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August, 2006 - Nr. 8


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No Better Off


by Dave McKague


My Dog Teaches … Statistics

Hunny: "Throw the ball and I love you forever!"The Attorney General of Ontario, Michael Bryant, proclaimed during the hearings on Bill 132 (now the Dog Owners’ Liability Act) that there were 11 pit bull attacks in Canada during the previous 68-day period. Using statistics to prove a point. But the only point he has proved is that, according to Mark Twain (who attributed the statement to Benjamin Disraeli), "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics".

For when you delve a little deeper, you find that during the same time period, there were 4,000 dog bites across Canada requiring medical attention.

Now each one of these occurrences is regrettable, and I don’t wish to minimize the possible trauma for the people involved. But to blow out of all proportion just 11 incidents out of 4,000 is, at best, irresponsible.

Michael Bryant is talking about less than three incidents out of 1,000. A statistically insignificant amount. (And notice he has used the word "attack" which is less definable than "bite requiring medical attention". With all the media hysteria at the time, it is very possible that a warning snap by a pit bull not resulting in any injury – typical dog behaviour – may have been construed as an "attack".)

Let’s look at some other statistics.

The media certainly hyped up the "dangerousness" of pit bulls and portrayed them as killer dogs similar in temperament to Cujo from the Stephen King novel. It just takes a few very well publicized attacks to fuel the fire. Yet out of the 55 dogs involved in the 23 fatal dog attacks in Canada in the last 23 years from 1983, only one was a pit bull type.

Of the 51 organizations that presented an argument during the hearings on Bill 132, all but 5 were against the ban. And when you examine closer, every single organization that could be classified as a dog expert (except one) was opposed to the breed specific legislation (BSL). Those against the ban included the Canadian, American and Ontario Veterinary Medical Associations, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of Canada and various kennel clubs. I have included the English Nannies Dogs Inc. as the lone expert presenting for the ban, though a web search yielded nothing about the organization. Of the remaining four, two were Ontario municipalities (politicians and hardly dog experts). The last two were police associations. Their argument was essentially "Criminals keep these kinds of dogs, the dogs can bite; therefore the dogs should be banned." One can make the argument that "Criminals keep knives, knives can be used to stab people; therefore knives should be banned." Or "Criminals keep pillows, pillows can be used to smother people …" but you get the point.

Some more statistics:

One of the dogs included in the ban, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier has no known incident of a single attack in Canada. University researchers in the UK listed this breed in the top ten breeds for children and it has earned the title of "nanny dog".

The American Temperament Testing Society tests thousand of dogs for stability and evenness of temper. The American pit bull (83.5%) and American Staffordshire terrier (83.3%) score above the average of 81.2% and have a higher passing rate than many other breeds. Some examples: Bearded Collie 53.3%, German Shepherd 83.1%, Giant Schnauzer 74.1%, Greyhound 81%, Old English Sheepdog 77.8%, Shetland Sheepdog 66.9%.

Which brings us to the central point. Statistics can be very useful when used correctly. But remember that they are, fundamentally, generalizations. Dogs, like people are individuals. They have their own personalities and can be influenced by their training and environment.
Hunny, for me, is a statistical sample of one and I cannot say that all Staffordshire Terriers are like her. Likewise, as the statistics from the Temperament Testing Society indicate, there are good and bad in all of us – dogs and humans.



Previous "Petitorial" article by David McKague:



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