Dog owners are generally split into two camps. Some believe that no dog breed is at fault for aggressive behavior since it’s the owner’s responsibility to ensure their pets don’t misbehave. Others feel that certain breeds are simply prone to violence, and any of their representatives are to be avoided at all costs. Neither, of course, is fully true.
What Causes Aggressive Behavior in Dogs?
Dogs, like people, are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. This means that a portion of pet behavior can be attributed to innate characteristics decided at birth, while the other portion is determined by experiences with humans, dogs, and other animals.
While different dogs react differently to life experiences, certain ones are more likely than others to result in future aggression. These include:
- Physical abuse
- Violent encounters with other animals
- Improper training
- Intentional aggression or “guard dog” training
Genetics can influence these risk factors in very complicated ways. Some animals never develop problematic aggression, no matter how much trauma or poor training they’ve had. Others snarl and bite without ever having experienced mishandling. The vast majority, however, are somewhere in between and can either be model pets or aggressive terrors, depending on their circumstances.
Which Breeds Are the Most Aggressive?
There’s a reason you don’t see many golden retrievers guarding secret government facilities — they simply aren’t up to the task, on average.
Humans bred dogs over thousands of years, and the result of this process has been hundreds of distinct breeds, each with its own general characteristics. Most were bred to fulfill one of many important functions, including hunting, pulling, companionship, guarding, or fighting.
Those bred for hunting or fighting are naturally the most intimidating breeds, and they may be the most likely to cause harm when improperly or irresponsibly trained. But danger does not equal aggression.
Recently, researchers have compiled surprising rankings of the fiercest dogs. At the top of the list are:
- Long-haired collie
- Miniature poodle
- Miniature schnauzer
- German shepherd
Since few hospital visits per year are likely attributed to miniature poodles, examining aggression alone isn’t necessarily the best way to determine whether to avoid a breed. Size and bite power, combined with aggression, are much better indicators that you should keep your distance. More than likely, you already know a few of the most infamous breeds. These include:
- Pit bull terrier
- Chow chow
- German shepherd
But since there are plenty of placid, amicable representatives of even these intimidating creatures, they aren’t necessarily the most statically likely to injure you. Your likelihood of being bitten involves the number of animals you’re exposed to, which is an interaction between your behavior and a breed’s popularity.
Which Breeds Cause the Most Injuries?
According to a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, nearly 60% of domestic dog bites requiring serious or reconstructive medical attention were perpetrated by a mixed-breed animal or one whose ancestry couldn’t be identified. This, however, is approximately the same as the proportion of mixed-breed pets in the United States, so these results probably don’t indicate that mixed dogs are more likely to bite.
Of those whose breed could be identified, pit bull terriers, German shepherds, Rottweilers, and unspecified large terriers were the most frequent culprits. Pit bull terriers were the most likely to kill humans, followed by Rottweilers, German shepherds, Dobermans, and bullmastiffs.
Genetic factors other than breed also appear to affect the likelihood that a dog will bite. Males tend to growl, lunge, or snap more frequently than females. Since males are generally larger, they may cause more severe injuries.
How Can I Tell When a Dog Is Dangerous?
If you are meeting an unknown dog, it’s always best to assume that it’s dangerous and avoid exposing yourself to unnecessary risk until you know otherwise. Don’t reach for a strange animal or attempt to pet it on the head, as this can be seen as threatening behavior. Never stoop down, placing your head or neck at the same level as an animal’s mouth. Ask the owner, if present, whether his or her pet is friendly, and heed any warnings he or she gives.
Interpreting dog behavior takes practice, but it can be helpful, should you find yourself in a precarious situation with an unknown canine. Fear, predation, resource guarding, and reactivity to environmental triggers are the primary causes of canine aggression.
Fortunately, dogs exhibit similar body language for each cause. In most cases, aggression is preceded by anxiety. This looks like:
- Muscle tension
- Bulging eyes
- Tucked tail
- Lip licking
The next stage, just before a bite, usually appears as:
- Showing teeth
- Cocking the head to the side
- Strong eye contact
Any bite is serious, but some are particularly troubling. Bites that leave no mark or minor bruising often indicate that an animal was acting defensively. Those that leave deep puncture wounds, or those in which a dog clamps down and shakes the affected area, may indicate highly problematic, predatory behavior.
What Should I Do if I’ve Been Bitten by a Dog?
Dog bites can cause serious harm, requiring emergency medical care, and even painful reconstructive surgery. Sadly, avoidable bites cause around 1,000 emergency room visits in the United States every day. These injuries can take months to recover from, and some result in permanent scarring or disfigurement.
If you’ve been bitten by a dog, there’s a good chance the owner was being negligent. All pet owners have a responsibility to properly train and manage their animals.
A breach of this responsibility can cause you time away from work, emotional suffering, and other financial damages, and this simply isn’t fair. A lawyer can help you understand whether you have a case, so you should call one as soon as you’ve received medical care for your bite.
At Jason Stone Injury Lawyers, we handle wrongful injury and death cases, and we have years of experience finding compensation for New England dog bite victims. Call today or reach out on our webchat for a free consultation.