I originally posted this on my personal blog, but thought I would do well to repost it here. Enjoy!
Cities, counties, states, countries, home owner’s associations, insurance companies, and more have banned certain breeds of dog on the premise that these breeds are “aggressive”. Since these breeds are believed to be “aggressive”, they are also thought to be more likely to bite, and thus are a greater liability. To avoid such liabilities and possible law suits, these organizations choose a “one size fits all” stance and hold an outright ban on all dogs of such breeds, regardless of the dog’s breeding, training, socializing, or even certification (such as temperament testing and canine good citizen awards). However before approving of such measures, one should question, are such bans justified? How is a certain breed determined “aggressive”?
In nearly every case, an “aggressive” dog breed is one that has been demonized by the media, not necessarily by fact. How accurate is the media? Only as accurate as what sells, and most headlines are biased to sell. What most people don’t understand or realize is that media reports only show a small percentage of actual dog bites, MOST dog bites aren’t even reported! No one wants to report that their family Poodle, Chihuahua, or Pomeranian bit the, but won’t hesitate to report a “rogue Rottweiler” wandering the streets. Most people are also unfamiliar with different dog breeds, and report the wrong breed. This can be demonstrated by such sites as this: http://www.pitbullsontheweb.com/petbull/findpit.html
So considering these facts, media reports, and even dog bite reports from other sources, should be completely disregarded since they are biased and often inaccurate.
So if we can’t rely on the media to determine what an “aggressive” breed is, what do we rely on? Perhaps we can look at breed origins. Those breeds that originated as “guard dogs” must be aggressive, because all guard dogs were bred to bite, right? Not quite. Most people do not even fully understand the origins of different dogs, or how those dogs were developed. For example, German Shepherds appear on most “banned breed” lists. Most people believe German Shepherds were bred to be guard dogs. They were… sort of. German Shepherds were originally bred to be sheep-herding dogs. As such, they are a guard dog, the way a Great Pyrenees is a guard dog. They were bred to herd the flock of sheep and keep them safe from predators, not to attack and maul people. So if we look at origins, a German Shepherd dog should be considered no more aggressive than a Great Pyrenees, and I have never seen the Great Pyrenees listed on any banned breed list! So how about Rottweilers, typical junk yard dog right? Rottweilers were also developed as a herding breed. Like the Giant Schnauzer, Rottweilers were used for herding and driving cattle. As a robust dog, they were able to travel long distances, but also were able to protect their flocks from predators. Though they were cattle guarding dogs, they were not meant to maul people, as many popular media reports would show. Giant Schnauzers were also developed as a cattle herding dog, but also as a guard dog for butchers shops and breweries. Though Rottweilers often show up on banned breed lists, Giant Schnauzers do not, even though both breeds were developed for the same purpose! If Rottweilers and German Shepherds are considered “aggressive” breeds because they were developed for sheep and cattle guarding, likewise Great Pyrenees and Giant Schnauzers should be considered aggressive.
Now let’s look at the “pit bulls”. “Pit bull” is not a breed, but a breed group, typically comprised of the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Sometimes Bull Terriers and American Bulldogs are included in this breed group. Not all of these breeds are recognized in all clubs, but most are descended from similar roots: bulldogs crossed with terriers. The resulting crosses were bold, agile, and tenacious, possessing the strengths of both the terriers and bulldogs. Eventually these dogs were bred for the specific purpose of dog fighting, before this “sport” was made illegal. Due to this history, most people assume these “pit bull” breeds are aggressive toward people, but that is a basic misunderstanding. The original dog fighters often kept their dogs as family pets, in their homes and around their children. As a result their dogs HAD to be people-friendly. Many dog fighters also had to be able to pull their dogs out of the ring without being bit when it was obvious their dog was the loser. This resulted in a selectively bred animal that was NOT human aggressive, but was potentially dog aggressive. Back in the day, any dog that was aggressive towards people was shot on site as a liability to its handlers and their families. However if one insists that because such dogs were bred to be fighters, they must be aggressive, one must look at other dogs that were bred to be fighters. English Bulldogs must thus be considered aggressive, because they were originally bred to be bull fighters. Boxers too must be considered aggressive, because like the English Bulldog, they were originally bred for bull baiting, and possibly also for dog fighting. But again, I have never seen English Bulldogs or Boxers listed on any list of banned breeds. So if English Bulldogs and Boxers are not aggressive, even though they originated as a fighting breed, it is erroneous to consider the “pit bull” breeds aggressive simply because they too originated as fighting breeds.
How about Mastiffs? Mastiffs do occasionally show up on banned breed lists, and people assume they are “aggressive” because they too originated as a guarding breed. It is true the mastiff originated as a guarding breed. What most people do not understand about this breed is that it was NOT bred to bite, but actually bred to pin intruders until they can be apprehended. Imagine that… a dog that was bred NOT to bite being considered “aggressive”! Great Danes were originally bred for boar hunting, but later developed for guarding estates. Since wild boar are large, aggressive, strong animals, the dog used to hunt them also had to be large, strong, and aggressive. As such, the Great Dane also made a perfect estate guard, who would question such a large dog charging aggressively? But unlike the Mastiff, Great Danes do not appear on the “aggressive” breed lists. So considering the above facts on origins, “aggressive” breed lists are not composed based on breed origin. If they were, many more breeds would appear on these lists.
So what other factors might be considered in determining an aggressive breed? Breeds are constantly developing, and the breeds we see today are not necessarily the breeds they were decades or centuries ago. So origins obviously aren’t the only factor, if a factor at all. Maybe we should consider the current temperament of different breeds, that should be a good way to determine “aggression”. Here’s where things start getting very interesting.
The American Temperament Testing Society (ATTS) is an organization developed to promote a uniform temperament evaluation of purebred and spayed/neutered mixed-breed dogs. It establishes a uniform program for temperament testing, conducts seminars to provide information to people, recognizes and awards certificates to dogs that pas the requirements for temperament evaluation, and works for the betterment of all breeds of dogs. It is a non-profit organization and not associated with any dog clubs. It tests all dogs of all breeds or mixed breeds. Dogs are tested on a loose lead and evaluated by three trained individuals. Failure is recognized when a dog shows panic, strong avoidance without recovery, or unprovoked aggression. This organization looks at different aspects of temperament, including stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness, as well as instincts for protectiveness towards its handler and/or self-preservation in the face of a threat. Dogs must be at least 18 months old before it can be tested, and handlers are not allowed to talk to the dog, give commands, or give corrections. This allows the dog’s actual, unguided behavior to be evaluated. Each test contains 10 subtests in five subcategories. These subcategories are behavior toward strangers, reaction to auditory stimuli, reaction to visual stimulus, reaction to tactile stimuli, and self protective/aggressive behavior. Overall it is a very informative test, and should be considered important for all dog owners. More information about the ATTS can be found at their website: http://www.atts.org/
So now that you are familiar with the ATTS, let’s look at some of their statistics. First we will look at breeds commonly considered “aggressive”. All statistics are current as of June 2010. View all statistics here: http://atts.org/statistics.html
Rottweiler: 5,357 tested, 83.4% passed
German Shepherd: 3,038 tested, 84.2% passed
American Pit Bull Terrier: 772 tested, 86% passed
American Staffordshire Terrier: 608 tested, 83.9% passed
Staffordshire Bull Terrier: 115 tested, 89.6% passed
Bull Terrier: 73 tested, 90.4% passed
Miniature Bull Terrier: 11 tested, 100% passed
Mastiff: 177 tested, 84.2% passed
American Bulldog (often erroneously included in the “pit bull” group): 178 tested, 84.8% passed
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would consider an 80+% pass rate pretty good. So if “aggressive” breeds are passing at 80% and more, how about other breeds that are not commonly considered “aggressive” and are not commonly included on banned breed lists?
Alaksan Malamute (see movie “Eight Below”): 222 tested, 85.1% passed
Australian Cattle Dog: 184 tested, 78.8% passed
Australian Shepherd Dog: 634 tested, 81.5% passed
Basset Hound (Itchy in "All Dogs Go to Heaven", Toby in "The Great Mouse Detective", also see "Rover Dangerfield"): 35 tested, 85.7% passed
Beagle (Lou in the movie "Cats & Dogs", also see the movie "Underdog" and "Shiloh"): 71 tested, 80.3% passed
Bichon Frise: 30 tested, 76.7% passed
Bloodhound (see Disney movie "Lady and the Tramp"): 32 tested, 71.9% passed
Border Collie (the sheepdogs in the movie "Babe", also see movie "Snow Dogs" and "Hotel for Dogs"): 265 tested, 81.1% passed
Boston Terrier (see movie "Hotel for Dogs"): 65 tested, 84.6% passed
Boxer: 418 tested, 84% passed Bulldog: 134 tested, 70.1% passed
Cairn Terrier (Toto in the movie "Wizard of Oz", see also "Dunston Checks In"): 49 tested, 70.1% passed
Chihuahua (Taco Bell commercials used a Chihuaha named "Gidget", also see the movies "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" and "Legally Blond"): 38 tested, 71.1% passed
Cocker Spaniel (Lady in the Disney movie "Lady and the Tramp"): 227 tested, 81.9% passed
Collie (Lassie from the TV series): 846 tested, 79.7% passed
Cardigan Welsh Corgi: 70 tested, 78.6% passed
Pembroke Welsh Corgi: 200 tested, 78.5% passed
Dachshund (see the Disney movie "The Ugly Dachshund"): 194 tested, 77.8% passed
Dalmatian (Disney movie "101 Dalmatians"): 329 tested, 82.4% passed
Golden Retriever (Buddy in the movie "Air Bud", Shadow in the movie "Homeward Bound" and "An Incredible Journey"): 746 tested, 84.6% passed
Great Dane (Brutus in the movie "The Ugly Dachshund", and Marmaduke in the movie "Marmaduke"): 275 tested, 79.6% passed
Greyhound: 66 tested, 81.8% passed
Jack Russell Terrier (Skip in "My Dog Skip", tv series "Wishbone"): 63 tested, 84.1% passed
Lhasa Apso: 27 tested, 70.4% passed Maltese: 16 tested, 81.3% passed
Miniature Pinscher: 53 tested, 81.1% passed
Old English Sheepdog (see the movie "The Shaggy Dog" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"): 47 tested, 76.6% passed
German Shorthaired Pointer: 125 tested, 76% passed
German Wirehaired Pointer: 17 tested, 82.4% passed
Pomeranian: 33 tested, 75.8% passed
Miniature Poodle: 68 tested, 77.9% passed
Standard Poodle: 243 tested, 86% passed
Toy Poodle: 51 tested, 92.4% passed
Rhodesian Ridgeback: 424 tested, 84.4% passed
St. Bernard (see the "Beethoven" movies): 48 tested, 83.3% passed
Samoyed: 282 tested, 79.4% passed
Giant Schnauzer: 253 tested, 76.3% passed
Miniature Schnauzer: 111 tested, 78.4% passed
Standard Schnauzer: 60 tested, 66.7% passed
Shetland Sheepdog: 491 tested, 68% passed
Shih Tzu: 41 tested, 78% passed
Siberian Husky (see movie "Snow Dogs" and "Eight Below"): 295 tested, 87.1% passed
Smooth Fox Terrier: 55 tested, 76.4% passed
Weimeraner: 215 tested, 80.5% passed
Yorkshire Terrier: 40 tested, 82.5% passed
Are you surprised? I am. These breeds, most or all of which are NOT considered “aggressive” and are NOT commonly included on banned breed lists are passing temperament tests at or below the same rates as “aggressive” breeds! So…. Obviously temperament is not a reasonable way to determine what breeds are actually aggressive? To be entirely honest, that does not make sense to me at all. Out of ALL the factors one should look at when determining and “aggressive” breed, shouldn’t temperament, the inborn behavior and nature of the animal, be considered an important factor? It HAS to be an important factor! So if temperament is so important, why are breeds passing at such high rates considered aggressive?!
This is where the facts become obvious. “Aggressive” breed lists are NOT determined based on fact, they are determined based on media hype. Companies that ban certain breeds because they are “aggressive” are not basing their lists on fact, but on media hype. This should enrage people! There are breeds out there that are passing temperament testing at less than 70%! If you look at a typical grade school grading scale, that’s a D! These breeds are FAILING their temperaments tests! And yet they are not banned. Breeds such as the Standard Schnauzer and Sheltie are getting D’s in temperament tests! Other popular breeds such as Corgis, Collies (Lassie even!), Beagles, Bichon Frise, Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, Great Danes, Pomeranian, Miniature Poodles, and Shih Tzus are only passing with C’s! What does this mean? This means these breeds may be more aggressive, more nervous (and nervous dogs are more likely to bite), or more reactive than other breeds. What this means is if your child is around any one of these breeds, your child may be more likely to get bitten by one of these breeds. And yet they are on banned lists. On the other hand, “aggressive” breeds are passing temperament testing with B’s, some almost with A’s even! This compares to other breeds such as the Golden Retriever, Basset Hound, Aussie Shepherd, Boxer, St. Bernard, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Yorkshire Terrier, and Siberian Husky. “Aggressive” breeds score JUST AS WELL as the beloved family pet, the Golden Retriever! That’s irony right there… “Aggressive” breeds are just as likely to bite (or not bite) as a Golden Retriever. Hmmm…. Are you starting to wonder about those banned breed lists?
So if those are some of the breeds scoring just as well or below “aggressive” breeds, what breeds are scoring better? Since Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Bull Terriers are passing at 89.6% and 90.4%, I’m only looking at breeds that pass at 90% or higher. I am also only looking at breeds who have been tested in numbers, not just one or two dogs, to reduce bias.
Belgian Malinois: 289 tested, 91.7% passed
Black and Tan Coonhound: 13 tested, 100% passed
Black Russian Terrier: 56 tested, 92.9% passed
Boerboel: 14 tested, 100% passed
Border Terrier: 120 tested, 90.8% passed
Brittany Spaniel: 116 tested, 90.5% passed
Brussels Griffon: 11 tested, 90.9% passed
Curly-coated Retriever: 174 tested, 91.4% passed
English Cocker Spaniel: 70 tested, 92.9% passed
Flat-coated Retriever: 86 tested, 91.9% passed
Ibezan Hound: 32 tested, 90.6% passed
Irish Setter: 142 tested, 90.1% passed
Labrador Retriever: 763 tested, 92.3% passed
Norfolk Terrier: 14 tested, 92.9% passed
Parson Russell Terrier: 10 tested, 100% passed
Pekingese: 15 tested, 93.3% passed
Pug: 44 tested, 90.9% passed
Puli: 24 tested: 91.7% passed
Tibetan Spaniel: 12 tested, 91.7% passed
Toy Manchester Terrier: 14 tested, 92.9% passed
Of more interest, these breeds are commonly considered “aggressive”, but passed at a 90% rate or higher. Dogo Argentino: 13 tested, 92.3% passed Presa Canario: 30 tested, 90% passed
Even “aggressive” breeds pass temperament testing at a rate equivalent to a “B” grade, some breeds at a rate equivalent to an “A” grade, while other breeds commonly kept in households as pets, often in contact with children, are only passing at rates equivalent to “C” and “D” grades.
If temperament testing IS a good way to determine “aggressiveness” of a breed, then many breeds have been unfairly banned, while many other breeds should be banned but are not.
If temperament testing is NOT a good way to determine the “aggressiveness” of a breed, then what is?
I can just hear the arguments now…. “The only people who are getting their dogs temperament tested are the people who care enough to train their dogs! There are lots of untested dogs out there that are aggressive!” If that is true… then it is NOT the breed that is aggressive, but the dog. So WHY are we punishing innocent dogs? Rather than banning all dogs just because of their breed, we should punish the dogs who actually are aggressive, and punish the owners who keep aggressive dogs. In addition, if the only people getting their dogs tested are the people who care enough to train the, WHY are so many of the “non-aggressive” breeds passing at rates so much lower than the so-called “aggressive” breeds? If the people getting their dogs tested are the people who care enough to train their dogs, then ALL dogs tested should be passing. That is obviously not the case.
“But the aggressive dog breeds are large and can do so much more damage than the smaller toy breeds known to be biters.” Who cares how big the dog is, a bite is a bite! A small toy breed biting a child can inflict serious damage. A small toy breed can kill an infant! Shouldn’t this be considered a serious matter? If small toy breeds are known to be biters, they should be considered aggressive and should be banned as well. And what about all the other large breeds that can potentially inflict serious damage? A dog as large as a Great Dane is just as capable of inflicting serious damage as a German Shepherd, Rottweiler, or “pit bull”. Since Great Danes are passing temperament testing at a rate of 79.6%, below the so-called “aggressive” breeds, shouldn’t they be banned too? What about Giant Schnauzers who were bred to be guard dogs and are only passing at a rate of 76.3%? They too are capable of inflicting serious damage. Even Labrador Retrievers, a favorite family dog and a breed that has passed temperament testing at a rate of 92.3%, is capable of inflicting serious damage, as can be seen in this media reports: http://www.9news.com/news/article.aspx?storyid=65161
If other medium to large sized dogs are just as capable as so-called “aggressive” breeds of inflicting serious injury, shouldn’t they too be banned? This is a matter of human safety after all!
“The aggressive breeds are just more likely than other breeds to snap and attack. They can be fine for years and then just snap.” This kind of argument really isn’t based on any kind of fact. If a dog does indeed “snap” without any warning signs, it usually means something else is wrong with the animal, usually injury or a severe neurological disorder. If such behavior is due to a physiological problem, it should NOT be the breed that is punished, but the individual dogs and the people who keep and breed such dogs (assuming the disorder is genetic). If we do punish the entire breed for the crime of just a few, there are other breeds who should also be punished. Look up a syndrome popularly called “Springer Rage” that occurs in Springer Spaniels. The dog is fine… then one day snaps.
And other equally erroneous arguments.
So in conclusion, breed bans not only fail in protecting the public, but are also unfair. Breed bans are not based on fact, but on fallacy and error. Breed bans punish innocent dogs and people, while allowing truly aggressive dogs to run free and irresponsible people to continue owning dogs. If you are a dog lover, I urge you to fight breed bans. Instead, urge punishment of the deed. Urge temperament testing, proper training, socializing, and responsible dog ownership. If you are affected in any way by breed bans, either through your insurance company, city, county, state, or country, please write to the proper authorities and urge a change in legislature. You never know, one day YOUR favorite breed may find itself on the banned list.