions that we harbor unconscious tendencies that direct our actions is entirely consistent with the Buddhist concept of Karma. And from that perspective, over time, meditation helps strip away the unconscious habits and delusions, letting the core personality free. Instant responses then become more unconditioned and "authentic". Meditation is something anyone can do, you certainly don't have to be Buddhist!

threetoedsloth

Twice in my life I've been bitten by hamsters. Both times it bled. That's about a Category 6 bite on the Hamster Scale. And both of those little scoundrels are still running free to this very day!

There oughtta be a law.

nigel falls

I WOULD JUST LIKE TO COMMENT ON THE ABSURDITY OF ANY BREED SPECIFIC LEGISLATION. THE DANGEROUS DOGS ACT OUTLAWED PIT BULL TYPES IN THE U.K. IN 1991 AND NOW 15 YEARS ON I SEE MORE PIT BULLS ON THE STREETS OF BELFAST THAN EVER. FIRSTLY SUCH BREED SPECIFIC LAWS HAVE GIVEN THIS BREED OUTLAW STATUS MAKING IT THE ULTIMATE THUG ACCESSORY HERE IN NORTHERN IRELAND. SECONDLY ANY BREED OF DOG IS THE RESULT OF GENETIC SELECTION BY HUMANS IF EVERY PIT BULL DOG IN THE WORLD WAS DESTROYED IT WOULD TAKE A MATTER OF YEARS TO RECREATE THE BREED THROUGH SELECTIVELY BREEDING OTHER MOLOSSER BREEDS SUCH AS STAFFORDSHIRE BULLS, BULLDOGS AND BOXERS AND AGRESSIVE TERRIERS SUCH AS PATTERDALES OR JACK RUSSELS.MANS PENCHANT FOR AGGRESSIVE BULL MASTIFFS DATES BACK TO THE EARLIEST CIVILISATIONS BAN ONE TYPE AND A BIGGER AND BADDER BREED WILL BE INVENTED THE UPSURGE OF IRISH STAFFORDSHIRE BULL TERRIERS,PRESA CANARIO AND AMERICAN BULLDOGS IN COUNTRIES WHERE PIT BULLS HAVE BEEN BANNED PROVE THIS. MEN MAKE DOGS VICIOUS SO BANNING DOG BREEDS MAKES AS MUCH SENSE AS BANNING HUMANS.

Robert Cantoni

I don't understand the reasoning behind the argument against banning pit bulls. I feel like I'm missing something. Are pit bulls responsible for a large plurality of dog bites? Then ban the breed. There might be better solutions which would involve tremendous amounts of police involvement and enforcement. Banning the breed is a shotgun solution, but there are no other solutions which have a possibility of happening. I'm not hugely invested in the issue of dog bites--I love dogs--but I'm having trouble seeing any intellectually honest (rather than, sorry, kneejerk contrarian) argument that concludes that a ban on pit bulls would have no effect. (References to the instances of non-dog-bites in a year is a good example of an intellectually empty argument against pit bull legislation.) I mean to direct those nasty names at the argument, not at Mr. Gladwell, who's a smart and very funny writer. But he's wrong about this one.

Linnane

Helen Keller owned a pitbull.

And Ernie is the best, most loyal friend I've ever had: http://flickr.com/photos/20456766@N00/13773883/

I treat Ernie with the respect any intelligent animal deserves, and he tries to kiss me to death every chance he gets. He's my 75-lb. lapdog.

gee

Premise- "If you look, in fact, at emergency room statistics, you'll see that more people are admitted every year for non-dog bites than dog-bites..."

Conclusion- "...which is to say that when you see a Pit Bull, you should worry as much about being bitten by the person holding the leash than the dog on the other end."

Carpundit is right: the premise is totally insufficient to support the conclusion. Furthermore, even if you make all the assumptions Carpundit does, the conclusion is *still* weak. (Namely, his assumption that there obviously have to be the same number of non-dogs who can bite as dogs.)

The information you really need to make such a claim is that the number of human bites when a dog is nearby is greater than the number of dog bites when a human is nearby. Otherwise, all you can conclude is that "you should worry as much about being bitten by ANY person than by a pit bull."

janice

I found these statistics interesting:

In the period of 1978-1999:
(24%) deaths involved unrestrained dogs
off the owners’ property,
(58%) involved unrestrained dogs on the owners’ property,
(17%) involved restrained dogs on the owners’ property, and
(<1%) involved a restrained dog off the owner’s
property.

FATAL DOG BITES BETWEEN 1978 AND 1999:

Purebred
Pit bull-type 66
Rottweiler 39
German Shepherd Dog 17
Husky-type 15
Malamute 12
Doberman Pinscher 9
Chow Chow 8
Great Dane 7
Saint Bernard 7
Crossbred
Wolf-dog hybrid 14
Mixed-breed 12
German Shepherd Dog 10†
Pit bull-type 10†
Husky-type 6
Rottweiler 5†
Alaskan Malamute 3
Chow Chow 3

=========
So Robert, would we ban all these breeds? Is it the breed or the owner?

Just banning breeds is so ignorant it's painful.

Source:
Vet Med Today: Special Report JAVMA, Vol 217, No. 6, September 15, 2000

Marcus

The relevant comparison is not dog bites to non-dog bites, but dog bites as a proportion of pitbulls to human bites as a proportion of humans. The comparison should be weighted by bite severity.

Both babies and non-babies cry. And it is likely that non-babies cry more often than babies (since there are more non-babies than babies). But the relevant comparison is not baby cries to non-baby cries, it is baby cries as a proportion of babies to non-baby cries as a proportion of non-babies.

The analogy is faulty, however, because baby cries, like human bites and unlike dog bites, usually aren't lethal.

Robert

Janice: Maybe you're right. I don't necessarily think a ban is the right solution. It's cruel to punish the entire breed for the actions of a few bad dogs and a few bad owners. It may be that that banning the breed is too broad a solution--after all, most pit bulls don't hurt anyone and are quite lovable dogs.

But when I read your statistics, I thought you were posting in favor of a ban, not against a ban. The statistics are that lopsided. Pit bulls alone are responsible for 27% of the bites in the above list.

Should we ban all the breeds you list? No reasonable person thinks so--even though such a ban would eliminate fatal dog bites, the move is too draconian and unbalanced. But it seems clear from your statistics that a ban on pit bulls and rots would have a drastic effect on the number of fatal dog bites. (If you take out pit bulls, rots, and "pit-bull type" dogs from the above list, you're taking out 115 of the 243 fatal bites, 47 percent.) Would such a limited ban be a reasonable trade-off? Should we condemn those two breeds to death to save a few (human) lives? I don't know. But would such a ban have a drastic effect on the number of fatal dog bites? Based on the data above, the answer is yes. Based on the data in Gladwell's article, the answer is: maybe. (As Gladwell ponders in the article: "When we have more problems with pit bulls, it’s not necessarily a sign that pit bulls are more dangerous than other dogs. It could just be a sign that pit bulls have become more numerous." I'd like to find out which it is.)

Since we can admit that "intact" dogs are more likely to attack humans--once we control for all other data--can't we also find out whether any breeds are more likely to attack humans, assuming we can control for all other data? Then we can ask the hard questions, and decide whether a ban on any particular breed or breeds would be worth the cost. That's where the debate lies. But implying that a ban on pit bulls would have no effect--that's a specious argument.

janice

Robert, as I posted it I certainly admit I saw the 66. I'm not going to pretend i did not. Then I divided by 20 years (3.3) and decided that anyone could admit there were that many idiot dog owners on the planet.

I own a pitbull. When i adopted her, I had no idea she was purebred, the vet set me straight. For a year, I waited for her personality to "snap" and to be in danger. So you could say -- I had bought the hype.

What I learned was that she was steadier and saner than any other dog I had been around. And I grew up at dog shows, so I feel that is quite a compliment.

What i also learned was that there was an eagerness to please that I had not experienced in other breeds. She would literally do ANYTHING to make me happy.

This made the lightbulb go on for me about the repsonsibility of the owner for the dogs disposition.

I also took the responsibility to treat her like a loaded gun. She is super well trained, and it was EASY.

It's been 7 years, the dog has never shown anything but complete sanity and good sense. That being said, if i saw a "questionable person" with a Pit, I would cross the street to avoid them. But that goes also for a lot of other breeds too.

If you look into the history of the breed, you will see that there were culled if they showed any human agression. I am however to this day respectful of the bred-in dog agression. She has 3 best friends, a ridgeback, a weenie silky terrier and a papillon. I've also seen no dog-agression, but I will always be careful.

Bottom line, and why i am posting -- this is the best dog i ever had. The one I would trust the MOST. And this says something to me.

Thanks for your response.
-janice

Brandon

I own 3 pit bulls, 2 American Staffordshire Terriers and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. In the 7 years that I have owned pits I have never been afraid that any of them were going to bite or hurt anyone. That said I am still carefull when they are in situations, or around people that they are not used to, especially young children who do not know how to act around dogs. But I have seen my pit abused by 2 and 3 year old children, never unsupervised, and they have ALWAYS taken the abuse, ear pulling and tail pulling. They are great dogs under the right circumstances and with the right training. But I also recognize that with the wrong training they can be dangerous dogs.

Francis Xavier Holden

which is to say that when you see a Pit Bull, you should worry as much about being bitten by the person holding the leash than the dog on the other end.

wrong in fact. Most people in Australia who own pitbulls have no teeth so could not bite. And another wrong fact, most pit bull owners either let them run free or have them on a bit of string with a red spotted neckerchief and studded collar.

And every dog who kills or maims a child is always "friendly with children"

Best advice is to put down owners first them decide if dog is worth saving

nigel falls

I think people are missing the point somewhat.Yes pit bulls feature highly in statistical evidence related to fatal dog attacks there is no argument there. However breed specific legislation simply does not work. In the U.K. animal welfare charities state that staistically there are more pit bulls and more incidences of dog fighting than before the ban in 1991. The people who abuse these dogs keep them for dog fighting an activity which is illegal worldwide fo years so something as insignificant as a breed specific ban is not going to stop them. Pit bull owners near where i live in northern ireland include drug dealers,paramilitary sympathisers, feral hoodlum kids and a neo-nazi none of which are the type of people who would give a flying fuck about commiting any crime never mind adhering to a breed specific dog ban. A dog is just a man made product derived from genetic selection. In Ireland when pit bulls were banned in a matter of ten years dog breeders selectively breed the biggest and most aggressive legal staffordshire bull terrier to produce the ferocious irish staffordshire bull terrier which at 22 inches high and 80ilbs is bigger and nastier than most pit bulls this happened in less than fifteen years. Also if you look in www.mollosserworld.com you will see the mind boggling array of fighting type breeds world wide pit bulls are banned in the u.k. but equally potentially dangerous breeds such as american bulldogs and presa canario(the latter breed ripped a women apart in san francisco a few years ago) are not banned and guess what there is an upsurge in the number of these dogs, Men have kept aggressive bull breeds dating back to ancient rome and assyria and new pit bull types are created world wide through selective breeding all the time it can't be stopped by banning breeds. i have a staffordshire bull terrier he is friendly loyal and lovable. Maybe custodial sentences for the sadistic idiots who turn innoccent animals into unstable killing machines through neglect and abuse would be more appropriate. That is what i believe Malcolm is quiet correctly trying to say.

Antonia

My little American Eskimo walks with three pit/staff/crosses every day. She rules the roost. All three dogs are pussies, rescued by my dogwalker.

So-called pitbulls are steadfast and tireless workers, determined to please even to the death. That backyard and ghetto breeders have exploited these fine qualitites to produce dogs for people who (a) abuse them and (b) misuse them without proper training, exercise and nutrition should not be held against an entire breed.

This is the urban dog of choice. Its sheer numbers mean that, statistically, there will be more incidents. (Dogs need room to run!!)

When you want to check on how a dog will behave -- and I mean any dog -- always look UP the leash. I know more dangerous Jack Russells (four-legged piranhas) than ''pits''.

One last thing: When a pitbull bites, the media goes crazy. When a spaniel mauls a baby, nobody notices.

anna

I have a dog that I rescued from the pound as a puppy. Innocent that I was, I didn't realize that the "Staffordshire Terrier" scrawled on the sign above her cage actually meant "Pit Bull." The folks at the pound know something about prejudice.

Here's the thing: should she be banned? Nobody knows with any certainty what she is. She might be a purebred, she might be a mutt. Suffice it to say that on all the insurance paperwork I fill out, she is a mix.

Before my visit to the pound, my boys had been begging for a dog. I had agreed we could get one, but laid some ground rules. We wouldn't get a purebred and we wouldn't look for a dog. We would only open ourselves to the possibility of a dog. We would say to the universe "if there is a dog out there that wants to be with our family, we'll take it."

When I went to the pound that day, I was actually looking for a Hav-A-Hart trap to catch a marauding racoon making nocturnal visits to our back yard. Then I saw our puppy and brought her home.

When I realized that I had actually brought a pit bull into a home with three young children, I considered taking her back. But then I figured, who am I to question the workings of the universe?

brent toellner

First off, Mr. Gladwell, wonderfully balanced article on an issue that is very dear to many of us who own dogs that are labeled as Pit Bulls. I can honestly tell you that I had some apprehension at first about the working with Pit Bulls, and after a couple of years, and handling several hundred Pit Bulls (including many that were bred to fight that were abandoned during Hurricane Katrina) I have found them to be FABULOUS animals. Loving. Kind. Gentle.

I think it is awesome that you pointed out that over the past 30 years, deaths due to dog attacks have remained very stable (approximately 25 a year) -- but that the breeds that have done the most killing has changed over the years as different breeds become the breed of choice among bad owners.

And while I agree that its unfortunate that anyone dies of a dog attack, 25 deaths a year with approximately 76 million dogs in the United States (USPCA estimates) the # of dogs who actually injure people are quite low. When compared against the 352 people a year who die in bathtubs (mostly children), 636 drownings in swimming pools, 66 deaths due to lightning strikes and 48,000 people who die each year in auto accidents, dog casualties are amazingly low.

http://www.nsc.org/lrs/statinfo/odds.htm

Also, when you look at the statistics, 66 of the deaths over a 25 year period were by "Pit Bulls". If you look deeper into the statistics, "Pit Bulls" are the 2nd biggest group of dogs in the US behind only Labrador retrievers. "Pit Bull" is also not a breed of dog -- it is actually a grouping of 4 different breeds of dog -- American Staffordshire Terriers, Stafforshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers and Bull Terriers. If you actually separated out each breed, they would actually be way below other breeds in terms of fatalities. Also, these numbers are often inflated because of the reputation that "Pit Bulls" have within communities, many dogs are mis-labeled as "Pit Bulls" that are not - -because it is assumed that all mean dogs are Pit Bulls. Heck, even people who spend a lot of time working with the breed have a difficult time telling them apart. Try your luck at picking out the Pit Bull here:

http://understand-a-bull.com/Findthebull/findpitbull_v3.html

How many tries did it take you (it took me 3 - -and I OWN Pit Bulls and help with resuces for them)? Given this, it's fairly easy to see how many dog attacks by other breeds, including Bull Dogs, Boxers, Bull Mastiffs, Presa Canarios, and any mixed breed of the above would fall into the catch-all category of "pit bull".

Breed Specific legislation is a horrible solution. Most communities would be way better served if they focused on mandatory spay/neuter (which also solves dog over-population problems), leash laws, anti-teathering laws and harsh fines for owners who have animals who have bitten. These are far better solutions to what is actually a very small problem.

savvy

Lets follow the logic for banning breeds here for a minute...

A purebred dog (say pit bull) is responsible for 66 bites over, roughly, a 20 year period.

This number, 66, is approximately 20 or so bites more than the next breed, the rotteweiler.

The conclusion here, for many, is to ban the breed who bites the most?

How does the logic hold up? Is anyone comfortable with this?

I'm not. For this study, the victims were the primary identifiers for the breed of dog that bit them, which leaves considerable room for error. Not to mention, are we then supposed to "hold all other things constant" meaning, lets not take into account environment, socialization, health and intact/not intact etc. of the dog when considering the circumstances of the bite?

Anyone familiar with the Gordion Knot? The concerns surronding dangerous/vicious dogs and responsible pet ownership are fairly complex. I see a breed ban as cutting the Gordion Knot in half as a solution to its complexity - not acutally teasing apart the different aspects in an attempt to address the underlying problem.

Good policy is based on balanced, factual information. I challenge any of you pet owners to a test...to see if you hold up to the characteristics of responsible pet ownership:

-Do you ever let your pet off leash? (not included legal off leash areas) This includes just hanging out in your front yard, going to get your groceries, walking them in a park etc.
-Do you ever leave your pet unattended with children?
-Have you spayed/neutered your pet?
-Has your pet completed a basic obedience course?
-Do you understand the limitations/expectations of you pets breed?
-Do you take your pet for regular check-ups with the vet and vaccinate?

If you have answered no to any of these questions, you have created a "bite risk" for you or your family. These things are pretty common sense and yet thousands of pet owners don't do any of them...and you wonder why dogs bite and people get hurt? For every case that included a pit bull and a dog bite/mauling, how many of those above questions where violated? For dog bite reported..how many of the above questions were violated?

~savvy

savvy

-doh - I meant to say If you said "Yes" to any of the above quesitons!!!

michael

As I read the first posts of this great blog, and the correlating comments, I was struck by the number of people that welcome you to the blogging world by advising you to change the color of his background or learn how to use html tags. "Black text on white background," please. We must have your content the way we want it. You must cater to our specific tastes and be normal and standard.

It's funny how people want the author of The Tipping Point is pushed into adjusting to their personal tastes. Maybe you like writing in one long paragraph. Maybe you like white text on a dark background. Maybe you are trying to start a dark background epidemic.

It's kind of funny to me that people can pursue creativity and fresh thinking on one hand, yet tell everyone to be standard on the other.

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  • I'm a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of four books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference", "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" and "Outliers: The Story of Success." My latest book, "What the Dog Saw" is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker. I was born in England, and raised in southwestern Ontario in Canada. Now I live in New York City.

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