COLUMBUS — Pit bulls and mixed breed dogs pose the highest risk of biting and cause the most damage per bite, a new study says.

That should put parents of young children on alert when choosing a dog, researchers said.

The Ohio State University College of Medicine and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center researched which types of dogs have the biggest risk of biting with severe injury, along with the physical traits associated with those bites.

The top biter was classified as "unknown," followed by, in order: pit bulls, mixed breeds, German shepherds, terriers and Rottweilers. Researchers also identified dogs with wide and short heads weighing between 66 and 100 pounds as posing a risk.

The bottom five breeds for biting were: Dalmatian, Pointer, Great Danes, Pekingese and Spitz.

The study was released this week and published in the "International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology."

Researchers reviewed 15 years of dog-related facial trauma cases from Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the University of Virginia Health System. They studied wound size, tissue tearing, bone fractures and other injuries severe enough to require consultation by a reconstructive surgeon and created a damage severity scale.

They also examined previous dog bite research dating to 1970.

“There’s an estimated 83 million owned dogs in the United States and that number continues to climb,” Dr. Garth Essig, lead author and otolaryngologist at the Wexner Medical Center, said in a prepared statement. “We wanted to provide families with data to help them determine the risk to their children and inform them on which types of dogs do well in households with kids.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.7 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs each year, and 20 percent of the victims require medical care. Those who require treatment are mostly children ages 5 to 9 years.

 

'Denial'

Dr. Ananth Murthy, director of pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgery at Akron Children's Hospital, said surgeons there see many severe dog bite cases each year, with most of those bites coming from pit bulls.

So far this year, 12 patients have been admitted to the hospital because of dog bites. Akron Children's has averaged 28 patients being admitted for dog bites from 2014 through 2018.

Murthy was not surprised by the results of the Ohio State study.

"This is an open secret," he said. "It’s always pit bulls but the problem is there are a number of people who own pit bulls and they are in permanent denial. ... They just are. They are just not looking at all the numbers or they’re not exposed to it. They are just not seeing what we’re seeing. We’re the ones dealing with the aftermath. Everybody in the medical community [is] saying that pit bulls are a problem."

While all dogs bite, pit bull bites are more severe because of the dog's strength and how its jaws clamp down, he said.

The danger is more pronounced for children whose faces are often on the same level as pit bulls and can be perceived as a threat, Murthy said. The dogs sometimes will attack a child's head and neck, he said.

 

Dog owners react

Several dog owners hanging out with their pets this week at the Akron Dog Park in the city's Merriman Hills neighborhood questioned whether the stigma surrounding pit bulls is deserved.

"It's just a stereotype," said Jenna Bellville, 23, of Akron. "It all comes down to the dog owner."

She was hanging out with Kyle Reinhart, 21, of Akron and their golden retriever named Freddy.

"I feel like those dogs are in and out of kennels and pounds a lot, too, so they never have a stable environment to be trained correctly and have people care about them," Reinhart said.

David Sorzano, 31, of Akron, who brought his Great Dane named Max to the park, said he once owned a pit bull and never had a problem with the animal.

"I'm a firm believer of training," he said. "Any breed you have, if they are good trained, seasoned, socialized dogs, they normally should be fine."

Michele Lewis, 49, and her son Kristofer Lewis, 19, of Akron weren't surprised to hear the results of the bite study.

"Pit bulls are scary," Kristofer said.

"I don't think they're scary," his mother interjected, while also admitting they can be intimidating.

They brought Tyson, an old English bulldog, to the park. They, like Sorzano, agreed that training makes a difference.

 

Let sleeping dogs lie

Murthy said dog owners, especially parents, need to do research before selecting a breed.

"If you’re going to get an aggressive breed, just know that you have to be so much more aware of their actions," he said.

He added that it would be best for parents to advise their children to treat animals with respect. Many people treat dogs like stuffed animals, hugging and kissing them, he said.

In the past, children were taught to be wary of dogs.

"I remember growing up I would be afraid of any dog," Murthy said. "I think socially, we are different now. We see dogs differently. You need to respect animals and give them their space. ... Let sleeping dogs lie. That's a line that's been around forever and there's a reason for that."

 

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.