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Are Some Dog Breeds More Aggressive?

A neighbor was warning me to stay away from a Pit Bull down the street because he was a “bad dog” who growled when he walked by. I tried to explain to him that there is no such thing as a “bad dog.” The dog was simply acting out of fear when he felt threatened, and this is often seen as aggressive behavior. But, it had nothing to do with his breed and had everything to do with his environment.

Are dogs aggressive because of their breed or is it due to the way they have been trained and their environment? Recent research in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science reported that a dog’s breed is only one minor indicator of how aggressive it is going to be. Depending factors are:

  • Method of training
  • Treatment of the dog by it’s owner
  • The dog’s environment
  • The dog’s situation at the time it was aggressive
  • Whether the dog was socialized as a puppy

Discovery News (see video above) reported from this study that aggression is more about putting a dog into a specific situation than about the breed of the dog. Discovery News states, “Dogs that showed aggression in one of the following situations, didnt show it in another.

  • 7% of owners said their dog barks, growls, or bite strangers in their own home
  • 5% said aggressive behaviors happens towards strangers on walks
  • 3% said their dogs were aggressive towards family members

This isn’t the first study to report that dominance based dog training can have a negative effect on a dog’s behavior. But, in this study, Discovery News reported, ”Dogs who were trained using punishment (including choke collars and electric fences) and yelling were twice as likely to be aggressive to strangers and three times as likely to be aggressive to their owners. “They went on to say, ”Dogs that went to puppy classes were one and a half times less likely to be aggressive to strangers. They were better socialized at an early age.

Author and psychology professor Stanely Coren went into more data analysis of the research in his Canine Corner article in Psychology Today. He noted the many positive effects of puppy socialization classes. ”According to the data such classes seem to impart a protective effect against aggression. Attending puppy classes on at least two occasions before the dog was 12 weeks of age was associated with a 1.4 times reduced risk of aggression toward unfamiliar people entering the house and a 1.6 times reduced risk of showing aggression to unfamiliar people out of the house.

Also of note is that the research showed that there is no difference in aggressive behavior between neutered and non-neutered male dogs.

Do you find anything surprising about this research? Thanks for sharing your thoughts in a comment below.

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Lisa Spector

Lisa Spector is a concert pianist, Juilliard graduate, and canine music expert. She is co-founder of Through a Dog's Ear, the first music clinically demonstrated to calm the canine nervous system. Their new high-tech pet gadget, iCalmDog, is the portable solution to canine anxiety. Lisa shares her home and her heart with her two "career change" Labrador Retrievers from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Sanchez and Gina. Follow Lisa's blog here.


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3:43AM PDT on May 4, 2015

Was surprised that there is no difference between neutered and non-neutered male dogs, in this study at least.

Aggression is extremely complex and although it's very easy to blame the owner, it's not always the case. Exactly as in people. Some people have horrendous parents and grow up to be violent and others don't. Some have perfectly lovely families and grow up to be serial killers and others don't.

1:16PM PDT on Apr 13, 2015

Very sad that any animal has to get labeled. Sadder when they have to be put down because they have resorted to biting. I do believe there are personalities of people that bring out worst in animals not intentionally. I think that all people should start with a fish, then graduate. Animals need attention, lifestyle, eating, walking habits. They are a chore, but if you look at them like that, then don't have one. I cannot imagine my day without my kids. By the way, kids are a chore to...think of what you are getting yourself into, research what you are getting into, get involved in local shelters, then perhaps mistakes can be avoided. And if you do get an animal...get it spayed and neutered. Breeding is wrong, there are millions of pets that need homes.
Breeding is not about money, too many breeders are animal mills, animals lose.
thanks for a great article. Awareness ...

6:15AM PDT on Apr 13, 2015

thanks for sharing :)

2:46PM PDT on Jul 20, 2014

Depends on the training.

12:26PM PDT on Jul 1, 2014

I hope people do more studies and research on animals behavior instead of being so judgmental and bias. Or maybe human should really start to look at our own human species as the trouble maker. Just like people told me that Irish are aggressive, Mexicans are lazy, British are invasive and French are dirty and so's a matter of labeling!!!! There is no difference with all other species, it is a matter of how you treat others and reward of what we deserve. it's only that simple. it is humans who look at others differently.

12:16PM PDT on May 13, 2014

I agree with Ashley.I have a saying about dogs that is soooo true.There is no such thing as a bad dog,just a bad owner,period.I keep seeing this every day when I am walking. thx

1:06PM PDT on May 12, 2014

In general, I think if the dog has a problem it started at home; just like kids. Not socialized, disrespectful, abused... Owners are the biggest culprit.

11:15AM PDT on May 9, 2014

if they have a good owner, I think that can be overcome.

11:14AM PDT on May 9, 2014

Some are probably naturally more aggressive.... BUT

6:21AM PDT on May 9, 2014

Socialisation heps with aggression simply because it encourages puppies to view other dogs as "normal" rather than threatening. We are all scared of the unusual to some extent. As for dominance training, if you try to bully a dog into submission it will only work until he perceives you as being weak, then he will take over what he sees as his rightful place in the pack. Particular breeds are not necessarily more aggressive than others, if they were then they'd be the same breeds all the time instead of a kind of rotating list including pit bulls, rottweilers, dobermans, german shepherds, boxers, staffordshire bull terriers, etc. The most aggressive dog I've ever known was a miniature dachshund that was the terror of the town & was likely to attack anyone or anything. I don't think dachshunds are particularly aggressive, but this one was just psychotic!

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