Every year, one to two human deaths can be associated with dog attacks, according to the Canada Safety Council.
More than 13,000 emergency room visits in Ontario were related to dog attacks in 2011-12, although many still go unreported, the council says.
According to a report from animalpeoplenews.org, between 1982 and 2012, Pit bull terriers have been the breed with the most reported attacks at 1,985, resulting in 209 deaths in both the United States and Canada. Alaskan malamutes, the breed involved in the death of a seven-year-old girl in Winnipeg on Mar. 16, has a reported 13 attacks, 11 of those towards children, and five resulting in death.
Navtit Gill, office manager at the Wellesley Animal Hospital, says that fear is often why dogs will attack a human. “It’s not a breed-specific thing,” Gill said. “Alaskan malamutes are considered a high energy dog so sometimes people do just get them for the look and don’t really consider the requirements of the dog.”
Gill said he can’t speak to the incident in Winnipeg, but noted that, generally speaking, malamutes do make good pets, more so for active people.
“They are a working breed so they are basically bred to do a certain thing,” said Gill. “They’re very smart and highly easy to train, a playful breed and loyal.”
The reasons for attack, says veterinary surgeon Seanna Swayne, can vary. “Some dogs get overly excited when kids are excited and screaming and playing. If the dog hasn’t been exposed to that before, and no one knows what type of reaction is going to happen, that’s when we’ll hear of dog bites accruing. Sometimes they don’t want certain part of their body touched, either, like feet or ears. Its reaction is going to be that it wants to bite or at least warn you.”
Being pack animals, she says, if one dog reacts, more dogs are likely to join in. But in order to determine why an attack happened, a look into how the dog was raised and treated is important to understanding a dog’s reaction and behaviour.
And making sure a dog is fit for a certain owner’s lifestyle is also important in avoiding similar situations, Gill says.
“One of the biggest things that is across the board is a lot of people do choose the wrong breed. Learning [a breed’s] temperaments and knowing what the dog requires are definitely ways to avoid certain situations.”