When considering a dog breed for their family, most people want to be certain their new canine pal has a solid temperament. After all, most families entertain visitors from time to time, and they want to be sure that Fido will greet their family and friends with joyful enthusiasm rather than fear and aggression. Though many dog breeds love meeting new people, there are some that are naturally predisposed to responding aggressively to strangers approaching their home, a spot they view as their territory. However, it is not always resource guarding of a home or person that can bring out reactive behavior in a dog. Research supports the assertion that certain dog breeds can be prone to aggression, meaning extra work must be invested into them to ensure they are well-adjusted members of society at large. But before we dismiss certain breeds as aggressive, and therefore bad, it is a good idea to examine what aggression is and why these dog types may be more predisposed to this type of activity than others.
What is Dog Aggression?
Any dog can display aggressive traits in the right context. However, there is a difference between true aggression and simply reactive behavior. Typically, dog aggression is rooted in a desire to harm whatever is causing the dog to feel agitated. It is an extreme reaction which is often not based in reality. This type of behavior is not normal and should be taken very seriously.
By comparison, reactive behavior is often based in fear or uncertainty. Its end goal is to place distance between the dog and the situation that is producing anxiety in the animal.
Though aggression and reactive behavior are very different, the symptoms of both can appear the same. These include:
- Baring of teeth
- Air snapping
Why Do Some Dogs Respond with Aggression?
There are times when a dog will respond with seemingly aggressive behavior for a valid reason. True aggression often requires little to no threat in order for the dog’s actions to escalate towards violence.
In dogs with sound temperaments, reactive behavior is not the norm. If a dog suddenly responds in a manner that is out of character, there is generally a reason why.
Here are a few reasons why dogs may respond aggressively:
Since most dog breeds were originally bred to fulfill a purpose, it was highly desirable for certain dog types to possess what dog men refer to as “gameness.” This type of drive enabled the dog to have the desire and work ethic necessary to pursue prey on a hunt or to stand toe to toe with another animal in a fighting pit or stadium. In many of these breeds, aggression was not only welcomed; it was encouraged and highly sought after.
Though today blood sports such as bull baiting and pit fighting are no longer legal, the dogs that were bred for these purposes remain true to their roots in temperament. The dogs have become domesticated to live as cherished family pets; however, their primal roots remain, making them more genetically predisposed to aggressive traits, primarily towards other animals.
Illness or pain
When a dog is suffering from a medical condition or is in pain; even an otherwise normally soft-natured dog may air snap or even bite as a means to protect themselves. This is often a first indication for owners that something may be wrong with their dog’s health and a trip to the vet is in order.
In some cases, an illness may affect the dog’s ability to think clearly and can result in out of character aggressive behavior.
Many dogs have difficulty understanding the concept of sharing and may respond with aggressive behavior to protect things they have claimed as their own. Resource guarding can be applied to many different things including toys, food, property, and even people.
Sometimes resource guarding is directed towards a person that approaches something the dog considers valuable, but more commonly, it is reserved for other animals.
Many dog breeds were bred to serve as protection dogs, providing careful watch over their homes and families. Since dogs are naturally prone to protecting those they love, many of them will exhibit aggressive behavior when an unfamiliar person or animal approaches their property.
Mother dogs also exhibit a natural protectiveness towards their puppies. This tendency is a natural instinct as in the wild animals approaching a mother’s young were a great threat and could mean the death of the puppies.
Most dogs that exhibit reactive behavior do so because they are afraid. Their hope is that by displaying such strong actions that the source of their fear will retreat. Their primary goal is to increase distance between them and the object that is causing them distress.
Most reactive behavior is rooted in fear. Dogs responding in this manner will rarely attack, preferring to retreat if at all possible. However, if pushed too far, a fearful dog will bite.
Poorly established social hierarchy
The humans in each household are responsible to establish the social hierarchy within a home. Dogs like and respond well to boundaries. However, if a dog has come to believe they are in charge, they will respond very poorly to attempts to usurp their authority. This behavior is very serious and must be brought under control right away for the safety of each family member.
When a dog is held back from doing something they desire doing, the dog may respond with low-level aggression as a means of acting out their frustration level. This is akin to a temper tantrum and should never escalate to the point of a serious dog bite.
What are the Most Aggressive Dog Breeds?
Though it is impossible to say that any dog breed is truly born aggressive, there are some dog types that have been proven more likely to respond with aggressive tendencies than others. This by no means indicates that they are bad breeds to be avoided. Most are simply dog types that were bred to fulfill a specific job where game behavior which could include some aggressive traits were desirable.
Here is our top 10 most dog breeds frequently cited in aggressive attacks:
Chihuahuas may be considered a toy breed, but they make up for their diminutive size with their larger than life personalities. The breed is known for being particularly obstinate. Chihuahuas can be a quarrelsome breed, expressing their displeasure with great delight.
The Chihuahua is not an inherently mean-spirited breed. The problem with Chihuahuas responding reactively often occurs because owners find early warning signs cute and fail to discipline them, resulting in later displays of more serious aggression.
Chihuahuas think they are much larger than they are and will assume the leadership role in the home if not taught their place. When afraid, this breed may respond aggressively as a mode of self-protection.
Proper socialization is very important to help this breed to understand the appropriate way to act around people and other animals.
The Dachshund belongs to the hound group and is a small breed that was originally bred to hunt badgers in 17th century Germany. Both tenacious and fearless, the Dachshund has a high tolerance to pain and a no nonsense attitude to back it up.
As with the Chihuahua, the Dachshund is a big dog in a small body and can be prone to assuming the role of the leading authority in the home if not taught his place. A natural hunter, the Dachshund will chase and kill small prey if given opportunity to do so.
Jack Russell Terrier
The Jack Russell Terrier’s original role was to serve as a fox-hunting companion to his owner on hunts in the English countryside in the 19th century. The breed was developed to have an intensely game spirit and incredible stamina, both qualities that served him well when flushing small game from their dens to above the earth to continue the hunt.
Jack Russells are also a breed with great tenacity. The breed is known for its tireless spirit and intense, energetic nature. Excellent hunters, the Jack Russell Terrier often cannot live in a home with other small animals, and particularly not mice, gerbils, hamsters, or birds.
Jack Russell Terriers are independent thinkers and very stubborn. They are not tolerant of rough handling and often dislike children, finding their behavior foolish and annoying.
The Doberman Pinscher is easily recognizable by his elegant and somewhat intimidating good looks. A dog breed that is highly intelligent, the Doberman was originally developed to serve as a guardian, a role the breed fulfilled well.
A dog breed that remains alert at all times, the Doberman approaches strangers with wariness and can respond aggressively to perceived threats. However, at heart, the Doberman is a very sensitive and loyal breed.
Some Dobermans do display dog aggression.
The German Shepherd is a herding breed whose primary role involved moving sheep into a central position and protecting their charges from harm. The breed is highly intelligent and can be prone to displays of aggression due to this dog type’s natural tendency to defend home and hearth.
German Shepherds view strangers with great suspicion and will respond aggressively if a threat is detected. A sensitive breed, German Shepherds who have been treated unkindly may learn to respond to humans with reactive behavior.
Siberian Huskies are a breed that can be quite vocal and that are not skilled at hiding how they feel about things. The breed is not naturally prone to aggression; however, this dog type will stand its ground if challenged.
The Siberian Husky is a working dog whose original purpose was to function as a sled dog. The breed is known for having energy to spare and requires a vast amount of daily exercise to remain mentally content. Huskies that are kept cooped up can become frustrated and very destructive.
The breed can suffer from separation anxiety if not housed with its people and/or other dogs since the Husky was designed to work as part of a team. Huskies have a high prey drive and will chase and kill other small animals if given opportunity to do so.
The Chow Chow is beautiful to behold with his richly colored fluffy coat. A breed that can be very stubborn, the Chow’s temperament is quite unique and requires a savvy owner to manage well.
Chow Chows are another breed that possesses a strong instinct to hunt. They also prefer to be in charge of the home and can attempt to bully other family pets. Males in particular are prone to fighting for the highest social position in the household.
Chows are not known for being patient and will respond with aggression if being toyed with. The breed is not tolerant of foolish behavior from children or animals.
The Rottweiler is a powerful breed with the brains to back up his brawn. A dog with rippling musculature and great strength, the Rottweiler is the ideal working dog, excelling at such disciplines as protection work, Schutzhund, obedience, and more.
Though the Rottweiler has been cited in many attacks resulting in deaths in the US, this is not due to the dog being more predisposed to aggression than other dog breeds. The Rottweiler’s bite strength means that when the dog is motivated to strike; he means business and will cause injury at the least and death at the worst.
Rottweilers can be aggressive towards animals, but that tendency should never be directed towards humans. This dog breed likes to be in charge and requires a strong and authoritative owner to thrive.
When people think of aggressive dogs, the Dalmatian is not typically a breed that comes to mind. A breed whose original purpose was to guard the carriages of its masters, the Dalmatian possesses a natural territorialism.
The Dalmatian loves the company of children and is trustworthy in their care. However, the breed is both energetic and playful and can accidentally knock a child over in fun.
Temperament plays a strong role in how the Dalmatian will respond to other animals. However, the breed should never be aggressive towards people.
The Cane Corso is a powerful breed that casts an imposing shadow. A breed characterized by its fierce independence and physical strength, the Cane Corso’s original purpose was to serve as a guard dog, protecting their homes and families from harm. Their secondary role was as a hunting companion, assisting its owner with tracking and killing wild boar.
The Cane Corso is a dog breed that is known to suffer from dog aggression. The breed also is renowned for chasing and killing other small prey-like animals if given opportunity to do so. The Cane Corso should never be aggressive with human beings; however, there are several reported instances of fatalities involving people and this breed.
To thrive in a home, the Cane Corso requires an authoritative owner with the skill to handle a dog of immense drive and strength.
What makes a dog breed aggressive? Most often, it is simply genetics. In some cases, a dog has a chemical imbalance or a physical condition which causes it to respond in erratic ways. Other dogs may simply be responding out of fear. But by far the most common reason for aggressive behavior in certain dog breeds is a genetic predisposition due to the dog’s original purpose as a working dog. Does this make those dog breeds bad? Not at all. They are just different and require an owner that is firmly committed to helping them succeed and to avoid situations that bring out the natural reactive behavior in the dog.