"We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them." - Chrisitan Nestell Bovee
A couple of weeks ago, the University of Lincoln (UK) introduced results from some interesting research.
In their report entitled, Acculturation - Perceptions of breed differences in dog behavior, note that the level and quality of contact between dogs and humans is a major influence on the tendency to believe popular breed stereotypes.
According to the results of their survey, more than half of the respondents that labeled themselves "experienced or knowledgable" of dogs disagreed with the statement that some breeds are more aggressive than others. Similarly, more than half of this group responded that they felt there was no valid reason for legislation targeting specific breeds.
However, only 15% of people with little or no experience with dogs disagreed with the statement that some breeds were more aggressive than others and less than 10% disagreed with laws targeting specific breeds.
The study noted that the variability in behavior within a breed is nearly always greater than the variability between breeds. It was also noted that visible characteristics such as short hair, or being well-muscled, were also stigmatizd more often as dangerous by people with less experience with dogs.
While the study is somewhat small in scope, I do think the difference in the numbers is significant and worth noting.
People with experience with dogs do not fear them, and do not buy into breed stereotypes.
However, people without much knowledge or experience with dogs tend to be fearful of them based on certain attributes. While the study doesn't dive into the origin of these negative breed stereotypes, one would presume that media influence would be a pretty major driver -- especially in the UK where the media has spent a solid 25 years stigmitizing certain types of dogs.
Meanwhile, I also think this has some important information for policy-makers. I feel that it's important to note that some people are fearful of certain things, and as such, we need to be aware of those fears. However, it's also important that we don't base our policies on fears that are generated out of lack of knowledge and experience.
If generations of bigotry and hate over other types of prejudice have taught us nothing, it should be that such bigotry and hate are almost always rooted in irrational fear based on lack of contact and understanding.
With dogs it's reall no different.
Let's let the people who are knowledgable drive the decision-making here. Laws based on ignorance are destined to fail.