It is odd that a news website called “The Daily Beast” is engaging in an ongoing effort to misinform and frighten the public regarding dogs. Someone—publisher Tina Brown perhaps?—in The Daily Beast’s lair must have been badly frightened by a puppy at some point in his or her life, leading to an irrational fear of dogs and mind-blowing ignorance regarding them. Earlier this year, the site published two unhinged calls for the eradication of anything resembling a pit bull by a writer whose pet was attacked by one. At the moment, The Daily Beast features a gallery with the ominous title “39 Most Dangerous Dog Breeds” that had to be assembled by some one who has seldom seen a real dog, much less owned one. On the home page, the feature is placed under the heading, “Beware of the Dog.”
The criteria for the ranking is completely mysterious—several of the breeds listed, for example, have exactly one attack attached to them. The gallery itself is riddled with errors and is actually quite funny, if one knows anything about dogs at all. In addition to being careless and incompetent, the feature is dishonest, and seems to be calculated to make people irrationally frightened of dogs, when in fact the relationship between human and canines is one of life’s great and fortunate pleasures.
“Dog bites and attacks can be traumatic, life-changing experiences, and they account for 386,000 emergency-room visits each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the piece begins. Yes, and you can slice off a finger preparing a salad, too. Most of those emergency room visits are not due to “attacks,” but accidents triggered by a human being’s carelessness. Because of the danger of infection, even minor bites are worth a trip to the hospital. My family has had three such trips: one when my wife startled our gentle mastiff by giving her a kiss, causing the dog to turn its head quickly, grazing my wife’s forehead with a tooth and causing a gash. Another time, I was nipped in a game of tug-of-war with our Jack Russell terrier, when my finger got between the toy and the dog’s teeth. In the third incident, one of our dogs actually did attack, the result of a medical flaw. The breed? A Basset Hound, widely regarded as one of the most gentle breeds. Of course, in the Daily Beast’s anti-pit bull rants, one incident was sufficient for the author to advocate canine genocide.
“Just last week, attacks on postal workers by stray pit bulls aborted mail service in several Dayton, Ohio, neighborhoods,” the introduction continues. This is not the description of a dangerous dog problem, but of a criminally irresponsible dog owner problem. Badly raised dogs allowed to roam wild are as dangerous as badly raised teens allowed to roam wild, but teenagers, as a breed, are not generally labeled “dangerous.”
“Despite the real-life example of the classic feud between pooches and postal workers, children ages 5 to 9 tend to be the most vulnerable to dog attacks.” This is an outrageously misleading statement. Essentially any bite involving a young child will result in a trip to the hospital, out of a natural parental aversion to risk. This means that the number of dog bite incidents reported by emergency rooms disproportionately mention children. Dogs are not preying on kids; indeed, the natural instinct of dogs is to protect the children in their family. This leads to some of the bites, as a dog will mistake rough play as an attack on a child, and intervene. The vast majority of dog bites on children involve careless treatment of the dog by a child, outside of the family, who should have been supervised by an adult.
The list discredits itself immediately, by listing the pit bull as #1, then noting that “varieties” include “Pit Bull, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and American Staffordshire Terrier.” These aren’t varieties; they are separate breeds. Combining three breeds into one obviously tilts the statistics: I’d bet that the Bull Terrier is also in there, and probably the American Bull Dog as well.
Four of the first five dogs listed are often employed as guard dogs and police dogs, meaning that some of the bites occurred in the line of duty. Then the list becomes unintentionally silly: #6 is that well-known pussycat of a dog, the greyhound. Why is it #6? Who knows? Only one greyhound incident is listed, no deaths, and no details. Then follows a number of breeds known for gentle temperment, such as the bulldog and the mastiff (#12). Mastiffs are big enough that they can hurt you inadvertently, but unless a fool mistreats or trains one to be vicious, they are as likely to attack you as a chipmunk would. The same goes for #13 and #14, the English Sheep Dog and the Great Dane. Breeders, Animal Rescue staff and dog experts will tell you that these are family-safe breeds, but the Daily Beast wants you to believe they are deadly.
The photos in the gallery are inaccurate; for example, a picture of a Boarder Collie is shown to represent a Collie, which, as you Lassie viewers will recall, is a real killer-in-waiting. The photo used for the poodle (another killer), if it really is a poodle, was one caught in the process of transforming into a werewolf. After #25, the list includes famously easy-going and popular dogs like the Golden Retriever and Lab, both of which have to be trained not to nip, but which are popular for good reason: they have wonderful dispositions and are less “dangerous” when responsibly cared for than I am.
Finally, the gallery concludes with dogs that if anyone viewing the list has had any experience with them at all, guarantees a good roll on the floor in uncontrolled laughter. Brittany Spaniels? Springer Spaniels? Dachshunds? Beagles? Pugs? Honestly…pugs?? Okay, I’ll grant that Chihuahuas, Pomeranians and Miniature Pinschers are all feisty little dogs, but none of them weigh as much as ten pounds, or have mouths big enough to get around your ankle. But dangerous? Nonsense.
Dog behavior with humans is far more complicated than dividing dogs into “dangerous” and “safe” using dubious statistics and bias (or, as with The Daily Beast list, coin flips). Dog breeds have predictable traits, but as with humans, a wide range of variation in temperment and intelligence among individuals. A well-trained, cared for and loved dog in the right environment is as trustworthy a companion as one can find. A mistreated, badly trained dog in any environment is indeed unpredictable, but that is a by-product of irresponsible human conduct, not the breed. Dogs are also animals, often large, always with teeth, and subject to certain basic instincts that come into play when they are frightened or feel threatened. If this is a surprise to someone who interacts with a dog, that person, not the dog, is at fault for any accident.
I know websites like The Daily Beast have to produce a lot of content, but fomenting an irrational fear of dogs is an irresponsible and destructive way to do it.
My sister, a lifetime phobic where dogs were concerned, shocked our family recently by announcing that she was going to buy one. Her last child had gone off to college, and she was willing to try to overcome her fears to have some companionship.
She has had her dog, a Havanese, for about four months now. She has never seemed happier to me. “I wish I hadn’t waited so long,” she said about her belated dog ownership. “I feel like I’ve been missing one of the great joys of life because of irrational fear and ignorance.”
Indeed she has been. If the Daily Beast keeps this up, so will a lot of other people.