The media has played a part in presenting certain dog breeds in a bad light, portraying them as aggressive and dangerous, in light of recent dog attacks: 4 children have been killed by dogs in 30 months. We even have a law called the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 which states that pit bull terriers, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Tila Brasileiro are too dangerous to own or breed from so it is now illegal to do so in the UK. Dogs such as the pit bull terrier present a tough image, which appeals to some people, particularly young men who use them and other breeds as status symbols to make themselves appear tougher. In these cases the dogs aren’t properly trained and aggressive behaviour may be actively encouraged by isolating the dog so that it isn’t used to or comfortable with strangers, or by teasing and provoking the dog encouraging it to bark and bite.

Some breeds were originally selectively bred for fighting, so have a greater tendency for aggression and have certain qualities such as a strong jaw, or they bite and don’t let go for a while. Therefore if they do attack then the consequences can be fatal, and there is usually much media coverage.   Four breeds: the Pit Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro and Japanese Tosa, are now illegal to own or breed under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, unless you have an exemption from the court and follow the guidelines they lay down.

However any dog can bite, especially if it is not trained or socialized properly, isolated, neglected or encouraged to behave aggressively. Allowing a dog to behave aggressively makes the dog think that this is appropriate behaviour, and if it gets attention on demand it believes that it is the top dog. If a dog thinks that it is at the top of the hierarchy then it may become aggressive if its status is challenged, such as being given a command: it believes that it is the top dog so it should demand attention not the other way around; or if another member of the family receives more attention than it.

The problem is that current bite statistics can be misleading because many dog bites go unreported and only bites that require medical attention are taken into account for these statistics. This means that dogs that have specific fighting qualities from when they were used as fighting dogs or hunters, or larger dogs with more strength appear to be more aggressive than they actually are. When a pit bull terrier attacks it is more likely to have serious consequences, but some breeds from the toy group can be just as aggressive but their bites have little effect so the incidence isn’t reported and a distorted image is presented about aggressive dogs.

A recent study carried out on 6,000 dogs and their owners found out 33 of the most aggressive dogs, and also those which have good temperaments. The study involved collecting data from two different groups. The first group consisted of 11 different breeds and the second was an online survey mainly involving owners, including 33 breeds. The conclusions from both groups were similar. It looked at the different types of aggression such as towards other dogs, towards strangers and towards owners. Some of the results were surprising,

Top Ten Most Aggressive Breeds:

Dachshunds, Chihuahua, Jack Russell, Australian Cattle Dog, Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Border Collie, Pit Bull Terrier, Great Dane, English Springer Spaniel

The Dachshund, otherwise known as the Sausage dog, was originally bred to hunt badgers. They came out as the most aggressive breed with 1 in 5 reported to have bitten or tried to bite a stranger and 1 in 12 snapping at their owners.

Overall the results found that dog-dog aggression was higher than aggression towards people. This could be due to the fact that dogs are territorial creatures so try to defend their territory by chasing away, or attacking, anything that threatens it. Also they live in packs that have social hierarchies: the higher members demand attention from the lower ranks. If this hierarchy is threatened, unstable or challenged then dogs can become aggressive. Other dogs can challenge their status, such as a new puppy entering the pack, or people can, such as a new baby getting more attention than the dog. Owners should try to make themselves top dog by demanding attention and not the other way around (your dog demanding attention when it wants it) you should also control the good things such as treats and toy, and your dog should earn these from you by obeying commands.

Smaller dogs tend to be towards the top of this list, which may be surprising. However, because they are small they may be genetically predisposed to be aggressive as a way of counteracting their size and ensuring their survival. Also because they are small they can easily feel threatened by bigger dogs or people so they become aggressive to defend themselves. Fear is one of the main reasons for aggressions. Lastly small dogs are usually considered cute and are often spoilt by their owner, which gives them a higher status in the pack, which may then be challenged. Also since their bites often have little effect they are allowed to continue and some people even think it is cute, however, this only makes the problem worse and the dogs can become more aggressive.

The Top Ten Least Aggressive Breeds:

Labrador Retriever, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Poodle, Greyhound, Whippet, Brittany Spaniel ,Siberian Husky, Golden Retriever, Havanese, Portuguese water dog

These dogs also rated low for “watchdog” behaviour and “territorial defence” behaviour so they tend to make lovable family pets.

Some dogs that have a bad image and are considered aggressive are the Boxer, Bulldogs, Pit Bull Terriers, Great Danes, Mastiffs, German Shepherds and Rottweilers. According to this study this is how they ranked:

Great Dane: 9. This breed is actually very patient, gentle and affectionate. Although its size can be an issue with small children, it gets on well with children.

Rottweilers: 15. This dog is very loyal and can be fiercely protective which may cause it to be aggressive. However, it is a hard working, powerful, devoted dog that gets on well with children if they are brought up with them.

Boxer: 16. These dogs are actually good with children. They make good watchdogs. As they have a protection nature; they may be aggressive if they feel their owner is being threatened.

German Shepherds (Alsatians): 17. An alert, loyal, courageous and intelligent breed. These dogs are good with children and they are very protective making them effective watchdogs.

Mastiffs: 21. These dogs are very dignified, loyal creatures with a pleasant nature, resembling gentle giants. Their size means they can be a problem with small children, but they get on well with children, ie the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Other dogs that are known to be aggressive include:

Chow Chow: this is a “one person dog”. It forms a very strong bond with one person (usually the owner) and is ferocious around strangers who it considers a threat to its owner. It is a good guard dog, but it can bite without warning and they are tenacious fighters.

Papillon: These dogs are fiercely loyal of their owners and can be very possessive, they don’t like strangers either.

Old English Sheepdogs: Again these dogs are very protective of their owners. They are strong-willed and independent and they will nip either other animals or children.

Lhasa Apso: These dogs can be cranky and unpredictable; they are strong-willed and independent. They were originally bred as guard dogs.

Giant Schnauzers: They are very dominant and will challenge adults and strangers.

Pekingese: These dogs do not like strangers and can be very aggressive towards them

Miniature Pinschers: These are little dogs but they can be very aggressive to compensate for this.

However, every dog is different and won’t always fit their breed stereotype. Just because their breed is generally considered to be gentle or sweet natured doesn’t guarantee that your dog will be the same. Any dog can be aggressive and bite so you must make sure that you put aside the time to train it and socialize it properly so that it is more comfortable in unfamiliar circumstances and with strangers. Before you get a dog it is worthwhile researching breeds to make sure that you choose one that is suitable for your lifestyle, i.e. it is good with children if you have any in the family, or not getting a fragile dog if you are a large family. However good a dog is said to be with children and however well behaved it you should never leave children unsupervised with a dog; often they can provoke it without meaning to and little children can be defenseless against a dog.

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