Why Are Certain Dog Breeds Labeled Dangerous?

Twin American Pit Bull Terriers smiling.
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Certain dog breeds are considered dangerous by the public. Some jurisdictions have even enacted breed bans (this practice is called Breed-Specific Legislation). In some cases, people have trouble getting homeowner's insurance coverage if they have one of the "blacklisted" breeds.

There are several reasons people develop opinions about certain dog breeds. In part, the media shapes the way certain dog breeds are perceived. People who have personally had frightening encounters with certain breeds will share their stories, thus spreading a breed's reputation by word-of-mouth. That being said, it is often the facts that have the most impact.

What Facts?

There are many sources that have compiled dog bite statistics, but one of the more commonly cited sources is the CDC. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published a CDC study on fatal dog bites lists the breeds involved in fatal attacks over 20 years. At the top of the list are "pit bull-type" dogs. However, the study does not discuss the criteria that were used to categorize those dogs as pit bull-types. These so-called "pit bull-types" could be a combination of several different dog breeds that could not be recognized at the time of the attack. It is, unfortunately, common that people want to ban "pit bulls" without determining what makes a dog a pit bull.

Pit Bulls

Why are "pit bulls" targeted? Certain dog breeds have ancestral roots in fighting, protection and other areas that would have once made breeding for aggression necessary. Historically, these traits we accepted. Undesirable traits may come from irresponsible breeding. Bad breeding practices may or may not pass on a genetic tendency towards aggression, but many irresponsible breeders looking to produce "tough" dogs will specifically breed for aggressive traits. Sadly, they are often breeding the dogs for fighting, guarding or to project a certain image.

Pit bull-type dogs are stereotypically popular with the kinds of irresponsible owners who might handle their dogs improperly, neglect them, chain them up, breed them for the wrong reasons or allow them to roam free and terrorize the neighborhood. Despite the fact that so many of these mistreated dogs resemble pit bull-type dogs, it does not mean that all of the pit bull-type dogs out there is a product of this irresponsible breeding. There are responsible breeders out there producing dogs with good temperaments. There are also mixed-breed dogs that have a certain "look" that has no bearing on personality.

Dog Breeds Labelled Dangerous

While pit-bull type dogs are the most common to be labeled as dangerous, there are many other breeds that have been labeled dangerous. Some have also been affected by Breed-Specific Legislation. The following dog breeds are sometimes labeled as dangerous:

Boxer standing under a tree
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Doberman pinscher running in the snow
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Two rottweilers in a grassy field
Tara Gregg / EyeEm / Getty Images

This list does not include all dogs with "bad" reputations. Conversely, all of the dogs on the list have supporters who disagree with the stereotypes. The truth is, any breed of dog (or mix) can be aggressive. Labeling a breed as dangerous may even give people a false sense of security around other breeds. Instead, the public should be educated about dog bite prevention and responsible dog ownership.

Individual dogs may be determined dangerous by their local jurisdiction based upon past behavior. If a dog has been reported for aggressive behavior, restrictions may be placed on that dog and owner (such as wearing a muzzle in public or not being allowed in public). This is considered by many to be a better way to manage the problem of aggressive dogs. There is little evidence that shows Breed-specific legislation to be effective.