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.

"There are no dogs that are 'born bad.' There are only two-legged dumb animals."

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.

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Comments on "The truth about aggressive dog breeds"

Amanda September 06, 2013 | 8:37 PM

People are severely misinformed...its very upsetting to see people blaming the larger aggressive breeds...pitbulls make up the majority of dog bites because people breed them and don't take care of them and fight them..mon sense...I have a 50 lb rescued basset hound/dalmatian and a 8 lb rescued chiweenie/yorkie...I bring both of them to the dog park almost every day and over 65% of the dogs there are pitbulls owned by people who care and most of the dogs that cause the problems aren't the Pitts...people think that just because the dog has a reputation caused by the error of humans its the dogs fault but when I see the 8 lb chihuahua mix playing with a 90 lb Pitt for 2 hours it restores some of my faith in humanity!!! People ruin these dogs and it sure as heck isn't because of the dogs breed!!!

DanaJ June 27, 2013 | 5:57 AM

This information is quite good and very "common sense." If you're going to be a responsible dog owner, you need to understand how your dog is wired. I have a sweet little corgi who (if left off leash) will chase any jogger or bicyclist till they stop. She doesn't try to bite them and because she's cute and fluffy most do stop to pet her. But I have also seen/been pestered by other herding dogs who were not properly socialized and not properly trained who see something moving and will try to chase, bite and growl. That behavior MUST be corrected and prevented as soon as possible. It's the same with most other dogs...know how their brain is wired and take steps. If you have a mutt, take the dog everywhere on a secure leash and be prepared for ANYTHING. The problem is not dogs, the problem is lazy owners! Side note on the pittie haters....I volunteer at an animal shelter and I'm more "bite-shy" of the chihuahuas and little terriers than I am of ANY pit that comes in. The dogs that act up and act out are NOT pitties the majority of the time. Just personal experience.

Chris June 18, 2013 | 1:32 PM

Stephane Cloutier- you may want to get your information from a place that actually does research and not scan news stories off the Internet. Most small dog bites are not recorded because they do little damage. Most large dog bits are provoked. Also when other breed bite they leave out the breed name. Only when It is a pit bull(which is a very vague classification) do they put the breed name in the title. If you ever read the situations in some of these horrible attacks you will see once again that it is a dumb owner and not dog breed issue. Your site is an opinion site and lacks any real study or data. You're website is reckless and void of any real study.

Stephane Cloutier May 03, 2013 | 9:17 PM

I red this article on Zite... It is not only wrong, it is reckless. Pitbull are responsible for 65% of dog related fatalities. This is data from the center for disease control, not from an advice professing hack. Please visit www.dogsbite and make your mind. Oh, and please, please do not mention your friend's pit mix being the best dog ever... All things being equal, if 2 percent of dogs are responsible for 60 percent of fatalities... The Breed is 30 times more likely to kill than other breeds. Not stats that I care about. The ankle biting chihuahua can bite my 7 year old daughter... It won't remove its scalp. . Horrible disinformation

Dog lover May 03, 2013 | 10:55 AM

I had a little poodle he was my buddy went everywhere with me. One day he was outside minding his own business in his own front yard, when out of no where two German shepards came into our yard snatch him up so fast and killed him. It was one of the more horrific things to see. The owners kept these dogs chained up outside all the time in there yard no attention ever given, solely the owners fault.. But the pound let them keep there dogs and sure enough they just chained them back up, that could be someone's child... Breeds that can do damage like that should be trained and if the owners fail at that responsibility they do not deserve to have the rigt to have an animal., these animals personalities have been destroyed due to the lack of training from there owners who get to keep there dogs while mine had his intestines severed out of him :/

SOsad May 03, 2013 | 10:39 AM

I got me a yorkie little girl and I am a 62 yo female and she was a little doll. I got her all the girlie things and dressed her and the longer I had her the MORE Aggressive she got.I wanted a sweet little lap baby. She was so aggressive she would follow me and bite my heels and jump up and bite my hands and arms, which tore the skin. I had bite marks all over me and she would drag my shoes under the bed and chew up anything and everything even tables. She started jumping from the couch to the coffee table and off of it. She would look at you with a face that dared you to try and stop her. I finally had to pack up all of her sweet little pink stuff and GIVE HER AWAY I am so depressed I do not know what to do. SO sad Momma!! Her name was Chloe and I thought of changing it to She Devil and the guy that took her has now renamed her Gizmo, I THINK!!

Dogmama April 28, 2013 | 11:15 AM

I've had dogs of every size, and across four breeds, now. The only one of them that was mean/aggressive was the smallest - it took years to train him to be non-aggressive toward other dogs. I've also spend weeks taking care of other people's dogs and the chihuahua would run up and bite me every single day I went to feed her. For WEEKS. None of the other dogs I cared for have ever been so nasty.

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