• December 26th, 2023
    Written by: Kimberly

    We love dogs here at FurBabies. We also know that dogs are frequently misunderstood. If you’re looking to add a dog to your home, one of the factors that plays a role in the decision is temperament. There are some dogs that are known as “aggressive” and “dangerous,” causing people to, unfortunately, avoid many dog breeds that would otherwise make great family pets.

    But is that fair?

    The topic of aggression in dogs and its association with specific breeds is a subject of considerable debate among veterinarians, animal behaviorists, and dog owners. While certain dog breeds are often labeled as 'aggressive', the truth is quite a bit more complex, and often due in large part to misunderstanding what dogs really need and how they become who they are.

    • Nature vs. Nurture - Aggression in dogs can be influenced by a combination of genetic traits and environmental factors. While some breeds may have a predisposition towards certain behaviors due to their historical roles (e.g., guarding or hunting), the environment in which a dog is raised, trained, and socialized plays a significant role in its behavior.
    • Breed-Specific Traits - Certain breeds have been historically bred for tasks that require protective, assertive, or dominant behaviors. However, labeling these breeds as inherently aggressive can be misleading. The temperament of individual dogs within a breed can vary widely, and the cause of them being “aggressive” can often be linked back to training and experience.
    • Socialization and Training - The way a dog is socialized and trained, especially in its early stages of life, significantly impacts its behavior. Dogs that are poorly socialized or trained using harsh methods are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors, regardless of their breed. One thing to understand is that many of the most “aggressive dogs” are adopted by people that appreciate or desire the aggressive traits, and they may be less likely to socialize the dog appropriately in order to help it thrive.
    • Health and Behavioral Issues - Sometimes, aggression in dogs can be a manifestation of underlying health issues or behavioral problems. Pain, fear, anxiety, or neurological issues can result in aggressive reactions.

    Many factors go into dog aggression, and sometimes, it is the way some breeds are seen and reacted to that makes them who they are.

    One of the most important things to understand about some of these so called “aggressive” dogs is that part of the stigma is related to what happens when a dog is aggressive and how they reach those behaviors. For example, a small, cute dog is:

    • More likely to be indoors.
    • More likely to be owned by involved families.
    • More likely to be treated softly and kindly.
    • More likely to be ignored when they growl.

    If the small dog is aggressive, the damage they can do is also minimal. A dog that bites at socks may be an aggressive dog but unlikely to cause much damage, allowing them to still receive care and affection that can also reduce aggression in the future.

    Now, a stronger dog, bred for fighting and protection, that is also larger is more likely to experience the following:

    • More likely to be alone outdoors.
    • More likely to be punished for growling (a very big problem, which we will address next)
    • More likely to be avoided by humans and their pets, limiting social time.
    • More likely to be owned by people that want protection.

    Dogs growl as a way to politely warn someone before an attack. Some strong dogs are punished when they growl (because it causes fear), but if they cannot growl they may be more likely to jump straight to attacking.

    In addition, when one of these dogs does attack, the results can be more devastating. This leads to further punishment and vilification of the breed. It also makes the dog more likely to be owned and bred in the future only by those that want those aggressive traits, leading to a cycle.

    The Controversy Around Labeling Breeds as Aggressive

    Labeling certain breeds as aggressive can lead to stigmatization and may contribute to breed-specific legislation, which has been controversial and debated for its effectiveness.

    Experts often advocate for assessing the behavior of individual dogs rather than making generalizations based on breed. A dog’s history, upbringing, and temperament should be considered in evaluating its behavior.

    Understanding Canine Aggression

    The notion of certain dog breeds being inherently aggressive is an oversimplification of a complex issue. Aggression in dogs is influenced by a variety of factors, including but not limited to breed. Emphasizing responsible ownership, proper training, and socialization, and understanding the unique needs and characteristics of each dog is crucial.

    Most dog breeds do not have to be aggressive. The right training can dramatically minimize how aggressive a dog is to both people and pets. We don’t have to fear dogs. What we do need is for dog owners to adopt pets they know how to care for.