If it is fair to base one’s fear of unfamiliar dogs mainly on breed, then one study in Applied Animal Behaviour Science is completely validated. Titled “Breed Differences In Canine Aggression,” the 6 year old paper detailed the results of questionnaires distributed among two random samples of dog owners. The authors found that per the questionnaires, there really were certain aggressive characteristics that were reported repeatedly by owners of the same breed.
For instance, American Pit Bull Terriers and Akitas were reported by owners to be more aggressive than average, but only towards other dogs. Other breeds, such as Dachshunds and Chihuahuas, were said to be particularly aggressive towards animals and people. Meanwhile, the Jack Russell Terrier was reported to exhibit aggression regularly towards animals, strangers and owners. The Cocker Spaniel and the Beagle had the most mentions of aggression towards owners. The study noted that confirmation lines across all breeds were more aggressive than dogs bred for work.
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?
According to dog owners polled in the previously mentioned study, certain breeds are exhibiting aggressive behavior at greater rates than others. Perhaps though, it is public perception paired with an improper reactionary style of training that leads to more frequent aggressive outbursts among certain breeds. In other words, maybe training and owner demographics are more accurate predictors of aggressive behavior in dogs than is breed.
A study released this month in Applied Animal Behaviour Science finds that environmental factors and even owner characteristics have more to do with whether or not a dog will be aggressive than merely breed type. The authors of the British study present some interesting findings based on their 15,000 questionnaires. For instance, dogs owned by those under 25 years of age are almost twice as likely to be aggressive towards strangers versus dogs owned by those 40 years old and up.
Furthermore, when owners used negative reinforcement and punishment as a part of training, their dogs were twice as likely to exhibit aggression towards strangers. Moreso, they were three times as likely to be aggressive towards family members! Male dogs exhibited the same amount of aggression whether neutered or intact. However, neutered males were twice as likely to be aggressive than spayed females. Notably, dogs from rescue shelters were two and a half times more likely to be aggressive towards people than dogs obtained from breeders.
Sizing Up an Approaching Dog
If you’re walking in a dog park, the first study would have you immediately fear an approaching dog based on characteristics associated with its breed. The second study argues that there are some other major factors that better predict the behavior of a strange dog. If the dog is male, with a young owner, and sporting a rescue lead, then it might be best to speak with the owner before releasing your own dog into the park. Both studies infer that it’s impossible to make assumptions about a dog based solely on one or two characteristics alone. It’s always best to speak with other owners prior to letting dogs off-leash in a community setting, as it is likely that no reliable assumption can be made about canine aggression from only brief observation or breed recognition.