Canine aggression: breed-specific or learnt behavior?


A recent study published in Applied Animal Behavior revealed that a dog’s behavior – particularly in the case of aggression – is more likely to be the result of his owner and upbringing than his breed. While certain behaviors and temperaments are undeniably more prevalent in specific types of dogs, study results showed that no form of aggressive behavior can be considered exclusively “breed-specific” – including barking, lunging, growling and biting.

The aim of the study was to determine dogs’ aggression to people in three different contexts, namely: unfamiliar people entering the house, unfamiliar people outside the house, and family members. Interestingly, most of the participating dogs did not display aggression in more than one context. In other words, a dog who was aggressive to strangers wasn’t necessarily aggressive toward his family, and vice versa. According to researchers, this suggests that aggression is a learnt response rather than a generalized character trait of a certain breed.

The findings also emphasized that training methods play an important role in determining how a dog will interact with humans. Positive training methods and puppy classes reduced the risk of aggression, while negative training methods had the opposite effect. Once again, this suggests that individual factors and experience have more effect on a dog’s behavior than his lineage.

Offering even more leverage to those working to end breed specific legislation the researchers concluded that “it would be inappropriate to make assumptions about an individual animal’s risk of aggression to people based on characteristics such as breed.” So the next time you shy away from a dog based on his appearance, don’t be so quick to judge!

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