There's A Reason Dog Bites Are Most Common In Low-Income Areas (And It's Not Breed)


A new report released earlier this week showed that dog bites tend to happen in the poorest parts of the UK. As the BBC reports, bite rates occurred in deprived areas at a rate three times higher than that of more well-off neighborhoods. The UK data are similar to statistics compiled in the U.S. several years ago, when researchers discovered that bite rates varied dramatically between underserved and affluent urban neighborhoods.

The U.S. study found that because dogs in lower income neighborhoods might not receive the same extensive training as dogs in more affluent areas, they could be more likely to bite strangers -- especially children. But researchers also noted the high proportion of large dogs -- specifically "pit bull-type breeds" and other big terriers -- as a possible part of the dog bite problem.

This is a common refrain. Pit bulls, Rottweilers, dobermans and other large breeds are often the targets of breed discrimination and even breed-specific legislation, which outlaws their ownership in certain municipalities. The reasoning behind such laws is that these dogs are especially dangerous, vicious or violent, and that as a result they'll be more inclined to bite people. It's an easy explanation for the variation in bite rate with geography, but it neglects one small detail: these breeds aren't actually inherently dangerous.

Studies have shown that socialization by humans -- not breed -- is a key determinant of whether a dog will become prone to violence. This still fits into the larger puzzle of why dog bites occur more frequently in low-income areas: guard dogs are common fixtures in poorer neighborhoods, and it's common to train pets to serve a protective purpose. The higher rate of dog bites by certain breeds in certain areas makes sense, given that those same breeds are common to those same areas for specific historical, usually socioeconomic reasons.

So it's not that pit bulls, Rottweilers, dobermans and other large dog breeds are naturally more prone to biting and drive up bite rates in lower income areas. These breeds appear more in deprived neighborhoods, and they are trained to respond to their surroundings. It's not an issue with the dog or an issue with the owner, or even an issue with the neighborhood; really, it's an issue of inequality.