Dog attacks are on the rise

 Photo collage of a close-up of a German sheperd's mouth, with large sharp teeth bared. As if tumbling from its jaw, several pieces of a broken doll are scattered to the side.
Credit: Illustration by Julia Wytrazek / Getty Images

Recent statistics show that there is a troubling trend involving man's best friend, as dog attacks are consistently rising in the United States. While they are still rare overall, dog attacks continue to present problems in communities across the country.

While dogs have always been responsible for injuries to humans, the number of reported dog bites started increasing significantly after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. And while those bites may not always be fatal, the number of attacks resulting in deaths is also rising. In a span of two weeks from the end of May to early June, a pet husky in Tennessee killed a six-month-old baby and an 83-year-old man was mauled to death by two dogs in Alabama. And this past February, another mauling in Alabama claimed the life of a 4-year-old boy, just 11 days after a 35-year-old man in Los Angeles died when he was mauled by his pit bulls.

What are the statistics on dog attacks?

In the past decade, the number of fatal dog attacks has ballooned "from an average of roughly 40 a year to nearly 100 after the pandemic hit," USA Today said, citing statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The total number of dog bites has also increased exponentially, from the "most recent estimate 20 years ago of 4.5 million to untold millions today."

The CDC data shows that 2019 through 2022 saw a significant increase in deadly attacks. In 2019 there were 48 fatal dog attacks in the U.S., followed by 62 fatal attacks in 2020 and 81 in 2021. By 2022, there were 98 fatal attacks in the U.S., more than double the amount in 2019.

Why are dog attacks increasing?

While it cannot be said for sure that the pandemic was the cause of this increase, there are several correlating factors. One is the "wave of pandemic pet adoptions, which put dogs in millions of homes that hadn't had them before," said The Hill last year. Another is the widespread implementation of Covid lockdown protocols, which "put humans and dogs in close quarters for months on end." And unrelated to the pandemic, there has also been a rise in viral pet videos "encouraging human-dog staring contests and closeups of dogs 'smiling' with bared fangs, episodes that don't always end well."

The increase in bites is "likely to be associated with stay-at-home orders, bringing dogs and children together for longer periods of time and perhaps in closer quarters," said a study published in the Journal of Craniofacial Surgery in 2022. But even with the pandemic over and lockdown restrictions nonexistent, it appears that dog bite statistics are increasing regardless — and it appears that the end of the lockdowns may actually be playing a factor.

Dogs that were "raised during the pandemic missed out on crucial socialization and interaction with other dogs as they holed up with their owners during extended lockdowns," Jim Crosby, a research associate at Harvard University's Canine Aggression Project, said to USA Today. Once the lockdowns lifted and owners returned to office jobs, the "dogs were left alone at home, further depriving them of social contact."

"We have been seeing a lot more problem behavior cases from the dogs that have come up and were adopted during the period of Covid," said Crosby. In addition, the wave of pandemic adoptions meant that "some of the shelters were adopting out dogs that maybe shouldn't have been adopted out," Mike Shikashio, a dog aggression expert and certified dog behavior consultant, said to USA Today.

How can you minimize dog bites?

Many deadly dog attacks "are inflicted on children who are visiting or living temporarily at the home of a grandparent, family friend or babysitter," said The most risky situations include "leaving an infant or toddler alone with any breed of dog, new or temporary living situations involving children and dangerous dog breeds," or "any dog with a history of aggression in a household with children." notes that you should "not pet a dog without first letting it see you, even if you know the dog," and "do not lean your face close to a dog." These tips may help minimize the risk of an attack.