Dangerous Dogs: Nature vs. Nurture
“There are no bad dogs, only bad owners.”
You’ve probably heard either that statement or words to that effect more than once. But is it true?
There are numerous dog breeds that are considered “dangerous,” including Pit Bulls, Boxers, Chow Chows, Dalmatians, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Rottweilers, Saint Bernards, and Siberian Huskies. But German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Boxers, Siberian Huskies, Doberman Pinschers, and Great Danes are also among the favorite dog breeds. If “the nature of the breed” were the sole cause of vicious, aggressive dogs, you wouldn’t expect to see any overlap between dangerous dogs and favorite breeds.
You can find many stories of dogs who were terribly neglected, horrifically tortured and abused, or even trained to fight that were rehabilitated and joined families to become loving and faithful friends and companions. On the other hand, you read stories of dog who had been good-natured for years that suddenly attack a stranger, or even a family member, seemingly without provocation.
Pit bulls, as a breed, have received a lot of bad press. Many have been raised for fighting and unfortunately, some are still used in that way. They are often associated with less-than-savory humans and the breed has suffered from guilt by association.
Each Dog is an Individual
There is always the chance that any dog, regardless of breed, may bite a human; much the same way that any calm, collected human might outburst with unexpected anger. But you can also find individual examples of sweet-tempered, gentle dogs representing every different breed.
The element that’s missing from the assertion that there are “no bad dogs; only bad owners” is that dog’s individual personality. Anyone who has spent any time with a litter of puppies will tell you they’re all different. One might be shy while another wants to be friends with everyone. One might be fearful while another is curious about the world. One might prefer to cuddle with mom and his siblings while another is somewhat aloof.
Dog owners recognize dog’s individuality; most find that one of the more endearing characteristics of their furry friends. After your beloved Saint Bernard dies, you might get another Saint Bernard when you’re ready for another dog—but even though he’s the same breed, you wouldn’t expect him to be a clone of the dog that died. Breed standards do not diminish a dog’s own particular personality.
Training Changes Attitude
Certainly a dog’s nature can be encouraged or discouraged somewhat by its environment. You can take two Doberman Pinschers from the same litter, train one as a guard dog and raise the other strictly as a companion pet, and the adult dogs will have two entirely different reactions to the same stimuli. A stranger at the guard dog’s door will set him off into a frenzy of barking; whereas the companion pet may simply go off into an excited, wiggly dance anxious to meet his new friend.
And what seems to humans to be an “unprovoked” dog attack might seem totally justified in the dog’s mind. There could be a sound or a smell the dog sensed the humans could not. Perhaps the dog sensed something he perceived as a threat that the human either did not sense at all or could explain a different way.
A particular dog of any breed may be a sweetheart or a menace. By meeting his needs, giving him structure, and showing him love, odds are largely in your favor that you will raise an obedient, friendly dog that’s a joy to be around.