Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On dangerous breeds

About 10-15 news agencies covered this story, in which English Cocker Spaniels are painted as the world's meanest dog breed. The information is based on a study recently published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior:
Spain's School of Veterinary Medicine at the Autonomous University of Barcelona crunched data related to more than 1,000 dog aggression cases logged at an area veterinary teaching hospital during the period of 1998-2006.
I haven't read the study so don't know the parameters or methods of data collection. I am a little put off by the "dominance" theory babble as I think "dominance" theory relies too much on a black-white paradigm and not enough on the complex interactions dogs have with one another and with humans.

What these studies bring to light, for me, is our difficulty with group versus individual. To claim a breed is dangerous is to claim all individuals within that breed are dangerous. That is treading on thin ice. There is zero evidence, I mean zero, that all or most individuals within a breed express the same degree of aggression or so-called "dangerousness". None. There is zero evidence that all individuals within a breed express the same degree of affability or friendliness, either.

I think that if such a dangerous breed existed, one that posed significant threat to our livelihood as a species, we would not welcome such creatures into our homes, around our children, into our lives. There is not a single breed of dog I can think of that is solely comprised of individuals so ill-tempered, so ill-equipped to deal that they choose to attempt mauling under every circumstance in which they encounter humans. There is no breed where the majority of individuals, no matter the training or breeding, exhibit such low bite inhibition, such inability to master day-day interactions with humans that they resort to attacking people instead. If you knew of a breed of dog where you had a 75% chance of losing a limb within the first month of owning that dog, would you honestly take that risk? Sure, some folks would. Most folks with a shred of common sense and self-preservation would not. To my knowledge, there is no breed of dog with such tendencies, thankfully.

It just seems to me that the issue of dangerous breeds misses the point. That there are individual dogs who exhibit unwanted behaviors because of a whole host of reasons. That sure, maybe there are "lines" within breeds with a majority of individuals exhibiting wonky behaviors because a breeding program chose to exacerbate one trait to the detriment of another (either physical or behavioral). But a breed where all or most individuals are a threat to humans? I just don't see it. All this talk of dangerous breeds seems to exclude the reality that most dogs don't bite, most don't bite hard, and all are individuals who mostly bite for reasons other than coat color or head size.

Any thoughts?


GiGwriter said...

as a pitbull advocate it's tempting to jump all over this and point to the "dangerous" cocker spaniel but your article is quite judicious. congratulations on keeping your head. :)

PSPCA said...

I love your blog! Is there an email address where I could contact you? My email is kwolf@pspca.org! Thanks!! - Kim Wolf

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,

Thanks for the compliment!

I can be reached at violetcows @ comcast.net (minus the spaces, of course). I can also be reached at my work email: marji @ animalplace.org (again, minus the spaces).