Myth 39: The serious to fatal damage the aggressive breeds inflict when they attack isn’t due to their genes, but rather due to having the wrong kind of owners.
We’ve seen that the killing bite and unpredictable, uncontrolled aggression are genetically anchored in these dogs, and that they can’t be taught not to execute killing behaviour. They inevitably reach a certain age when they start to do it, looking for opportunities and excuses to do what we have bred them to do (see Myth 38). If you’re lucky, the first attack will be on your cat or another dog, and not on your child. This killing behaviour is not caused by the owner in individual cases; it’s just part of what the dog is. However, the killing behaviour is caused by certain people’s consumer behaviour. By buying these dogs, these people are responsible for making it economically profitable to breed for the killing bite and the hair trigger. Are these people all “the wrong kind of owners”?
The answer to this question lies in the kind of person who wants a dog with the killing bite in the first place. So who are they?
Well, in fact, they are the wrong kind of owners. Take a look around you. It’s mostly a group of people who – for some reason related to their personal psychology – specifically want a dog whose breed standard explicitly states that the breed has been selected for extreme aggression. Often these are people with an inferiority complex of some kind. They want something that will finally enable them to intimidate other people. They have an ego problem, and need to prove something to the world. Many are men who are (perhaps unconsciously) worried about their masculinity, that maybe the world won’t see it. Others are adolescents who watch too much MTV and learn that an aggressive dog is an essential consumer item, just like the Nikes, if he wants to keep up his macho hip-hop or skater’s image. Sometimes they are naïve people, who think all dogs are cuddly plush toys. None of these people have any idea of behavioural conformation (see Myth 38), of the unity of mind and body Nature gives to all creatures, and they are all, in their own way, consumed by vanity.
Experience (of which this author has a lot, alas) teaches that the owners of aggressive breeds can be divided broadly into three categories.
1) We all know there are people who try to conceal their inner feelings of inadequacy by acting extra tough outwardly. Many of them nowadays go buy a “tough” dog. These people, who are struggling with an inferiority complex or an ego problem, then try to force their pit bull/Am Staff (or Presa, or Dogo, etc.) on you because they feel the world owes them recognition. Many of us have experienced this. You try to avoid these people (and their dog) on the street or in a park, but they follow you, determined to inflict the dog upon you. (After all, what’s the use of having this proof of Manliness around if no one will look at it?) They cross the street to follow you so you can’t avoid a confrontation. Their dog runs up to yours in a park, and they refuse to call it when you ask them to. Usually, the dog wouldn’t obey anyway, and they don’t want this embarrassing fact revealed to you. But above all, they enjoy your worry about what their aggressive dog will do. They shout at you to stop acting so weird about their dog. They get angry, and they often get verbally aggressive. It is of extreme importance to these people to force their dog on you, because their need is so great to show the world they know better than everyone else. The dog is the way they can seek arguments and win for a change, since they never succeed in doing this on their own strength. When their dog does attack another dog and try to kill him, they are dumbfounded, because they really are too stupid to understand what these dogs are all about. Their cowardice surfaces – they don’t dare interfere with their attacking dog, and once it’s over, they disappear as quick as they can. Often you never see them in the park again, which is great, except for the fact that someone’s normal, peace seeking dog had to pay with his life first. But some of them don’t disappear for good. Some of them actually enjoy watching their dog’s aggression, and just make sure they’re gone before the police arrive. Tomorrow they’re back again, and blaming you for having called the police. There have been cases in which the owner of the attacked dog was terrorized as punishment for reporting the attack to the police, to the extent that the owner of the horribly wounded dog had to move to a different neighbourhood. Finally, many of the people in this category of aggressive dog lovers enter their dogs in illegal pit fights, a phenomenon which has resurfaced in many of our cities since these dogs became so widespread. Some of these specifically go to places where other dogs come, in the hope that if their aggressive-breed dog practices on your cocker spaniel, he’ll do better in the pit.
2) These are young adolescent male humans, who have reached the brink of adulthood but aren’t there yet. The adolescent male is searching for his identity and trying to get himself a satisfying spot in his peer group. The adolescent doesn’t always have bad intentions, but his brain isn’t ripe yet, and he isn’t yet capable of understanding the consequences of his actions (which is also the reason he has to pay so much more for car insurance than the rest of us). He sees the macho rapper on television, accompanied by the aggressive dog, and he wants one, too. After he’s finished saving up for Nikes, he saves up for a dog. He has no idea what he’s bought once he has the dog, thinking it’s just another consumer item. To him the dog isn’t any different than his other fashion accessories, to him the dog is a thing that will – just like his Portable Play Station – turn on and off if you press the button. The adolescent is, by virtue of his age, a bit rebellious. He is exploring various boundaries, sometimes pushing the envelope in his search for an identity. He just loves to show adults that he won’t do what they ask him to do, but that he makes his own decisions. Of course he won’t leash his dog just because some grown-up makes the request, are you kidding, what a loss of face! He isn’t prepared for it when his dog attacks a person or another dog, and he doesn’t know what to do. His toy is suddenly acting up. So he does nothing, offers no help, doesn’t dare interfere with his dog, and most probably just gets the hell out of Dodge as quick as his little adolescent legs will carry him. Adolescence is an age of natural egotism, and a time when even sympathetic boys often lose their ability to empathize with others for a while. So this kid isn’t capable of imagining the suffering the attacked dog goes through, nor the grief of the dog’s owner. He’s just glad his parents didn’t find out about what happened, otherwise they might take his dog away. “Tomorrow’s another day, hey, don’t be so serious about life, and besides, what could I do about it? The dog did it, not me.”
3) These are the Egotistical Innocents. They are members of animal protection clubs and humane societies. They read lots of sentimental stories about animals, and they watch lots of programs on Discovery Channel. They believe that all animals are sweet-natured cuddly toys. These people’s egocentricity is different from the adolescent’s. These people think they are the measure of all things, and they therefore believe that if a dog is nice to them, well, it means he’s nice, period. How the dog behaves towards others isn’t so important. The Egotistical Innocent lives in a fairy tale, failing to see that a dog is a living being with a will and personality of his own, and that the dog hasn’t been informed of the fairy tale. The Innocent is reinforced in the fairy tale by breeders who agree that the stories about these dogs are all lies, after all, look how sweet he is to the prospective buyer. The Innocent doesn’t understand what “fierce protector of home and hearth, averse to strangers” means, doesn’t know a secret language has been developed since these breeds started causing so much tragedy. She likes the idea of proving to all the world that even these dogs fit her fairy tale, and that they are the poor victims of vicious anti-animal propaganda. The Egotistical Innocent is delighted with her puppy and sees him as a sort of four-legged human baby. She doesn’t see that the pup is playing in an abnormally aggressive way at the age of eight weeks already. She is dumbfounded on the day when her “puppy,” who meantime is actually a young dog, suddenly, out of the blue (because the warning phase has been bred out of these dogs), launches an unbridled attack on another dog and seriously wounds or kills the other dog. She is stricken and disillusioned – not only about the suffering of the attacked dog, but also because her fairy tale has caved in. But not to worry. It only takes her a few days to restore her view of the world. She decides her dog is as sweet as she’d thought after all. After thinking awhile, she realizes the whole thing was the other dog’s fault. After all, the other dog growled at her sweetie, so what else could her sweetie do but defend himself? Sometimes the Egotistical Innocent will cry out that German shepherds bite too, or that even a dachshund can be dangerous under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, there is always a way for people who don’t want to face realities. The great tragedy is that the Egotistical Innocent’s dog will harm or kill many other dogs, because she continues to take him to dog parks, in the belief that it’s up to the other dogs to make sure they don’t get killed.
Fact: This Myth is true in the sense that these dogs always have the wrong owners, people who shouldn’t have a dog in the first place. However, this Myth is false because it’s the genetics of the dog that make him a killer, regardless of what kind of owner he has. In other words, these dogs aren’t killers because they have the wrong owners, rather they attract the wrong owners because they are killers.
Brown, S-E, The human-animal bond and self-psychology: Toward a new understanding, Society & Animals, electronic version, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2003.
Burrows, TJ, Fielding, WJ, Views of college students on pit bull “ownership”: New Providend, The Bahamas, Society & Animals, Vol. 13, No. 2, 139-152, 2005.
Frommer, SS, Arluke, A, Loving them to death: blame-displacing strategies of animal shelter workers and surrenderers, Society & Animals, Volume 7, Number 1, 1999.
Peremans, K, Functional brain imaging of the dog; single photon emission tomography as a research and clinical tool for the investigation of canine brain physiology and pathophysiology, Universiteit Gent, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Gent, 2002. http://www.uznuclear.ugent.be/research/phd_dissertations/Functional_Brain_LowRes.pdf
Oral history collected from dog owners in The Hague, 1994-2009.
From: Semyonova, A, The 100 Silliest Things People Say About Dogs, The Hastings Press, England, 2009, pages 125 – 127. (Check side bar for purchasing options)
Recommended reading to enhance your understanding of this serious problem:
On pit bulls and their owners. Kenneth Phillips, 17 Barks, September 5, 2013
Personality and Behavioral Characteristics of Owners of Vicious Breeds of Dog. Kenneth Phillips, dogbitelaw.com
Vicious dogs: the antisocial behaviors and psychological characteristics of owners. Ragatz L1, Fremouw W, Thomas T, McCoy K., Journal of Forensic Sciences. 2009 May; 54(3):699-703.
Vicious Dogs Part 2: Criminal Thinking, Callousness, and Personality Styles of Their Owners. Allison M. Schenk B.A., Laurie L. Ragatz M.S., William J. Fremouw Ph.D, A.B.P.P, Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume 57, Issue 1, pages 152–159, January 2012
Ownership of high-risk ("vicious") dogs as a marker for deviant behaviors: implications for risk assessment. Barnes JE1, Boat BW, Putnam FW, Dates HF, Mahlman AR. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2006 Dec; 21(12):1616-34.
Psychological Characteristics Owners of High Risk for Aggression Dog Breeds. Stanley Coren. Psychology Today, March 16, 2009
Do Owners and Their Dogs Have Similar Personalities? Stanley Coren. Psychology Today, August 20, 2013
What an Aggressive Dog Says About its Owner. Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience, May 24, 2012
Owners of Aggressive Dog Breeds Are More Hostile. Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience, August 09, 2012
2015 World Dog Show – Turmoil Amongst American Staffordshire Terrier Crowd, The Canine Chronicle, June 19, 2015