Big dogs bite people.

Labradors and Labrador mixes were the second biggest biters in Lincoln last year, behind pit bulls and pit mixes.

Little dogs bite people.

Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes were fifth on the list and make the top 5 list most years.

The breed of the dog, or whether it's big or small, doesn't really matter when it comes to biting. Fearful dogs of all sizes bite people, according to a local veterinarian.

"I think nine times out of 10, maybe more ... the bite is not out of primary aggression. It is out of fear," said Dr. Megan Ehlers. 

There are very few naturally aggressive dogs, she said. A dog's aggression is usually rooted in fear.

It’s not the breed that matters, though there are some breeds that, because of their intelligence and nature, are a little more skeptical. "They think a little deeper about situations and are quicker to go to fear," she said.

A fearful dog cowers and hides from people. A fearful dog growls when people approach. A fearful dog guards its food.

You have to work to eliminate the fear by building confidence and being a strong leader for your dog, she said.

Pit bulls, which top the list of dogs that bite, are a popular breed. They have great emotions, including fear, Ehlers said.

And too often they have owners who want them to be on guard, who want them to be intimidating, so those dogs are only doing what their owners are asking them to do, she said. 

If you have a fearful dog, you shouldn't set them up to fail, which means you shouldn't put them where they can bite a mail carrier or the child next door, Ehlers said. 

Postal carriers cautious

Dogs do bite postal carriers in Lincoln.

Five carriers were bitten by dogs while delivering the mail in the last year, said Lincoln Postmaster Kerry Kowalski.

Usually the dog is somewhere out of sight, on the porch, behind a bush, or it comes out of the house when the customer opens the door for a package delivery, said Kowalski, who himself was bitten by dogs twice, once as a child and once as a carrier.

The number of carriers bitten by dogs is rising, likely driven by the increase in online ordering and in the postal service’s parcel delivery service, said Kowalski.

He speculates that dogs, protective by nature, see these strangers, often in uniform, as danger.

There have been instances when a dog, in an owner's arms, lunged and bit a carrier, he said.

The U.S. Postal Service recommends customers always put their dog in a separate room or a closed space before opening the door to a carrier.

And the postal service is going to err on the side of caution. If there is a dog in a side yard, even on a leash, the carrier may leave a notice in the box rather than deliver a package, he said.

“There are customers who are upset about that. But we don’t know your dog won’t bite. We are not going to take a risk."

Dogs most likely to bite

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Lincoln’s list of dogs that have bitten people is evidence that biters come in all sizes, shapes and breeds.

The biters on last year’s list comprise almost 40 different breeds … great Danes, corgis, cockers, blue heelers, poodle mixes, dachshunds (who often make the top 10 biter list), shelties, Yorkshire terriers.

The generally loving and gentle Labrador is near the top of the biter list, in part because there are so many -- 3,000 licensed -- in Lincoln, Ehlers said.

But Chihuahuas, also a popular breed with 1,538 registered in the city last year, are temperamentally more likely to bite, she said.

“You need to understand their mentality ... They live in a big person world. When everything is 25 times larger, you have to defend yourself. So they are on the defensive constantly."

Plus they are too often allowed to dominate -- even their humans. “We let them on our shoulder. We let them sleep with us."

It’s no wonder they bite, she says.

But they don’t rank among the dogs with the strongest bite (in terms of pounds per square inch). That honor goes to Kangals, Dobermans, English mastiffs and Rottweilers, based on research. 

For owners, check things out before you buy a dog, said Ehlers. "Not everyone can raise a German shepherd; not everyone can raise a Chihuahua, which is why shelters are filled with Chihuahuas," she said.

The number of reports of dogs biting humans in Lincoln is growing, from 297 in 2011-12 to 333 last fiscal year. But the number of registered dogs is also growing -- 39,449 to 41,332, said Steve Beal, head of animal control.

But Lincoln residents are less likely to have serious dog bites, based on research. In Lincoln, 51 to 57 people per 100,000 population ended up in an emergency room for a dog bite. In the county, 63 to 69 people per 100,000 population visit the emergency room. Statewide, the average is 66 to 72 per 100,000 population, according to Beal.

The city ranks dogs who have bitten based on the situation, from potentially dangerous to vicious. Last year two dogs, declared vicious, were euthanized.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.



Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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