Breed-specific laws (and the ineffectiveness of them) are a common theme on this blog. I feel that all too often people read about an incident in the newspaper, and are quick to react with some type of legislation in response to the incident without taking the time to understand what it is that leads dogs to be aggressive in the first place. This is especially notable as most dogs never show aggression to their owners, or to others, and there are very few significant canine-related aggression issues each year in spite of there being roughly 72 million owned dogs in this country.
But even with the small numbers, dog aggression is a concern to some, and as I find reliable studies that address these issues, I try to post them because I always think more information is better than less information...which leads us to today's study: Factors Associated w/ Aggressiver Responses in Pet Dogs. (the entire study is at the link).
The study, like some similar studies, relied on the C-BARQ questionaire for people to report different factors in their dog's aggressive behavior. The study itself has some sample bias issues, as well as some issues that come with owners rating behavior via C-BARQ -- but the sample size is quite large (852 dog ownerss) and I think the results are interesting enough to share as they do add to the dogs/aggression data out there.
The dogs were rated on 3 different types of aggression: Stranger Directed Aggression, Owner Directed Aggression and dog-directed aggression. I'll get into a few of considerations, but first, I'll just list the factors that seemed to be important for the different types of aggression.
For all three types of aggression, the presence of physical punishment was seen as an important factor -- although dogs aged 5-10 were the primary ones impacted by this for Owner-Directed Aggression.
Breed was also a possible factor in all three types of aggression -- with Golden Retrievers scoring the lowest in all three segments and mixed breeds being the highest. The breeds ranked in order very differently from there depending on the type of aggression shown.
Dog Characteristics: Other than breed, male dogs, dogs that had not been spayed or neutered and dogs older than 10 years of age were more likely to score higher on owner-directed aggression. (more on the effects of spaying/neutering on behavior here)
Owner Characteristics: These seemed to have little effect on the likelihood of the dogs to be more likely to show aggression. Owner's age, education, and experience with raising dogs did not have significant association with aggression. Male owners were less likely to score their dogs high on owner-directed aggression than female owners.
Living conditions: Dogs that lived in houses with yard space and more household members scored significantly higher on stranger-directed responses and dog-directed responses -- but not for owner-directed. Dogs in rural areas scored higher in stranger-directed aggression and dogs that lived in households with other dogs scored lower on owner-directed aggression.
Owner-dog interaction: As well as the physical punishment, dogs acquired as puppies scored higher on stranger-directed aggression than those adopted as adults. Dogs that spent more than 5 hours daily with their owners scored lower on owner-directed aggression. Dogs acquired for guarding purposes scored higher on stranger-directed aggression. Dogs that were kept outside of the house scored much higher on owner-directed aggression than ones that moved freely between inside and outside the home and ones that mostly lived inside the home.
Some of the study's commentary and observations:
There were a lot of similarities between enviornmental factors in stranger-directed aggression and dog-directed aggression.
The results of breed being a factor in aggression is consistent with other studies (more on breed differences in aggression here)
Dogs being kept outside having a stronger tendency toward aggression toward owners but not toward strangers may be the result of agressive dogs being "banished" outside, or because dogs kept outside my have lower owner involvement and thus correlate with this aggression.
Dogs living in rural areas and houses with yard space may be moe aggressive toward strangers because owners are more tolerant, or even encourage, these aggressive behaviors for protection -- even when guarding is not a primary reason for acquiring the dogs. Dog with houses with yard space are more frequently exposed to unfamiliar people and dogs walking by the property -- elicting the dog's territorial response.
The study data could be skewed because owners elected to fill out the survey. This self-selected group may be more homogenous than a random subset -- thus, there is likely a lower degree of variation thanif a random sample had been used.
The study does not attempt to show causal relationships between dog-aggression and environmental factors, but only to show relationshps that may lend support for the possibility of reducing aggressive behavior through proper owner management.
I don't know that there is anything revolutionary in this study. In part, because of the inability to completely determine causal factors, but also because even with strong correlation, people who know and understand canine behavior know that behavior is made up of a complex group of circumstances. Breed, Breeding (even within breeds), environment, how animals are cared for, how they are raised, trained, punished, rewarded, spay/neuter status, when they are removed from their litters, etc all play roles in canine behavior. Because of this complexity, it is difficult to determine causal factors because it is nearly impossible to isolate all of the other factors from each other.
However, as science continues to add to the knowledge base of this field, it is increasingly ridiculous for legislation to be passed that focuses solely on a small factor that may or may not have a causal part in aggression.
It's important for cities to focus on what science and experts say about canine behavior -- and focus legislation on the BEHAVIOR of an animal, vs what it looks like. It really is the only solution..