Thursday, December 6, 2012

Off Topic: Dangerous Dog Breeds

I think it's important to start with my history.  I don't have any sort of official background with dogs.  My family got our first lab when I was 10 or 11, and a few months after she died 13 years later, we got a lab-pointer mix.  I myself own a Siberian Husky - German Shepherd mix along with my partner's Pembroke Welsh Corgi, who has the AKC papers to prove that he's better than your dog.  I've gone to the dog park almost every day for the past two years, and every day except five or six total since moving here to Seattle.  Over that time I've become pretty good friends with a few of the professional dog walkers and trainers that frequent the park, along with several people that have some breeding experience.  So while not an expert, I think the moniker of 'knowledgeable amateur' fits.
As a kid, I actually didn't like dogs, mostly just because I had only grown up with cats.  That all changed when my family got our first dog in 1997 when I was 10 years old.  Sparkles was, and still is the most well behaved dog I've ever seen, which is pretty typical of most types of lab.  While there are other breeds that are generally smarter and more trainable, labs have a certain amount of agreeability bred into them that makes them very easy to handle.

It also tends to make their owners idiots at dog parts because they aren't aware of typical behaviors of "real" dogs.  This reason primarily makes Golden Retrievers and Golden Retriever-Poodles (Doodles) the breed I least like to encounter.  A few discussions with individuals that are professionals has revealed that they can be difficult independent of their owners.  I've met a few pro dog walkers and Animal Control Officers that are wary of them as well.

But as the saying goes, "there are no bad dogs, only bad owners."  Unfortunately it isn't true, but not in the way that people think.  There are absolutely bad dogs, just as there are bad owners, but that doesn't necessarily mean there are bad breeds.  An individual dog's history is just as important as that particular dog's lineage, if not more so.  The "bully breeds" get a bad reputation because they're the most physically capable of causing damage, but not necessarily the most temperamental.

Researchers at The University of Pennsylvania published a study on aggression in common dog breeds.  The highest rated bully breed was the Pitbull (not technically a breed), which came in 8th.  The top three?  Dachshund, Chihuahua, Beagle, all smaller dogs.  Many lists that claim to track dog aggression do so through the number of attacks, which unfairly stigmatizes larger dogs.  When a Chihuahua chomps down on your hand, it's "cute," but when a Rottweiler does it, it's an emergency room visit, even though the Chihuahua might have been acting aggressively and the Rottweiler might only have been guilty of having a strong jaw.

It's the same story with wolfdogs (hybrid, a commonly used term, is a misnomer as it implies the combination of separate species, of which wolves and dogs are not).  Not only do wolfdogs often cause the problems with insurance and housing that bully breeds do, they're actually illegal to own in many places.  This comes in spite of the lack of scientific evidence to suggest that they're more aggressive than other breeds.  (Very little research of any type has been done on wolfdogs.)  I've grown curious about them lately, having seen a few in the area.  Despite the name, which tends to give even the most knowledgeable dog owner pause, the ones I've encountered have all been pretty docile, displaying none of the traits the scare-lists would have you think are common among them all.

That the pro-wolfdog camp doesn't completely refute these claims is encouraging.  The temperament, they say, hinges on the skill of the owner.  Often it is poor owners that produce wolfdogs that are everyone's worst nightmare, not the dogs themselves.  It is interesting that they would partially agree without refuting the claims outright, something I think suggests merit in the assertion that wolfdogs are no more prone to aggression than other breeds.  In any event, I find it unfair that a dog would suffer because of things that are not their fault, and that goes for wolfdogs and bully breeds alike.

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