Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Animal Behavior

In Dog Attacks Is the Problem Bad Dogs or Bad Owners?

An Angus Reid survey looks at public opinion concerning dangerous dogs.

SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd
Source: SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd

Whenever there are serious dog attacks, especially by dogs identified as pitbulls or Rottweilers, the press and the other media immediately raise the question as to whether the problem is a product of dangerous breeds or bad owners. Thus over the past few months in Canada the controversy has raged because of several high profile incidents. Three of these were in British Columbia, including the mauling of two sisters by an 80 pound Rottweiler cross which resulted in one of the women being taken to hospital in critical condition after suffering more than 100 bites, there was the death of an elderly native woman due to a dog attack, and in downtown Vancouver, a dog described as a pit bull cross attacked and killed a five-month-old puppy, who was on leash, while its owner watched in horror. As a result of these incidents occurring close in time a heated debate swept across Canada as to whether particular dog breeds should be banned or whether action needed to be taken against "bad dog owners".

Apparently in response to this controversy the Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey of 1057 Canadian adults to obtain their opinion on this issue*. The results show that a slim majority blames the problem on the dog's owner, but their opinions vary depending on how old the person is and whether they currently own a dog.

The survey found that most of the respondents (58%) believe that "dog attacks are isolated incidents caused by bad owners, not by the breed of the dog." The remainder (42%) support the believe that particular breeds "are inherently more aggressive and dangerous".

Only 39% of the people surveyed support the outright banning of particular breeds, although there seems to be a consensus that some measures should be taken, such as requiring specific breeds to be muzzled at all times (67%), higher licensing fees, or other measures. A breakdown of these results can be seen below.

Angus Reid Institute
Source: Angus Reid Institute

However the poll also shows that age is definitely a factor. Respondents over the age of 55 are most likely to blame the breed of dog and are more than twice as likely to support an outright ban on specific breeds compared to individuals below the age of 35 as you can see below.

Angus Reid Institute
Source: Angus Reid Institute

Shachi Kurl, the executive director of the Angus Reid Institute summarizes the results this way. "What you see is an appetite to keep so-called bad owners on a short leash as opposed to banning dogs. Part of that is driven by age, with younger people definitely more inclined to be against a ban on specific breeds." She went on to say, "Bans are very contentious. There is a skepticism about whether or not bans are more about making people feel better versus actually making people safer from those breeds."

Perhaps the least surprising results of this survey have to do with the fact that people who are currently dog owners are considerably less likely to support policies that would put either dog owners or their pets in the proverbial and legislative dog house as can be seen below.

Angus Reid Institute
Source: Angus Reid Institute

This latest survey was designed to determine the opinion of a large sample of the population about the issue of whether the problem of aggressive dogs is mostly due to the genetics of particular breeds or due to the nature of the rearing conditions and environment provided by the dog's owner. It is interesting to note that the available scientific findings currently suggest that both factors play a role. There are some breeds of dogs which statistically have a tendency to be more aggressive (click here for more about that), and there are some characteristics of owners that seem to be more associated with aggressive dogs (click here for more about that). But the consensus seems to be that it is a combination of the dog breed that you start with and how you treat it that ultimately determines whether or not you will have a bad or aggressive dog (click here for more about that).

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: The Wisdom of Dogs; Do Dogs Dream? Born to Bark; The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

* Data from: http://angusreid.org/dangerous-dogs/

advertisement
More from Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC
More from Psychology Today
More from Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC
More from Psychology Today