Layne has worked in shelter medicine for over six years and likes to share her advice with fellow animal guardians.
The term "breedism" is based on prejudice and can be understood in the ways that racism describes ignorance, judgment, and hate. Racism involves prejudice, discrimination, or exclusion simply based on skin color. Just as people face unfair prejudices based on their skin tone even in contemporary times, humans have created breedism in the dog world.
Breedism: Discrimination or prejudice based on a dog's breed and outward appearance rather than past and current behaviors and temperament.
Breedism is also defined as "prejudice concerning breeds of animals" (Wiktionary). Now, let's separate racism from breedism so that we can really dig into the canine realm and not draw incorrect or misinformed overlap between the two issues.
Here we will discuss the varying opinions about different dog breeds and behavior. Most importantly, we will look at the facts.
What Makes a Dog Mean, Aggressive, or Dangerous?
As someone who has worked in animal shelters and with dogs in veterinary medicine for over a decade, I will tell you exactly what I have observed:
- Certain breeds are prone to behaviors that they are bred for
- Dogs are a product of their environment and raising
- There is no predictability to what type of dog is more likely to bite
- Small dog bites go underreported
- Pit bulls refer to several breeds and not one breed
- Many mixed-breed dogs are often mistaken for pit bull breeds
- Humans ruin dogs
- Some dogs are born with traits that develop independently of their raising
Why Do People Hate Pit Bulls?
I've been fortunate enough to not get bit seriously in my work experience. The few times I have been close to being bit was by a Yorkie, a Belgian Shepherd, a terrier, a Border Collie, a black lab, and a mixed-breed mom protecting her litter.
Which Dogs Bite the Most? The Most Dangerous Dogs
We are all familiar with the many reports about pit bull breed bites. They make the headlines every time. Why is this? These are big dogs! Their bites cause more damage and go reported more often than a smaller dog's bite. I will advocate for these breeds in that, you can't judge a book by its cover.
When I was working in shelter medicine, one of our retired volunteers had a pit bull blend. She also fostered kittens! Her pit bull would check up on the kittens, cuddle them, and clean them—it was simply adorable. This shaped my opinion of pit bull breeds very early on. I've also seen pit bulls wake up from surgery wagging, done jugular sticks on pit bulls with light restraint and no issues—and I'm someone who is all about safety. In the words of Dr. Denenberg, of Bristol Veterinary College:
"Every dog has its limit, and if they're pushed far enough, they bite. Some dogs have to be pushed really, really far before they show aggression, whereas other dogs show it much sooner, but each dog has the potential to be dangerous."
Breeds That Are Most Likely to Bite
Keep in mind that this reflects Douglas County Data from 2010-2017—this does not reflect worldwide or current data. This is just a reflection of one area. Bite records will vary depending on breed popularity in a given region.
- Labrador Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Australian Shepherds
- Pit Bull Blends
- Border Collies
- Siberian Huskies
Are you surprised that Labrador Retrievers are on this list? I bet so!
Bite Records 2010-2017: Minor to Severe
Labrador Retriever 69
German Shepherd 24
German Shepherd 2
German Shepherd 44
Labrador Retriever 20
Australian Shepherd 35
Pit Bull Breeds 10
Siberian Husky 2
Pit Bull Breeds 28
Australian Cattle Dog 9
Australian Shepherd 1
Border Collie 22
Border Shepherd 6
Golden Retriever 5
Chesapeake Bay Retriever 1
Chinese Sharpei 1
Great Dane 1
Siberian Husky 1
Siberian Husky 4
Labrador Retriever 1
Pit Bull Blend 1
Prea Canario 1
Shiba Inu 1
What Is a Pit Bull?
A pit bull is a class of dog that includes the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier breeds, and in some cases, the American bulldog.
Are Pit Bulls More Dangerous Than Other Breeds?
Pit bulls have a serious history of performance, abuse, and misuse for bull-baiting, dog fighting, and even as nanny dogs or guardians. Unfortunately, pit bulls too, have become the breeds of choice in criminal activity and guarding. Their large jaws, muscular build, and high pain tolerance make them suitable for "guarding" and "fighting," which often leads them to develop behavior and temperament problems as any dog would. They are also noted for their incredible jaw power and "hold and shake" biting strength, which unfortunately can lead to severe damage or death of smaller animals, babies, and even adult humans.
A website advocating for legislation to protect dog bite victims and prevent dog bites even argues that it's hard to say whether or not pit bulls bite more than other dogs. Even so, the American Veterinary Medical Association states: "DogsBite.org's claim that pit bull-type dogs were responsible for 65 percent of the deaths during that 12-year period is disputed by some groups as inaccurate and misleading."
"Pit bull" refers to several breeds that are automatically unfairly represented in statistics. Essentially, seeing pit bulls in data when paired against isolated and specific dog breeds is misleading. Data would have to isolate bites based on breed type—the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier breeds, the American bulldog—for a fair reflection.
Want to Know Once and for All?
Dogs Are a Product of Their Environment
People are perfectly capable of raising happy, well-adjusted dogs of any breed. That's why it is important to take pet ownership seriously.
Here are some ways to practice responsible pet ownership:
- Neutering: Spaying and neutering is one place to start! Get rid of those sex hormones! Tone down aggression and fight overpopulation.
- Early socialization: Dogs need to be exposed to all types of environments, situations, peoples, and animals when they are young.
- Positive training: The way you train (and punish) your dog can greatly influence their reaction to strangers. Use reward-based training methods rather than punishment that involves fear. Teach gentle behavior. Never use physical punishment.
- Stimulation: Bored dogs develop bad behaviors—just like humans. Destructive and abnormal behaviors stem from a lack of stimulation.
- Choose a breed you can handle: Don't try to care for a large, muscular breed if you can't even control or train them on the lead! No one wants to see a human being walked by a dog—that often happens when owners can't control their large breed. This leads to all kinds of problems.
- Teach children how to interact: Many times, dog bites can be prevented. A child should never approach an unknown dog without asking permission first. Children should be taught how to approach dogs. They should also learn that they can never take something away from a dog when it's in their mouth or in their "possession zone."
- Lifestyle and exercise: Large breeds need space to run as do all dogs. If you are considered a large and powerful breed, give them adequate space! They need to burn off that energy. Don't acquire a breed that will go crazy in a small apartment. This often leads them to redirect.
- Breed traits: Understand the breed you are getting (this goes for mixed breeds, too). If you have a Greyhound or a Collie, a fragile rabbit may not be the best pet to let roam around or live in the same house. Some shelters will temperament test dogs to see whether they are cat-friendly. Ask about this when considering adopting.
- Do a DNA test: Some black labs, lab blends, and boxers are unfairly labeled as pit bulls and excluded from housing lists. Do a DNA test—it must just surprise you.
Being Cautious Does Not Make You Breedist
You should be cautious with any dog! As mentioned, any dog can bite in any circumstance, even the sweetest dogs. Having worked with various dog breeds, the most unpredictable breeds I had seen were a golden lab blend (she had a bite record) and a terrier blend. With that said, I always noted a dog's body language, sociability, eyes, and level of nervousness. If a large breed appears nervous, you'd be sure I'd be on alert. You simply have to take into account that a large breed can inflict more damage.
Tips for Approaching a Dog
- Always ask the owner if it is ok and they are friendly.
- Never stare at a dog directly in the eyes.
- Use a kind, gentle voice.
- Remove hats, glasses, crinkly jackets, or restrictive clothing.
- Offer the back of your hand for a sniff.
- Never reach over a dog's head or reach for them with an open palm.
- Never lean over a dog.
- Never put your face up to a dog's face.
- If the dog is friendly and you are "big"—you can crouch sideways, facing away from the dog. This gives the dog the opportunity to lean their body into you if they want to be pet.
- Don't scream or try to "rough play" with your hands or body. (I see so many people jumping and playing "dog" with dogs—they hate it and it confuses them).
- Don't touch their rear, even for scratching. This makes them nervous if they don't know you.
- Be gentle with older dogs—they are arthritic and often in pain.
Opposition to breed bans has been expressed by the AVMA and CDC, along with the American Bar Association, Humane Society of the United States, and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Obama administration even took sides in the debate, describing breed-specific laws as "a bad idea" in August 2013 after an online petition calling for federal breed bans garnered more than 30,000 signatures.
States With Breed-Specific Laws
District of Columbia
It's Your Job to Prevent a Bite
Remember, it is your job as a pet owner to prevent bites. All dogs can bite! If your dog has behavioral problems, please work with a trainer. Also, please exercise caution when bringing your dog out in public. It is your responsibility to keep your dog and the public safe and inform people of your dog's behavior—this includes veterinary professionals. Warn them ahead of time when working with your dog. Muzzling your dog ahead of time for an exam is a wonderful gesture.
Teach Kids Smart Dog Interaction Early
All dog breeds deserve a chance, and it's time that people start getting real about what role they play when it comes to dog bites and fatalities. Smart ownership is key. Making sure your dog is secured and in an environment in which it can thrive is critical. Do not be irresponsible and leave situations up to chance. Supervise your children and teach them how to read canine behavior early on. Looking is better than touching!
Note: Please be understanding of and sympathetic towards dog bite victims in the comments below!
Also, do you have cats at home? Are you curious about their breed? Learn how to ID a mixed-breed cat.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Laynie H
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 14, 2019:
Thanks for the feedback Liz—I'm always interested to hear all perspectives. I've had an interesting take working in the veterinary field—there were certainly breeds I was more cautious of simply based on size and strength.
Liz Westwood from UK on April 14, 2019:
I have read your article with great interest. I was once chased by an alsatian and around that time there were several incidents of people being attacked by similar dogs. So I have been wary of dogs since.. Until my daughter and son-in-law got a labrador. Now I happily take their dog out for walks.