Various types of dogs have been christened “dangerous dog breeds” during the years, including German Shepherds, Doberman Pinchers, Rottweilers. The most branded is the Pit Bull and Pit mixes, which includes Staffordshire Terriers and Mastiffs. However, many organizations are trying to change the stigma against specific breeds. Ever since the famous case of American pro-football player Michael Vick and his dogfighting antics, canines have had people and organizations in their corner, fighting the label of “dangerous dog breeds”.
Many states, communities, even entire countries have attempted – and still attempt – to profile certain breeds of dogs and curtail their presence in their communities. Denver, Colorado, Miami/Dade County, Florida, even the country of Italy banned specific breeds. However, in 2009, Italy changed its law, removing the 17 breeds of dogs which it had listed as “dangerous.” The country replaced its labeling law with wordage that, in essence, said any dog, regardless of breed, can potentially be dangerous, and therefore, put the moral and legal responsibility of dog behavior upon dog owners. That’s where the responsibility should lie, according to animal welfare groups such as Best Friends Animal Society and the American Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
The breeds most likely to be labeled as dangerous dog breeds include Akitas, Alaskan Malamutes, Chow Chows, Doberman Pinchers, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Rottweilers, Siberian Huskies, and S taffordshire Terriers (or Pit Bulls). Some even mention such popular breeds as Boxers and Dalmations. Most of the black-listed breeds are considered working dogs. The American Kennel Club (AKC) provides information on about 150 dog breeds, including those often labeled “dangerous dog breeds.”
Akitas are working dogs originating in Japan. Used as a hunting dog in its native country, the Akita is a powerfully-built, loyal and protective dog. The AKC recommends this breed should be supervised closely when around children and other animals.
The Alaskan Malamute is a strong breed of the Arctic used by native Alaskans to haul heavy loads across long distances. The AKC considers this breed intelligent, affectionate, friendly, and good family dogs. However, with a tendency to have a strong will, it is in need of positive training and daily exercise.
The Chow Chow originates from northern China. Though medium in size, it is very muscular that served as a working dog in its native land, hunting, hauling, herding and guarding. The AKC describes this breed as independent and stubborn and not as eager to please people as other breeds. However, the Chow is also known as a very loyal and affectionate dog among its people but suspicious of strangers. Therefore, the Chow needs early socialization and training and daily exercise.
The medium-sized, muscular Doberman Pinscher has been used for centuries as a guard dog; Dobermans have also been used as police and war dogs. This breed is considered fearless, fast and energetic but also obedient and loyal to its people. The AKC recommends this breed be provided regular exercise and early, positive training.
Derived from working farm and herding dogs, the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) was first shown in American dog competitions in 1907. The popularity of this breed in homes throughout the United States catapulted when Hollywood movies captured the agility and loyalty of the GSD in films featuring Rin Tin Tin. Still popular as a family pet today, these muscular dogs also serve as working police and military dogs around the world. Considered by the AKC as a devoted family pet and excellent guard dog, German Shepherds require regular exercise and solid early training.
The Great Dane, as the name implies, is a very large dog breed originally used for hunting and guarding. Regarded as a “gentle giant”, the AKC refers to this tall, strong breed as friendly and energetic and a good family dog. However, the AKC also recommends these dogs be supervised around small children (as all dogs should be) and be exercised daily.
The powerful and strong Rottweiler was originally used for herding and guarding. Considered intelligent with an aptitude to work, Rottweilers have been used as police and service dogs. Protective, loyal and loving toward their people, this breed is known for its wariness of strangers; therefore, the AKC recommends training and socialization from an early age and daily exercise.
Reared as a sled dog, the Siberian Husky is known for its endurance and outgoing personality. These dogs are still used in sledding and also as therapy dogs. Although considered friendly, Siberians have a predatory instinct and a high energy level, therefore, the AKC recommends supervision around small animals and daily exercise.
Pit Bulls are commonly aligned with American Staffordshire Terriers (Am-Staff). Am-Staffs are recognized by the American Kennel Club and have been since 1936. This people-oriented breed is loyal to and protective of its family but wary of strangers. A stocky, medium-sized dog, the Am-Staff performs well in obedience, agility and tracking events. The AKC recommends early training and daily exercise.
Athletic and powerful, the Boxer is considered by the AKC to be intelligent and loyal. Originally bred for hunting and guarding, Boxers have also served as war dogs and seeing-eye dogs. These loyal dogs are protective of their people and are noted to be affectionate with children. The AKC recommends daily exercise for this breed.
Even the nostalgic ‘firehouse dogs’, Dalmations, have been black-listed by many insurance companies and municipalities. Noted for their speed, endurance, and intelligence, Dalmations were originally used for herding and hunting. The breed seems to have a natural attraction to horses and once served as mascots for firehouses and horse-drawn fire carriages. The AKC considers this breed people-oriented but in need of daily exercise due to their high energy levels.
Individuals and organizations trying to bring greater awareness to the perceived discriminatory bias against specific breeds point to the success of the Vick dogs. Best Friends Animal Society took in more than twenty of the pit bulls confiscated in the famous case. Those dogs Vick and his friends pitted against each other in a dark fighting ring were part of a court case that eventually provided the dogs with a new life. ASPCA behavioral specialists evaluated all the dogs. Of the nearly 50 dogs seized during the investigation, only one was deemed too aggressive to be rehabilitated; that dog was euthanized. Another dog with grave injuries was also euthanized. Twenty-two of the survivors still live at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah; the rest were placed for adoption upon successful completion of an intense socialization program. In fact, some of these former fighters now serve as therapy dogs at children’s hospitals, nursing homes, and libraries.
According to the Center for Disease Control, more than four million people in America are bitten by dogs every year, and around 30 people have died each year for the past five years, according to The National Canine Research Council. In its preliminary 2011 report, the organization states, “There is no scientific evidence that one kind of dog is more likely to injure a human being than another kind of dog. There is no evidence that, absent circumstances specifically associated with mating or maternal protectiveness, a dog being intact should be understood as a cause of aggressive behavior toward human beings. And for every “resident” dog that injured a human being, multitudes sadly similarly kept injured no one.” The report continues, “…these rare tragedies serve as a reminder that all dog owners have an unequivocal responsibility for the humane care (including proper diet, veterinary care, socialization and training), custody (including licensing and micro-chipping), and control of their dogs.”1
Opponents of breed-specific legislation point to the individuality of all dogs. Although many breeds have been groomed for aggressive types of work, such as protection and hunting, organizations such as Best Friends, the ASPCA and the AKC oppose breed-specific legislation, and instead push for greater penalties for irresponsible dog owners. Although there are powerful, formidable breeds with origins for protecting, Jim Gorant, author of The Lost Dogs about the Michael Vick case, states, “Generalizations and preconceptions are as unhelpful and counterproductive for pit bulls as they are for people.” 2
Is it the dog breed or the owner? The debate continues as communities, businesses, organizations and individuals discuss the fairness of labeling specific dog breeds as dangerous.
- National Canine Research Council – Investigative Reports of Dog-Bite Related Fatalities: http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/uploaded_files/tinymce/NCRC%20Preliminary%20Report%202011.pdf