Myths about aggression abound. These myths put dogs, the people who love them, and the general populace at risk. I thought we’d spend a bit of time together on the Dogster Guide to Behavior & Training this week examining a few of the many popular myths surrounding dog aggression and reactivity. Because there are (unfortunately) too many myths to cover in a single blog entry, count on more entries this week on dog aggression myths.
MYTH #1: AGGRESSIVE DOGS ARE BORN, NOT MADE
A sweet puppy could not possibly grow up to be an aggressive, biting dog, right? Wrong. Nurture and nature are generally equally important in the creation of both dog and human behavior and personality. It is relatively easy to create a reactive or aggressive dog, even in a puppy who has wonderful genetics – even in a puppy for whom grandparents and parents on both sides have been service dogs for generations.
How would you take such a wonderful puppy and create an aggression problem?
Congratulations! You’ve created an aggression and/or reactivity problem!
MYTH #2: AGGRESSION IS BREED-SPECIFIC
When adopted by government agencies in the form of breed specific legislation, this myth creates a virtual holocaust of canine victims. BSL advocates would like you to believe that only pit bulls, German Shepherd Dogs, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Chows, etc. are aggressive dogs and that Labs, Goldens, Beagles, and other “nice” dog breeds would never bite. This is inherently and patently false. Socialization history, the ability of the owner to manage the dog, how well the dog has been taught bite inhibition, and the dog’s life experiences are far more likely to determine his bite risk than his breed. As the owner of a Chow mix, this myth really steams my beans. My dog is more well-trained than many “friendly” breed dogs who are unrestrained, out of control, and present a far greater risk.
There are pit bulls functioning as service dogs. German Shepherd Dogs are famous for their work with law enforcement, as are Rottweilers, Dobermans, Belgian Malinois, etc. There are also Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Basset Hounds who have sent folks to the hospital for bite treatment. Dogs of any breed can and will bite. Some dogs may do more damage than others, some dogs may be more tolerant of the precursors for aggression (see above), some dogs may be more genetically predisposed to having soft mouths, etc., but all dogs can and will bite in a “perfect storm” situation.
Stay tuned for more aggression myths tomorrow!