The idea of “aggressive” dog breeds remains a contentious topic. Breeds like pit bulls, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers face restrictions in some cities or apartments, because they have been linked to attacks on humans and other pets, yet many of these exact same breeds are the most loving and caring pets that families have.
Chances are you've also come across other dogs that have tried to bite or nip, yet they may not be considered "aggressive" breeds. So if any dog can bite a person in the right circumstances, why are only some breeds associated with aggressive behavior?
You often hear about breeds’ temperaments. Rottweilers make good guard dogs. Scottish terriers are stubborn. Golden retrievers are loyal. Temperament is the personality a certain breed is likely to have. Like humans, dogs are highly individual. Not every dog of the same breed will share the same temperament. Instead temperament is a generalization based on historically bred traits.
Throughout history, humans have bred canine companions to do jobs like hunting or guarding. To fulfill these roles, a breeder mates two dogs with ideal personality traits and hopes the offspring shares those same traits. Over time, the temperament that best serves the breed’s purpose becomes predominant.
For instance, pit bulls were bred to clamp down on the necks of large animals like bulls. Recently, some pit bulls were bred to fight for entertainment. In general, it is fair to say that some dog breeds were bred to have certain strengths, tendencies, and personality characteristics. But consistently, dog trainers nad owners will tell you that whether or not a dog is aggressive depends on many factors beyond general temperament.
According to the ASPCA, each dog has an individual personality. These traits come from the dog’s parents, training, and environment. The variables mean no two dogs will behave the same at all times, including within the same dog breed.
In fact, much of a dog’s behavior depends on its owners. Has the dog been trained properly? Does he receive exercise and stimulation? Is she socialized with humans and other dogs? Has he been left outside or is he frequently receiving love and affection? How have the dog's owners responded to specific behaviors?
A 2013 study at the University of Bristol Veterinary School surveyed dog owners of all breeds. They found the amount of training the dog received and the method of reinforcement used in training better indicated aggressiveness than breed. The primary reason that some dog breeds have shown aggression to humans, then, is because these dogs were adopted specifically because of their strength or belief in their aggression - and their owners may have encouraged that aggression.
That is not to say that all dogs are non-aggressive. Like any breed, there are going to be dogs that are more aggressive than others, and some - like pit bulls - may be stronger, so their aggression is more problematic than, say, that of a Pomeranian. Some dogs may also have been bred to be more aggressive to other dogs.
But all dogs were bred to be kind to humans, because humans are their owners. So their temperament and behaviors are very closely linked to the people that trained them.
Any dog breed can exhibit dangerous behavior. To keep your dog from acting aggressively towards humans and other animals, the American Animal Hospital Association recommends the following:
Training is key for good behavior in all breeds. Check your local pet stores or community center for training programs. In some cases, a professional trainer might be necessary to curb aggressiveness in your dog.
Responsible pet owners, not the dog’s breed, make the difference between a well-behaved dog and aggressive one. When choosing a dog, knowing how to train and care for your companion is more important than choosing the right breed.