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Study Suggests Dog Aggression is not Dictated by Breed

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Which dog breed has the tendency to display the most aggression? The pit bull terrier? The Rottweiler? The answer may not be what you think.

Recent research in the journal “Applied Animal Behaviour Science” suggests that age of the owner, the training the dog has received, the place the dog was obtained and the gender of the dog may be better predictors of the potential for aggressive behavior than the actual breed. Furthermore, an aggressive dog may not be aggressive in all situations. Just like human beings, dogs may display aggressive behaviors in certain circumstances but not in others.

Stephen Zawistowski, science adviser to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), said, “Aggression is incredibly complex. It’s going to be both situation-dependent and dependent on the history of both the people and the dog. You can’t just pick the breed of the dog and say somehow that will be predictive of whether the dog will be aggressive.” We’ve all heard the myth that pit bulls are dangerous and aggressive dogs, and this myth has culminated in several cities banning the misunderstood breed.

The researchers found that the majority of aggression was toward strangers and not toward family members. “The origin of the dog was a significant factor in aggression toward family members. There was a 2.6 times increased risk in dogs obtained from rescue centers, and a 1.8 times increased risk from a combined category of ‘other’ sources, including pet shops and Internet sites, as compared to those obtained directly from breeders.” said Mary Burch, Canine Good Citizen director for the American Kennel Club.

Most aggression is a result of fear and anxiety, so socializing your dog could decrease the likelihood for aggressive actions. If an older dog suddenly becomes aggressive, pain or discomfort is likely to be the cause. Researchers also caution against the assumption that barking is always a sign of possible aggression and suggests that individuals be aware of other “pre-agression” signs, such as a direct stare, stiff posture, hackles up, ears or lips pulled back, baring teeth, growling, lunging and snapping.

This is great news for breeds like the pit bull, and we hope the elimination of breed specific legislation around the country will reflect these newfound discoveries.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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    Last month a 5 year old Pit bull named Mickey was in his yard chewing on his favorite bone.

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  • Stan Rawlinson

    I am a leading UK based Dog Behaviourist. I am surprised that once again the owner is the main problem. I totally agree that early socialisation and puppy classes are vital to all dogs. However to imagine the owner is the catalyst of dogs being aggressive in most cases is simply not true.

    am always being quoted the Mantra. “No Bad Dogs Only Bad Owners” Coined by the late Barbara Woodhouse.

    This is probably the most dangerous and inaccurate statement about dogs and their owners, ever written. I see many good owners with bad dogs, and bad owners with good dogs.

    There are numerous reasons why we end with dogs with behavioural, aggression and health issues.
    including what I believe are the biggest culprits of all. The Breeders. That includes crossbreeds and pedigrees.

    Other people that have an impact includes owners, trainers, behaviourists, and vets. Then we have the amateur experts on the numerous doggy forums.

    Their advice in some instances can be frankly dangerous. There are some forums that are helpful and not antagonistic, but I am afraid to say they are in the minority.

    The above is a snippet from my article How Breeders impact on our Dogs Behaviour and Health – See more at:

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