Any measure of the most aggressive dog breeds is misleading. Sure, there are differences between breeds (and we’ll discuss those), but other factors have far greater influence on dog aggression.
Do you know the old story of the blind men and the elephant? Each man touches only a part of the elephant and comes to a different conclusion about its nature. The one who touched the leg said the elephant was like a pillar. The one who touched the trunk said the elephant was like a branch. Touching the side of the elephant led to the conclusion it was like a wall, and so on for ear, tusk and tail. You get the idea.
Assessing aggression from only the point of view of dog breeds doesn’t give you the whole picture, and that leads to wrong conclusions.
Let’s face it; any dog can be aggressive, regardless of their breed.
Some dogs are more bark than bite. They don’t have an aggression issue, but they are problem barkers. If that’s your dog, go to our Dog Barking article for help.
Triggers versus Tolerance
The cause of dogs fighting, biting, snapping and growling is a complex subject, so let’s break it down a little. There are two key areas to consider, triggers and tolerance.
Triggers are the circumstances or events that start an incidence of violence. That could be an action like trying to take a bone away from your dog or invading their space uninvited.
Tolerance, on the other hand, is a gauge of how close to the surface the aggression lies. Is your dog on a hair trigger? Is your dog like a pot that’s always just about to boil? Or, is your dog steady, calm, and almost shock-proof?
Thinking about extreme cases gives us the key:
Condition your dog to be totally tolerant, and he or she will ignore all the triggers.
The opposite is also true:
Make your dog totally intolerant, and he or she will always snap at the triggers.
Too many people (including trainers) focus on just the triggers, but when you consider the above two statements, you can see the real answer lies in building up tolerance.
You need to make sure your dog is as calm, as tolerant, as you can make them.
Now we need to break things down further, because your dog’s tolerance has several ingredients. This is where we consider
- the most aggressive dog breeds
- the sex of the dog
- whether they have been neutered
- their personality
- and more.
The most important factor might surprise you.
Sex is more important than breed when it comes to aggression. Male dogs show more aggression on average than female dogs. Neutering reduces the likelihood of aggression in both, so at the top of the aggression list you have un-neutered male dogs and at the bottom of the list you have neutered females.
Note that we’re talking about the likelihood of aggressive behavior. This is just a factor.
Another big factor for dog-on-dog aggression is the mix of the sexes. The biggest risk is with male-on-male, followed by female-on-female. Aggression between a male and a female dog is much less likely.
That’s because in ‘dog world’ there is room for an alpha-male and an alpha-female, so they don’t need to compete for a single top spot. We’ll delve more into this pack-leader psychology a little later.
First, we should single out a special case.
Fear Based Aggression
All puppies need to be socialized properly with humans between weeks 4 and 12 of age. How they are treated during this period has a huge impact on how they perceive people. It’s no surprise that fear results from bad treatment.
It’s a sad, sad fact that we often see this in rescue dogs.
Be very careful with a fearful dog. They will snap or bite to protect themselves from any perceived threat. Even trying to pat a fearful dog can set them off.
Fearful dogs have a very low tolerance, so almost any trigger can easily lead to biting. That’s nasty for the person bitten, and often the end of the road for the poor dog.
If you have a fearful dog we urge you to act immediately. It doesn’t matter if they are one of the most aggressive dog breeds or one of the gentlest. A fearful dog can be dangerous.
The banner below will take you straight to our go-to dog trainer and behaviorist, Doggy Dan. You need his expert help so you can rebuild your dog’s confidence.
The Most Aggressive Dog Breeds
Let’s get back to the subject of tolerance. A dog’s breed does play a part in how aggressive they might be. This makes sense when you think about it. Some were specifically bred to be companions and others were bred to hunt or guard or fight. It makes perfect sense that hunting, fighting dogs generally have more aggressive tendencies than dogs that were bred to sit on someone’s lap.
In our article on the Most Dangerous Dogs, we listed most of the hunting, fighting and guarding breeds, but here’s a quick guide.
Hunting dogs include the Hounds (e.g. Whippet, Greyhound, Irish Woolfhound, Basset Hound, Bloodhound), Fiests, Terriers, and Curs (also known as ‘treeing dogs’). Because they were bred to hunt, aggression is more likely.
Retrievers, Setters, Pointers, Spaniels and Water Dogs (includes Poodles) are excluded from this list as they were bred for their ability to support the hunting, rather than doing the actual hunting themselves.
Guard dogs include the Shepherds and Sheep Dogs (who can fight to protect their flock) plus Mastiffs, Dobermans, etc.
Fighting dogs were bred for the detestable ‘sport’ of dog fighting and this includes breeds like the American Pit Bull and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
There’s quite a long list for all these categories and more than a little crossover, so if you’re interested visit the Most Dangerous Dogs article.
Please remember that being one of the most aggressive dog breeds doesn’t make any particular dog aggressive. It’s just one of the factors and not the biggest one. We’ll cover the most important one soon.
Personality Counts Too
Watch any litter of puppies and you’ll see differences in their personalities. Some will be more outgoing, or inquisitive or energetic (or sleepy). They might all have the same mum and dad, but they are all individuals.
Personality is another contributor to dog’s demeanor, which you need to consider on top of whether they are one of the most aggressive dog breeds. An assertive dog from a hunting breed will be much nearer to aggression than a lazy lap dog.
The Prime Cause: A Pack Leader Problem
This pack leader problem causes dog behavior issues, like aggression, more than any other factor – far more than the breed of your dog. It’s the ‘elephant in the room’ but many dog owners can’t see it!
Fixing this issue is the single biggest step you can take toward building tolerance in your dog. By doing that you reduce aggression and the chance your dog will react to any trigger.
Before we work on the solution (gently becoming the pack leader yourself), it pays to understand why this causes so many problems.
How Pack Leadership Hurts
Look at the dog-on-dog aggression we discussed earlier. If the ‘top dog’ position is vacant, ambitious dogs will try for it. Sometimes that contest is sorted out with a few growls and snaps, but if any two dogs don’t back down it can escalate into a full-scale fight.
Moving past that simple example, let’s look at how it affects a dog when they are the pack leader. They become responsible for the pack in every respect:
- They choose who should be in the pack and who should be excluded. Bring someone new into the house, and they might decide to deny entry into the pack and run them off. If you’re expecting a baby, you must be absolutely sure your dog does not think they are the pack leader. Be sure to read our article on Dogs and Babies for more information.
- They defend the house. If your dog is barking and posturing to protect the pack from danger and you go to grab them, they might snap at you to say, “Stop bothering me – there are important things that I, your pack leader, need to do.”
- They enforce discipline on the pack. If you do something wrong in their eyes, like try to take a bone or toy from them, they will educate you quite sharply and think nothing of it.
Do you see how these behaviors have nothing to do with the most aggressive dog breeds? For example, a barking, biting chihuahua wasn’t bred to hunt or fight. They’re not one of the most aggressive dog breeds – they are just dealing with being the boss!
Fix The Leadership Problem To Build Tolerance
In a household, pack leadership is an unfair burden for any dog. Not only can it lead to aggression as shown above, it can also give your dog great stress.
This one fundamental issue is at the core of many, many dog behavior problems.
|Note: Just because you can get your dog to sit before you feed them doesn’t mean you are the pack leader. It’s not that simple.
Fortunately, the problem is easy to fix, and you don’t need to fight your dog to win top spot in their mind.
Once you have fixed the basics and established yourself as the undisputed pack leader in your household, you can start building more and more tolerance. Your dog will be much calmer and far more easily trained.
This is important for every dog, and even more so for the most aggressive dog breeds that have a greater tendency to be ambitious.
All that you need has been put together perfectly in video format by Doggy Dan the Online Dog Trainer.
To solve the pack leadership problem, follow Doggy Dan’s 5 Golden Rules (they have a complete section of their own).
Your first goal should be to fix that fundamental issue and remove the burden from your dog. Once you have achieved that, take advantage of Doggy Dan’s other resources to build tolerance further.
Follow the link below to get started, and remove the aggression from your home.