The irony here is that most people would suggest that there is a connection between the size and strength of the dog and its perceived level of aggression. And it’s not difficult to see why. A growling, teeth-baring, 55kg Rottweiler looks a tad more intimidating than a 1.2kg teacup Pomeranian displaying the same behaviour.
The reality is that, whilst undoubtedly the Rottweiler would do more damage if it came to it, the Pom would do some serious damage too. And in terms of reported bite cases, the number of bites caused by smaller dogs far outweighs that of larger breeds – it’s just the larger breeds that make the headlines.
However, the crux of all this is that there is zero connection between any breed as inherently “aggressive” in the true sense of the term. Without doubt, there are some breeds that are more heavily represented in the dog bite or even fatality figures, but a child being bitten by the teacup Pom will have a better chance of survival than if they’re bitten by the Rottweiler. And remember that only one of these stories will make the news. So it’s these published events that attract attention and labels.
Also, some breeds are just downright scary looking. That, combined with bad press, is largely why pit bulls often get labelled as “dangerous” and “aggressive”. Furthermore, some breeds are present in larger numbers within a pet-owning population and are therefore more likely to be represented in bite statistics.
In the current world of mixed-breed dogs, there is this question of breed identification. Pit bull, for example, is not a breed on its own but more an overarching term for a number of different breeds, including American bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, American bully and Staffordshire terrier – all different dogs. These days, anything with the big head, square-type body is liable to be labelled as a pit bull or at least a pit-mix. Even if the dog is a Labrador/pit bull-mix, it will be listed as a pit-mix, not a Lab-mix.
Of course, there are also certain breeds and types of dogs that are more appealing and therefore more likely to be purchased or adopted by people drawn to the idea of having an “aggressive” dog and who therefore elicits and reinforces aggressive tendencies and behaviours. And equally, there are any number of dogs with heightened prey drive, such as the border collie who, without proper guidance and training, coupled with accidental reinforcement of prey-driven behaviours, can end up being “aggressive”, biting and causing damage.
Again, if a Rottweiler bites you, there’s a good chance you’ll be injured worse than if a Pomeranian bites you, and the big dog will be perceived as more aggressive because he has the potential to inflict more damage. But aggression is about behaviour, not size, potential or breed.
Keep in mind that behaviour is always a combination of genetics and environment. A dog representing a breed that has been bred for guarding and placed in an environment that reinforces aggressive behaviour will likely become very aggressive. However, if that same dog is placed in an environment that reinforces sociability and calm engagement, they will probably end up being well-socialised and friendly.
The bottom line is: breeds are not aggressive or friendly, individual dogs are. Equally, we as owners or guardians of these dogs have a big role to play in guiding them down the right path.
CPA is the only K9 organisation in Thailand accredited with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), and as an American Kennel Club (AKC) Evaluator.