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“Dangerous Breed” Dogs: Friends or Foe?

“Well, I know someone who was attacked by a pit bull, so I know they’re all dangerous,” a colleague said. Another chimed in, citing ‘pit bull’ breeds are stronger and therefore, simply due to their size and fighting history, are more likely to be more aggressive over other dogs.

Everyone nodded in agreement. They believe as the animals are often made to fight and be scary, almost all of them must be…bad dogs.

In a room of seasoned travelers and smart people overall, I was shocked to hear such generalizations. As a new owner of a questionably ‘dangerous breed’, I couldn’t help but feel defensive and upset that people where so quick to judge one type of dog over another.  Sure, there are certain breeds who carry traditions like hunting, toy breed companionship or even police work – but plenty of breeds crossover into various different ‘vocations’ and in the end, it’s not a true factor in how they behave.

Size of course is one real difference, but a chihuahua can be just as snarly and mean as a rottweiler– their bite just isn’t as scary, so people don’t see them as ‘bad’.

It might be extreme, but it’s no different to me than judging one type of person over another due to where they were born or what they look like. There are always exceptions to rules, but it’d be inappropriate and wrong to say well, one type of person from a certain region of the world are good farmers, so they could never be doctors or lawyers!

My Experience with Mix Breeds

I had hoped to have a boxer breed when it was time to adopt my own dog. We got our pet from a breeder as kids, so I assumed that’s how it was done to ‘make sure’ we got a good one. In the end, after tons of research, I realized there’s no guarantee in how your dog will behave, and you only could gain slight advantage when choosing a certain breed. Most of the outcome simply comes down to your preference in size and energy level, which are the two things you have a little control over when deciding on a pet.

We were between a Great Dane and a lab, but a scrappy small mix breed puppy won us over. He was labeled a lab mix, but with his grey-and-white coat and small, sad howl, I think he might be more a Stafford terrier (one of the pit bull breeds) and hound mix instead. My husband and I named him Ziggy!

While in puppy school and other various dog-social situations, our rescued pit mix was no more aggressive than the other purebred labs and golden retrievers. In fact, the labradoodle in class was the nippiest, but looked cuter doing it, so was given a pass for the bad manners.

The bias you feel seeing a dog with a bigger skull/shorter fur who nips over a fluffy one is real – and certainly not the breed’s fault. Your opinion is also not a telling characteristic of one dog over the other. I’d never meet one grumpy yellow lab and assume the majority of labs were standoffish!

Biases with ‘Dangerous’ Dogs

Think about the dogs in your life – real life and in society. ‘Bad dogs’ are almost always shown with pointy ears, short hair, dark coloring, big teeth and muscly chests. Just like ‘bad guys’ in movies, sadly, are often depicted with brown skin, little intelligence and/or beady eyes. While human prejudice is of course a much more terrible issue, both are examples of a type to bigotry we’re fed subconsciously without even realizing it. This can form opinions that are untrue and often harmful when meeting people (and dogs) in real life.

Consider just the name of breeds. Obviously, a Labradoodle is adorable, while a ‘bully breed’ has negative connotations.

But what about a Pibble? Cute, yeah?

Some people who own ‘pit bull’ breeds are now calling them Pibbles, as it sounds more approachable and cuter like the other designer breeds that are popular – there’s really no difference. Especially as pit bull breeds have been crossbred so much in recent decades, any negative tenancies can’t be traced back to fighting or baiting anymore.

Deeper Societal Issues with ‘Dangerous Breeds’

This all doesn’t even begin to touch upon the intrinsic issues of breeds with various socioeconomic standings. To offer some examples, many people in cities or less affluent areas tend to have ‘dangerous breeds’, as they can look intimidating for status, are easier to get vs. purebreds and are cheaper to have. The ‘ban’ on these bad breeds in the 1980s actually made them more desirable to higher crime areas too in an act of rebellion.

In general, many people with these types of dogs may be working multiple jobs and don’t have time to train. Perhaps people grew up learning dogs were outside pets, so animals are left in terrible conditions and chained up, causing agitation and aggression in the pets. Sometimes bigger dogs in these places are used as bait and fighters too still to bring in supplemental income, although these dogs as puppies were sweet and harmless.

If a big Great Dane, fuzzy Husky or even a Lab was subjected to these situations, those types of dogs also may fall into scary-like behavior and attack humans.

Breeding vs. Shelter Dogs

With this said, it’s good to know that one breed is often not aggressive over another, especially with proper training and love. Some people might think if they get a labradoodle from a breeder they have less of a chance of having a ‘bad dog’ over a mutt from a rescue shelter. While there is a bit of ‘nature vs. nurture’ in play there, most of it comes down to your own personal patience, time and appreciation/love of the dog in your family.

If you’re considering your own dog to be part of the family, here are some pros and cons to purchasing a pet from a breeder versus getting rescue. Full disclosure- I’ll be championing the rescue option!

It’s Nice to Know a Breed – But it Doesn’t Matter

I’ve known some nasty Labradors and I’ve known the sweetest bull terriers. We all have stories from growing up about the neighborhood dogs – and might not realize these memories are forming odd biases in our adulthood about certain breeds of pets.

In reality, some dogs are born with certain personality traits, and other dogs respond well to training and positive reinforcement. Buying a ‘docile’ breed is not a guarantee you’ll have an easy dog. And no matter what kind of dog you own, it’ll almost always be difficult if you don’t take the time to properly train it with commands and authority.

Do Your Part to Respect Dogs Too

Overall, I’m lucky enough to know dogs very well. There’s few I haven’t fallen in love with – from tiny dachshunds to massive wolfhounds. Dogs can sense if you’re well intentioned or not – which is why I like to think I’ve avoided most negative or aggressive experiences with all kinds of breeds and mutts. If I sense they need space, I give it. If they’re a big street dog and their body language leads to just wanting a head scratch, I’m happy to oblige. If they’re a little Yorkie barking it’s head off at me, I won’t bother trying to approach it.

Attacks often happen because you’ve upset a dog, come too close, abused it or simply reacted in a frantic manner. They also happen because irresponsible down owners have their pets off-leash when they shouldn’t. While that doesn’t make it OK for a dog to attack you, it’s worth getting to know a bit more about the animals we share space with on this planet, just as we do with people. It won’t take much of your time, and everyone – whether on two or four legs – will benefit from your respect.

Resources for Dog Adoption

Adopt a Pet: A database of available dogs and helpful tips.

Pet Finder: Search for dogs by size, gender, location and more.

Always Adopt: A great event two times a year held in Rhode Island. They were absolutely incredible with helping us find Ziggy and answering all our questions. They work with shelter nationwide and have one major event with hundreds of homeless dogs to choose from in person. You apply ahead of time to get pre-screened.

Further Information about ‘Dangerous Breeds’ and Bias

Read more from the ASPCA: “It is likely that that the vast majority of pit bull type dogs in our communities today are the result of random breeding—two dogs being mated without  regard to the behavioral traits being passed on to their offspring.  The result of random breeding is a population of dogs with a wide range of behavioral predispositions. For this reason it is important to evaluate and treat each dog, no matter its breed, as an individual.”

Read more from Global Animal/Nat Geo: A study on fatalities between 2000-2009 in the journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that in over 80 percent of those cases there were four or more significant factors related to the care and control of the dog. These were dogs that had not been socialized; were large and sexually intact; and had no relationship to the person who was killed.”

And one of my favorites, Carlo the Therapy Pibble on Instagram!

EileenCotterWright

Author EileenCotterWright

Eileen Cotter Wright is a Boston, MA expat living in London, UK. She is a freelance writer and owner of group travel site PureWander.com. Despite losing her passport the first day she left her home country, she's continued to roam the earth with gusto for about a decade. You can keep up with her hot mess adventures on Twitter @Crooked_Flight.

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