Who Wants an Aggressive Dog?

cartoon bulldog aggressive pixabayI ran into a friend at the park this morning. After greeting each other’s dogs, and then each other (the proper order, of course), we got to talking about—what else—dogs. Our conversation began with a mention of one of the regulars whose dog is known to be aggressive toward other dogs. The topic then turned to breed genetics, and my friend told me a story that floored me. A friend of his had gotten a dog years ago. It was a pure pit bull, and he’d purchased it from a breeder who bred a specific line that was known to be aggressive. At this point, I had to interrupt. Why, I asked, would anyone purposely breed aggressive pit bulls? “Because that’s what people want,” he answered. That floored me, and angered me on many levels, starting with the fact that as a breed, the last thing pits need is more bad PR.

The man who’d bought the dog believed that if he raised it with enough love and kindness, aggression would not be an issue. (Why he bought the dog from that “breeder” in the first place is a mystery.) Can you guess what happened? Despite doing lots of socialization and training, and giving the dog plenty of affection and attention, the dog mauled him, causing extensive damage to his arm. The dog ended up being euthanized.

Why is anyone purposely breeding aggressive pit bulls? And who is knowingly buying them? I suppose buyers include those who are looking to fight dogs (a group who deserve their own special circle of hell). Then there are those who want to use the dogs to guard drugs; here in L.A., we have what are referred to as “bandogs,” which are usually aggressive, territorial, pit-mastiff mixes used for this purpose. And then there are always young, wanna-be macho men with TMT (Too Much Testosterone). But beyond those groups, some people truly don’t understand the difference between “aggressive” and “protective.” It’s not uncommon for someone to want a dog that will be territorial of their home should someone try to break in, or to be protective if they’re threatened on the street. There are dogs that are trained and sold specifically for those purposes. But they’re called “protection dogs,” not “aggression dogs.” There’s a difference. A good protection dog is not aggressive; in fact, he has a solid temperament that allows the aggressive behavior to be turned on and off with voice commands and hand signals. These are good family dogs who would never attack their owners. A truly aggressive dog, on the other hand, might go after dogs or people in ways that can be unpredictable, and can cause damage both physically and emotionally, given the fallout.

I’ve been involved in the dog rescue community for many years and don’t know of a single rescue that wants to take in an aggressive dog. Why? Because there’s not a long line of people wanting to adopt one. Again, true aggression is not what any legitimate dog owner wants. If someone does happen to adopt a dog who displays aggressive behavior, hopefully they attempt to use behavior modification techniques to alter that behavior. In the meantime, here’s to “breeders” like the one mentioned here being shut down and never allowed to have dogs again, and to educating people about the difference between aggression and being protective.
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You can find my books and seminar DVDs at www.nicolewilde.com, and my artwork at www.photomagicalart.com.

9 Responses to Who Wants an Aggressive Dog?

  1. Zen Zoomies says:

    I don’t know your friend’s friend, obviously, but something to consider is also how that guy attempted to train and socialize his dog.

    I’m not denying that genes have nothing to do with behavior (they can definitely be a strong influence, as demonstrated with the silver fox experiment), but if he is not a (force-free) trainer, or did not consult a trainer either for this dog or in the past, there’s a possibility that his methods may have been off.

    A lot of dog owners think that socialization is the same thing as exposure. Exposure without considering the dog’s emotions can lead to fear, insecurity, and ultimately reactivity or aggression. Also, I find that a lot of non-trainer dog owners believe that, to reduce aggression, aggressive behaviors need to be “corrected”. For instance, punishing a dog when it growls or even a puppy when it play bites. Knowing that his dog was raised for aggression, and perhaps wanting to “nip the behavior” before it got serious, he could have tried that, not knowing that it can make the behavior worse and less predictable.

    Again, I could be wrong about this friend of a friend (and it could be 100% genetic) but it’s maybe some food for thought?

    • Jenny H says:

      It can be very hard for ‘ordinary’ people to avoid making certain dogs aggressive. I successfully mad two of my dogs aggressive — after I had had a naturally ‘weird’ (read Asperger’s) who developed severe aggression after being attacked by a neighbour’s (nasty) dog.
      I did it my being too nervous. I’d call my dog back to me and hold him/her on a tight lead until the other dog was out of the way 😦
      All I got from “Trainers” was that I need to be “firmer” with my dogs. I was accused of being a ‘cream puff’ with exhortation to be ‘firmer’.
      Then I bought Paul Owen’s book. Calm yourself — calm your dog. He gives advice on how to do it — and it works like magic.

    • Jenny H says:

      On the other hand I DID rehome two dogs for aggression issues. One was taken with glee by the RAAF (and probably did brilliantly) because she had gone for my young son’s friend’s face. That was a risk that I was not prepared to cope with (and I was still ‘ignorant’) The other was an unwanted dog I had acquired as a “Kelpie” who turned out to be pure mixed terrier and snarky. I surrendered her BEFORE any of my other dogs decided to kill her 😦 SHE was excellent with people 😦

      But yes, sadly, I do think that there are genetically aggressive dogs.

  2. Marcia Mazuryk says:

    As always, thank you, Nicole. This breed is so misunderstood. I just lost my “Pibble” in February. She was, hands down, the BEST dog I have ever had. Highly intelligent, lovable, protective of her family (but ALWAYS checked with us for direction and never went after anyone)….She was the only dog I would allow around my grandchildren and I have a Boston Terrier and a Bull Dog. I don’t know when this will end for this breed. And if Michael Vick was permitted to eventually get another dog, I don’t see how we can stop this. So sad…..

  3. I found the story of the friends friends pitbull fascinating. I have a 5yr old rescue (dachshund) who was due to be put to sleep at just 2 years old due to aggression. I always assumed (wrongly it seems) that his behaviour is due to whatever happened to him previously. Now I have to rethink things. Thank you for this information.

    • Jenny H says:

      It can be very, very hard to turn around a dog with bad experiences. 😦 As a ‘family dog’ owner I will be very very careful in future to avoid any dog with aggression issues. My current ‘blow-in dog’ came with problems — but none of them aggression — just run-ways and sudden spooking for no apparent reason

      • So many of the problems come from fear and are interpreted as aggression. I have to be constantly mindful that my dog is completely unpredictable. However we made great progress but it has taken over three years.

  4. Me says:

    Not sure I agree with this one. Being protective involves a sense of threat that needs to be controlled. A threatened dog feels insecure. Protection training teaches them to push past this or to harness it, and neutralize the threat in a learned way and bred for inclinations, such as GSDs having such short great periods.

    Basically placing discipline and control over this aggression. Sure, a good guard dog can’t be too soft or over the top aggressive either, leading to control failure.

    It’s not without this emotion behind it.

    • Jenny H says:

      I’m not sure about that. As far as I understand (having passed on two dogs to the military) they are chosen for play drive. To get ‘controlled aggression’ it must not be ‘real’ aggression. The dog should never feel threatened, but be confidant.

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