People who own vicious dogs such as pit bulls have significantly more criminal convictions — including crimes against children — than owners of licensed, gentler dogs such as beagles, researchers reported on Thursday.
A study of 355 dog owners in Ohio showed that every owner of a high-risk breed known for aggression had at least one brush with the law, from traffic citations to serious criminal convictions.
And 30 percent of people who owned an aggressive breed of dog and who also had been cited at least once for failure to register it had at least five criminal convictions or traffic citations.
This compared to 1 percent of owners of low-risk, licensed dogs such as poodles, beagles or collies, the researchers reported in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
"Owners of vicious dogs who have been cited for failing to register a dog (or) failing to keep a dog confined on the premises ... are more than nine times more likely to have been convicted for a crime involving children, three times more likely to have been convicted of domestic violence ... and nearly eight times more likely to be charged with drug (crimes) than owners of low-risk licensed dogs," said Jaclyn Barnes of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
Barnes and colleagues used public records to check on the criminal pasts of dog owners.
They used agreed definitions of vicious dogs used in writing local ordinances. "A 'vicious dog" means a dog that, without provocation, has killed or caused serious injury to any person, has killed another dog, or belongs to a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog," they wrote in their report.
The definition excludes dogs used in law enforcement or dogs protecting an owner or property.
Aggressive breeds identified by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and some insurance companies include pit bulls, rottweilers, akitas and chows.
The most frequent low-risk breeds seen in the study included terriers, beagles, collies and poodles.
"One can argue that choosing to own a vicious dog is a marker of social deviance because a vicious dog is, by definition, a socially deviant animal," said Barbara Boat, director of The Childhood Trust at the University of Cincinnati, who worked on the study.
The researchers said their findings could be useful for social and law enforcement workers.
"We suggest, regardless of dog breed, that failure to license a dog is a potential warning sign of other deviant behavior," they wrote.