Saturday, February 02, 2008

Dogs, Temperament and "Prejudice"

I've been doing a lot of reading from a lot of different sources about dogs and puppies, and there is really a lot of nonsense out there. I just wanted to comment on something that's come up in several places, and is coming up right now on one of my forums: it is not the breed that makes a dog dangerous, it is the owner and training.

Well, yes and no.

Some breeds really are more aggressive than others, and some breeds really are more dangerous than others. Temperament is highly influenced by genetics, just as it is for humans, even if it is also highly influenced by environment and training as well. Some breeds were originally bred to be aggressive, such as pit bulls and other fighting dogs. Some breeds who were generally bred to be sweet, like golder retrievers and cocker spaniels, have been negatively impacted by back yard breeders and now aggressive strains exist. A large dog who is aggressive is going to be far more dangerous than a small dog who is aggressive.

On the other hand, you can find sweet dogs of any breed. If that dog is well-trained and well-handled, you will have a good dog. Now, I feel totally comfortable bringing Fenja into our home, although she is one quarter rottweiller, because of the temperament of the mother dog, because of her own apparent temperament, because of the likely influence from the labrador and bullmastiff genes, and because we've already made a commitment to training her. Everything I've read says that a well trained and well handled pure-bred rottweiller makes a good family pet, and a mix is likely to downplay any negative temperament tendencies. On the other hand, because rotts are big, strong and powerful dogs who are popular with individuals who might want an aggressive guard dog, I am certainly going to be a bit more wary around a strange rott than I would be around a strange smaller dog, until I know how his owners handle him. Some amount of "prejudice" makes sense when relating to dog breeds.

On the gripping hand, much of the prejudice against dangerous dogs is selective. That is, Malamutes, Chow Chows and Huskies are also high on "bite lists" which detail breeds who have bitten a human and caused serious damage, and yet they don't cause the same fear reaction that rottweillers and pitt bulls (or what individuals think are pit bulls) cause. Now, these bite lists have inherent problems, such as the fact that often the actual breed of the dog is unknown, and that many people think just about anything with a square head is a pit bull, but it is interesting to me that fear reactions to dogs still aren't actually based on the bite lists or any objective data, but simply which dogs look scarier.

I like the Humane Society's position statement on this:

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