Monday, October 19, 2009

Are certain breeds more dangerous?

On my recent blog, Culture at fault, someone recently posted this comment.

"If the most popular breeds in America are Retrievers, Shepherds, and beagles why are the majority of dog related mauling deaths blamed on pitbulls, bulldogs and the mixes?
You say: stay away from all dogs but the truth is not all dog breads are as dangerous as others. Are you are truly unaware that certain dog breeds are more likely than others to do harm to humans?"

First, let me clarify one thing. I did not say to stay away from all dogs. The point of the blog was to state that all dogs have the propensity to bite or maul and that society does nothing to prevent this, as the popular views on dog behavior and dog ownership are a world different from what science has told us about what makes a dog tick.

In short, if we knew more about canine behavior, we'd have less bites and maulings.

I tried to post a rebuttal comment on the blog, but I think it may have been too long. So, I'm going to post it here.

Statistics kept on dog bites are no longer kept by the CDC; the latest report on dog bite fatalities (from the 1990s) was the last report to be produced by the CDC because of the way it was misconstrued by breed ban proponents. In fact, the cover letter attached to the report says this, verbatim: "In contrast to what has been reported in the news media, the data contained within this report CANNOT be used to infer any breed-specific risk for dog bite fatalities (e.g. neither pit bull-type dogs nor Rottweilers can be said to be more “dangerous” than any other breed based on the contents of this report). To obtain such risk information, it would be necessary to know the numbers of each breed currently residing in the United States. Such information is not available."

This is in area in which I have done a lot of research, and even interviewed one the people who led that study.

I think it is slightly unfair to say pit bulls are more dangerous than other breeds, especially based on statistics that even the CDC found unreliable enough to stop collecting data.

A Lab was responsible for the England woman who had to have the first face transplant. A Pomeranian fatally mauled an infant. Golden Retrievers and other popular breeds, like Cocker Spaniels, have failed canine good citizen tests at a greater percentage than pit bulls. German Shepherds used to be thought "more dangerous" than pit bulls and other breeds in the 1970s.

Saying that one dog breed is more dangerous than another is discrimination. Dogs are individuals too. They have inherent characteristics, which mesh with their environment and socialization to create their behavioral patterns. I know the argument here, from the anti-pit bull crowd, is that the breed is full of inherently bloodthirsty, aggressive maneaters. This is very untrue. Pit bulls, by breed standard, are supposed to be extremely human-friendly, regardless of the situation. The breed may inherently have a high prey drive or exhibit aggression toward other animals, but they are far from the only breed — big and small — to have this trait. And, it can be effectively combated with proper socialization.

What I'm trying to say with this blog is that until we start using our highly intellectual human brains to understand and utilize the vast amount of information available on canine behavior, we are putting all dogs at a disadvantage as far as bites and maulings go. Many bites and maulings could be prevented if only we humans knew more about our dogs.

Unfortunately, whenever someone tries to talk about canine behavior, we're written off as spewing crazy-talk "doggie psycho-babble."

The idea that if we just got rid of pit bulls, rottweilers and bulldogs the world would be full of rainbows again is a crock of crap, and I will stand by that.

Let's remember a couple neat facts too — aggression was successfully bred out of the English Bulldog as an inherent characteristic at the time the breed was rescued from near extinction. The Doberman was the pit bull of the 1980s, when many untrue myths about brain swelling and turning against its owners circulated. The German Shepherd got the same treatment in the 1970s. Now, because these two breeds are not the popular choice of breeds amongst shady criminals and is instead owned by responsible, regular folks, no one mentions them in breed bans anymore. And, even if we did eradicate the pit bull completely, there are breeds that have similar histories. What about the Tosa Inu, the Dogo Argentino, the Cane Corso, the Canary Dog, even the wrinkly and much-loved Shar-Pei has a fighting history. And since Mastiffs are big and scary, are we just going to eliminate them too? There goes a dozen breeds or more if we decide to do that. Also, the Rhodesian Ridgebacks were bred to hunt lions — they have a high prey drive and they are big, strong animals. Should we get rid of them? Chihuahuas are bred to exhibit aggressive tendencies. Should we mark them off the list too? Huskies and Malamutes have strong prey drives and need just as much socialization and exercise as pit bulls. Ban them too? St. Bernards have big jaws and if they bit or attacked, they could inflict nasty wounds. Other dogs are big too, with big jaws. Do we get rid of all big dogs? Where does it stop?

I do advocate the right owner for the right breed. Grandma who lives alone and has little interaction with others, people and dogs, and is unable to provide daily, strenous exercise should probably not own a pit bull, huskie, Jack Russell terrier or even a Viszla. Do your research and pick a dog that fits your lifestyle. Pit bulls and Rottweilers are not the best fit for many people.

My point is, all dogs can be dangerous in the hands of an uneducated owner. Banning breeds won't stop dog bites or fatal attacks. The best thing we can do to circumvent attacks is learn more about canine behavior. We are the more intellectual species, after all. Why is it that as a society, we just kind-of expect our dogs to learn how to live with us and we do next to nothing to learn about them? It's backwards.


  1. Excellent post, Karen!
    While everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinion, I find it incredibly ignorant for people to say that one breed is more dangerous than another breed. As you said, all dogs (big and small) have the ability to cause harm; it's the responsibility of the dog OWNERS to know their animal's limits, as well as the warning signs their dog exhibits to alert them that they're not comfortable.
    For instance, I know that my dog (who is very small, by the way) needs time to warm up to adult males. If a man comes in who he is uncomfortable with and that person approaches him, he will turn his head away from that person and "purse" his lips. That's his cue, and me knowing that has prevented any incidents of him ever biting anyone. I tell men he comes in contact with to allow him to be the one to approach them, not the other way around. Once he warms up to a new man, he is the sweetest dog in the world to them.
    There are some people in this world who should never be dog owners — period. Banning breeds will never change that, nor will it stop dog bites/attacks from occurring.

  2. Every dog that has an owner like you is a lucky dog, Leah. If only you were the standard owner and not the exception!