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What Makes an Aggressive Dog?

Study suggests it's not so much the breed as the gender, training, origin and owner's age
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In breaking down factors associated with dog aggression, the researchers found much more than the dog's breed at work. For instance:

  • Dogs owned by people younger than 25 were nearly twice as likely to be aggressive than those owned by people older than 40.
  • Neutered male dogs were twice as likely to be aggressive as neutered female dogs. However, there was no significant difference in aggression risk between neutered and non-neutered males.
  • Dogs who attended puppy-training classes were about one and a half times less likely to be aggressive to strangers.
  • Dogs trained using punishment and negative reinforcement, however, were twice as likely to be aggressive to strangers and three times as likely to be aggressive to family members.
  • Dogs obtained from animal rescue and other sources were much more likely to be aggressive than those bought from a breeder.

"The origin of the dog was a significant factor in aggression toward family members," said Mary Burch, Canine Good Citizen director for the American Kennel Club. "There was a 2.6 times increased risk in dogs obtained from rescue centers, and a 1.8 times increased risk from a combined category of 'other' sources, including pet shops and Internet sites, as compared to those obtained directly from breeders."

A lot of dog aggression is spurred by fear and anxiety, Zawistowski said. To avoid having an aggressive dog, he said, owners should properly socialize their pups by doing the following:

  • Leaving puppies with their litter until 8 weeks old, so they learn how to be social with other dogs.
  • Taking them to puppy kindergarten classes before 16 weeks old, so they become comfortable with other people and dogs.
  • Engaging them in positive-reinforcement training that teaches them things such as not jumping on people or pulling on a leash.

Older dogs that suddenly become aggressive might be experiencing pain due to an ailment. "If you're looking at a 6- or 7-year-old dog that's starting to be aggressive, you might want to look at whether the dog is starting to have some arthritis," Zawistowski said.

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