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« Newsweek on "The Pit Bull Problem" | Main | A rough night for BSL advocates at the polls »

November 03, 2009



do they define what "aggression" means?

I have a big problem with studies that use that word, especially if it's one of those "owner selfreporting" things.

It's such an incredibly loaded word.. behaviors that people may call aggressive may not be (and vice versa, of course)

Brent Toellner


They based it off of the C-Barq qualifiers that seems to try to take judgment out of it (as much as is possible -- admitting that there will still be bias). I'll also admit to not being completely knowledgeable about C-Barq outside of what is in the study.

People were asked to report on a 0-4 point scale how their dog reacted "in the recent past" given a certain scenerio (and there are 101 scenerios). No negative reaction is given a 0. A snap, bite or attempted bite is a "4" - and then thinks like growling, barking, etc fall in the "1" "2" and "3"'s -- although those aren't well defined in this study but apparently are in the C-Barq test.

I think it is also important to note that even breeds that scored the highest in human "aggression" and dog "aggression" still averaged around a 1.5-1.7 -- so even within the breeds that scored the highest, the majority of the dogs in the test groups still scored way below what I would consider "aggresssive" -- which further indicates just how safe dogs are as a species.

I think the study is worth reading -- it does pass the "sniff test" IMO...but certainly isn't an end-all for the overall discussion.


The paper is worth reading and does support the fact that many dogs can be "aggressive". There is a German study (do not have the reference here right now) that shows similar result, the "pitbull" not being high on the tendency to aggression.

The large number of herding type dogs is interesting, something that does come up in bite reports. The following statement is from one of my "research advisers".....

“I think somewhere it would be valuable to mention the genetic work on dog breeds, showing that about 8 breeds are closely related to the wolf- this group includes several of the breds (sic) that often account for serious dog bites. In contrast, herding breeds are very unrelated to the wolf. This suggests behavioral differences that are genetic for certain groups of breeds. Our breed rankings based on veterinary interviews provide the same results as the genetic work.”

No references were given....and it took me a while to figure out what paper was being referenced. It is from the Science 2004 article on the genetic disposition of dogs. I disagreed with the statement re the herding dogs, and have known aggressive behavior in aussies and border collies. And the GSD certainly is represented in bite data, and this is a herding dog. Actually even the authors of the Science paper did not agree with the statement made, neither did a wolf expert.
Of course the basic problem with the statement is the assumption that the wolf is "aggressive". That then raises the question as Emily mentions define "aggression".
What it all comes to is the need for a better understanding of dog behavior......
something which I think very few of the human species does......
The whole topic is one for more study....and not to pigeon hole any one breed....



I really like this blog post today. However, I think it is fair to say that when "pit bull" type of dogs are adopted out that the adopter should make the adoptee aware that most people will blame a "pit bull" dog even if the dog was not the aggressor, so try to keep them out of some scenarios, e.g. dog parks. Our pittie just passed her CGC and I still believe in not letting her loose with other dogs, other than our own. I really would rather avoid any undue media attention.

Brent Toellner


Thanks. I don't necessarily disagree with telling potential adopters that their dog won't get the benefit of the doubt in case of an incident. I do think that's very different than saying "don't ever take your dog to a dog park". I think it's very important for people to know their dog, know how it will react in certain situations, and not set their dog up to fail. I know that my dogs are generally fine around other dogs. However, I also know that if we were at the dog park and some unbalanced dog with rude behavior jumped on one of their heads (and it happens at the dog park) they would understandably not react well to that. And I'd just as soon not having that situation come up. So I prefer small play groups with other balanced dogs with owners I know (so that a mild skirmish, which does sometimes happen between dogs, doesn't become a life or death issue). It's more fun and relaxing for both me and my dogs.

And yeah, I prefer to stay out the media as much as possible :)

Social Mange

Thanks so much for sharing the information about this study.


An important point that you mentioned is that correlation and causation are not the same thing.

I think that owner expectation is extremely influential. When so many "pit bull" owners themselves believe that their dogs are "naturally" dog aggressive, one can easily imagine the implications for how those dogs are (or are not) socialized.

I completely understand rescue groups cautioning adopters about taking rescued "pit bulls" to dog parks or leaving them unattended with other animals. I expect that level of caution from anyone with a newly rescued dog. But I will never understand, or agree with, the idea of socializing "pit bull" puppies differently than you would any other dog. I know that plenty of people with all kinds of different dogs don't like dog parks- dog parks are a touchy subject all on their own. But if you restrict "pit bulls" from the experiences that you would freely allow any other dog, it isn't hard to see how "pit bull" could, in fact, become different.

Ultimately, I know that anecdotes do not equal data, but I have worked around dogs for far too long to think that dog-dog aggression is a "pit bull" problem.


Excellent post. I'm surprised this study hasn't gotten more notice. Well, maybe now it will.



I too wonder what the criteria are. For instance, I have no doubt that Border Collies are likely to be above average, if not in the top 10, for interactivity with other dogs. I don't think they're really fighters tough. So in this case I wonder what things qualify as aggression.

Having no data, just observation, I'd say that BCs are highly likely to stalk other dogs, perhaps herd them, and even nip. But I don't think they'd rank highly on serious injury inflicted to other dogs or people.

When I have a toy at the dog park, this changes. My BCs completely ignore other dogs, and the other dogs become fascinated with the intensity of the BCs. I've seen this provoke attacks from other dogs, as well as amorous advances. It's rather funny watching your BC in a crouch getting humped by some crazy other dog, and the BC not even caring.

One time, the dog mounted my BC backwards, so my dog was peeking through the other dog's hind legs waiting for me to toss the frisbee. Needless to say the Lothario went sailing once the frisbee was thrown. :c)

The intensity in BCs seems to bring out intense responses from other dogs.

Jot Nirinjan

I reaaaally want that article but am not rolling in expendable income, what was the percentage of "pit bulls" that were dog aggressive in relation to the total # in the study? I think that is a very important point to make: being more inclined to dog aggression than other breeds and the majority of the breed being dog aggressive are two COMPLETELY different things. At present, the wording that even rescues use leads the reader to believe that most APBTs are dog aggressive, which in my experience is not at all true (and these are dogs rescued from the kill list at my city's shelter - not responsibly owned and trained dogs) Are you at liberty to expose such infromation and dispell such myths?



When they put the average score for all dog breeds, 'pit bulls' did score higher than average for aggression toward other dogs (both in strange dogs and known dogs) -- however, I think it's important to note that they were never some major statistical outlier like you would be led to believe -- in fact, in neither case were they the most dog aggressive breed of dog. So while it apppears that "trending toward dog aggression" would be some correct terminology -- "dog aggressive" probably isn't. In this case, 29 of the 132 'pit bulls' studied showed dog aggressive behavior (defined by the BARQ study as "Snaps, bites, or attempts to bite". That's an aggression score of a 4 on the BARQ test. The entire category of 'pit bulls' scored below a 1.5 -- so a large number showed no aggression at all.


I've been in law enforcement for over 25+ years and have taken my fair share of dog complaints, dog bite reports and general pet issues. I can tell you one thing, there was no single breed that stood out from any other. It all depends on the circumstance at the time, not the breed in my opinion. For the most part of these complaints, the owners should have and in some cases were criminaly charged.

Thanks for the discussion.

Nimfa and my english springer spaniel

Aren't dogs aggressive because they were provoked? If so, what are the most common things that make dogs behave unusual? I have a pitbull and every time he sees a ball, he won't stop barking and running. I really can't explain why.

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Sue Pike

Believe pit bull are all individuals with Individual personalities. We've owned 2 of them. First one well-trained from 4 weeks everyday. She was great under all circumstances. Second one well trained but occasionally needed to be crated.It was knowing each dog and being aware of their potential on or off leash. We are looking for an u aggressive herding dog now. We have horses, one burro, lambs, pigs,ducks, chickens, small dogs and cats so must fit in with our zoo. Young is probably good. Is collie best? Sue

DB Goldstein

Is there any study that reports the past C-Barq test scores of dogs that are documented biters? I'm asking if there is any evidence that the C-Barn test is actually predictive of aggression in dogs.

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