All owners have a responsibility to provide their dog with a safe and clean environment. I think we all know this. But what effect is your environment having on your dog? One reaction to a certain environment can be your dog becoming aggressive, which is a lingering hot topic. When dogs attack, debates often disintegrate into polarized arguments. One side blames bad owners while the other blames the breed.
But researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary may have found a third and more accurate way of viewing the problem of aggressive dogs. While investigating canine personality traits, or temperament, they discovered that the environment influenced aggression levels — not the dog’s genetics. More importantly, nice owners may be creating dangerous dogs.
The research, titled “Preliminary Analysis of an adjective based dog personality questionnaire develop to measure some aspects of personality in the domestic dog” is published in the March issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science
It may seem inconceivable that nice people are creating bad dogs, but this makes sense if owners are doing so accidentally out of good intentions.
While violence, neglect and abuse would obviously create problems, most dog owners do not fall into this category. The study uncovered other, more subtle factors tied to dog aggression and found that seemingly innocuous changes from one home to another are extremely important.
The first key factor was the dog’s living arrangement. Dogs that live outdoors are more likely to be aggressive than those that live indoors; however, the most aggressive dogs spent time living both indoors and out. Attitude was found to carry significant weight as well. Dogs that spent more time with their people were friendlier — more sociable toward others. And owners who thought their dog understood spoken language, perhaps having a closer bond with their pets, reported lower rates of aggression. Surprisingly, dogs with obedience training were found to be more aggressive.
Of course, all these results need careful interpretation…. Just because researchers find a relationship, it does not mean a cause has also been found. That leap of assumption would be similar to saying that eating ice cream leads to shark attacks. Those two things are related, but only by hot weather. People eat frozen treats and go to the beach when it gets hot. One does not cause the other.
Similarly, this research does not tell us if outdoor dogs become aggressive because they are left unattended, thus developing problems. It is also plausible that aggressive dogs are sent to live outside because they are not welcome in the home. As for obedience classes, it could simply be that aggressive dogs are sent for training to correct existing problems. Owners of social butterflies may fail to see the need and thus not attend.
The researchers also note that type of training and prevailing attitude of the owner can lead to different results. A controlling attitude where the dog must obey leads to increased levels of aggression. Owners who keep training fun are more likely to have friendly dogs.
While the research may raise more questions, it did answer an important one. Great care needs to be taken before jumping to the conclusion that genetics or breed has anything to do with a dog’s personality. The animal’s environment is mostly responsible. Blatantly painting breeds and owners as bad, irresponsible or negligent is not the answer. This overly simplistic view misses the complexity of the problem.
So long as owners are unaware of their past mistakes, history is doomed to repeat itself. As long as politicians and lawmakers fall for the endless and pointless debate of bad breeds versus bad owners, public safety will never be adequately addressed. Owners can only change their strategy if they learn what to do. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to dog-bite prevention is failing to acknowledge the research now available.
Make sure you are conscious of your dog’s environment!