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The truth about aggressive dog breeds

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Bad genes or just misunderstood?

It's no secret that some dogs just have a bad rep. Are they really bred to kill, or are they the innocent victims of the dark side of humanity?

Pit bull kissing girl

Bad genes or just misunderstood?

It's no secret that some dogs just have a bad rep. Are they really bred to kill, or are they the innocent victims of the dark side of humanity?

When we put out the call for experts and pet owners to tell us what they think the truth about aggressive dog breeds is, we got a lot of responses. Harry H. responded with his honest opinion: "The truth is, a pit bull broke away from its walker to race across a park and nearly kill my dog. People who have such aggressive dogs don’t want a pet. They want to make a statement."

Harry’s statement is right on par with a lot of people’s perceptions. But a lot of experts and dog owners disagree. Mark Horner, founder of Citizens for Responsible Pet Ownership in Houston, Texas, says, "To the best of my knowledge, there are no dogs that are ‘born bad.’ There are only two-legged dumb animals."

Nature vs. nurture

Every animal behaviorist and veterinary expert who responded fell on the same side of this debate. Yes, some dogs naturally have a more aggressive temperment. But pit bulls and Rottweilers were only the larger breeds on the list; surprisingly, many small breeds also appeared.

  • Dachshunds
  • Jack Russell Terriers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Pekingese
  • Beagles
  • Chihuahuas

While these smaller dogs are less likely to be responsible for a fatal attack, they’re just as likely, if not more likely, to bite or attack. The real key for any dog is training.

Colleen Safford, one of New York City’s most well-known dog trainers and the mother of three young kids, tells us that within each breed, and indeed, within each litter, there is a wide range of temperaments. Some breeds were certainly bred for specific tasks, some of which may require that they be more aggressive (and bred to be that way).

She explains, “Nature and nurture go hand in hand. I tell all my clients we cannot ignore a dog’s natural tendencies (as an individual within a breed), but the larger part of how dogs develop over time is through their early learning experiences and associations. Like humans, however, all dogs are born with their own set of strengths and weaknesses.” 

On the other hand, many owners of this breed would boast of their pet's loving attributes. Mary Kay Holmes has a 1-year-old Rottweiler (her second of the breed), as well as two children, and says her Rott loves her kids and her older dog dearly.

Kimberly Gauthier, who runs the blog Keep the Tail Wagging, grew up with pit bulls as her family dogs and says it’s the owner, not the dog, who causes the issue. Her pit bulls were well-raised by her father and inspired the love she has for dogs now.

There’s also Neven Gibbs — a retired animal behaviorist and counselor turned writer and entertainer. As he recounts his memories of his favorite dog, he describes, "The gentlest, kindest dog I owned was a Rottweiler/Alsatian shepherd mix. At 98 pounds, he raised most of our cats from kittens. Playful and happy. Very intelligent and friendly." He also notes the meanest dogs he’s ever come across were chihuahuas.

So what’s the truth?

The truth is, dogs aren’t too different from humans. Each are born with pure intentions, and each need attention, love and care. Understanding the natural tendencies of these breeds is the first step to successfully making them a part of your family. Do your research, connect with breed experts within your area and spend some time with the pet you are considering before you adopt. Taking these steps ahead of time will help you find the pet that's right for your family.

Dog training tips

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