Unfortunately, when people want to adopt or rescue a dog, there are stereotypes about certain breeds that have a reputation for being naturally aggressive. When we think of dogs that have a tendency to get into fights and injure other dogs, we often think of Rottweilers, American Bull Terriers, or Cane Corsos before we think of Dachshunds or Golden Retrievers.
But are these stereotypes true, or have we all just been brainwashed to believe that some dogs are naturally more aggressive than others?
The results of studies detailing which breeds of dogs are most aggressive are likely to shock you. However, the number of studies that have been done on the subject means that the results are actually quite mixed.
University of Pennsylvania study
In a 2008 University of Pennsylvania study, researchers looked at how 30 different races behave in different situations of anxiety, stress, and anxiety. This study found that it was actually Chihuahuas and Dachshunds who were most aggressive towards both humans and other dogs. However, because of their lightweight frame, they were less likely to actually cause serious injury no matter how aggressive they were.
In the same study, Pit Bull Terriers were found to be the most aggressive towards other dogs, but they were no higher than other breeds on the scale when it came to being aggressive towards their owners or strangers.
Studied at Bristol University
In a recent study by the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences, dog owners in the UK were surveyed to identify potential risk factors for dogs showing aggression towards people in three different contexts: with family members and with strangers in and out of the home .
The researchers in the study “Human-Directed Aggression in Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris): Occurrences in Different Contexts and Risk Factors”, published in Applied Animal Behavior Science in December, interviewed over 14,000 dog owners in the UK and collected nearly 4,000 responses.
Approximately three percent of dog owners who responded to the survey reported aggression, defined as “barking, lunging, growling, or biting” toward family members. About seven percent reported aggression towards strangers in the home, and five percent reported aggression toward strangers outside the home.
Older dog owners who participated in the survey (as in, the people were older, not the dogs) reported less aggression towards family members and strangers entering the home, while older dogs were more likely to be aggressive outside the home. Neutered bitches were less aggressive in all three categories.
Dogs bought from breeders were less aggressive than those bought or adopted from pet stores or rescue groups. Participation in a puppy class correlated with less aggression towards strangers both inside and outside the whole. However, attending a training course for four or more weeks was associated with greater aggression towards a family member. Keep in mind that because of the family aggression shown earlier, they may have been in the puppy class for so long.
Abandoning racial stereotypes
As you can see, the mixed results from these studies show that there are many factors that can contribute to a dog’s aggression. It’s not just about their race.
It is important to understand that all dogs have the potential to bite. It makes no difference what breed the dog is or whether it is a large or a small dog. Even dogs, which are usually very friendly, can have a tendency to bite people under certain circumstances.
Some other factors that can help a dog be aggressive include:
- Illness or Injury: If a dog suddenly begins to crackle or growl when touched, it may mean they are injured or uncomfortable. For example, German Shepherds tend to be aggressive when injured, but otherwise docile and affectionate in nature.
- Fear: An anxious dog can develop aggressive behavior, for example if it has been previously abused, traumatized, or attacked.
- Possession: Some dogs, also known as resource conservation, can become aggressive if threatened with their favorite toy or if food is stolen from them.
When it comes to preventing aggression (no matter what breed of dog you have) there are several things you need to do to ensure that you are raising a well-adjusted and well behaved dog. Most importantly, your dog’s behavior needs to be predictable in a variety of situations so that you can more easily control them and understand how they can respond to certain stimuli.
- Socialization: Make sure that your puppy has had adequate exposure to other dogs, people, sounds, sights, and smells as part of their critical socialization (ideally before they are 16 weeks old).
- Use positive reinforcement training: Instead of punishing your dog for doing the wrong thing, reward them for doing the right thing. Give your dog treats when he is calm around other dogs or whatever normally causes him to act aggressively.
- Get professional help: If you are dealing with your dog’s aggression (and it can be scary!), Don’t be ashamed to seek help from a professional dog trainer. You can evaluate your dog’s behavior and create a plan to help you and your dog regain your life.
Help for owners and pets
If you are passionate about dogs and want to help both animals and their owners live happy and healthy lives together, why not become a veterinarian? You can spend your days doing something you love, working with dogs and their humans to create harmony and understand the deeper cause of a problem.
About the author:
Emma is a professional writer and blogger with two furry friends and a great knowledge of pet behavior and health. She has written for numerous major animal magazines and health websites, and is a regular contributor to The Catington Post.