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Breed differences in canine aggression

By D. L. Duffy, Y. Y. Hsu, J. A. Serpell

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Canine aggression poses serious public health and animal welfare concerns. Most of what is understood about breed differences in aggression comes from reports based on bite statistics, behaviour clinic caseloads, and experts' opinions. Information on breed-specific aggressiveness derived from such sources may be misleading due to biases attributable to a disproportionate risk of injury associated with larger and/or more physically powerful breeds and the existence of breed stereotypes. The present study surveyed the owners of more than 30 breeds of dogs using the Canine behavioural Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), a validated and reliable instrument for assessing dogs' typical and recent responses to a variety of common stimuli and situations. Two independent data samples (a random sample of breed club members and an online sample) yielded significant differences among breeds in aggression directed toward strangers, owners and dogs (Kruskal-Wallis tests, P<0.0001). Eight breeds common to both datasets (Dachshund, English Springer Spaniel, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Poodle, Rottweiler, Shetland Sheepdog and Siberian Husky) ranked similarly, rs=0.723, P<0.05; rs=0.929, P<0.001; rs=0.592, P=0.123, for aggression directed toward strangers, dogs and owners, respectively. Some breeds scored higher than average for aggression directed toward both humans and dogs (e.g., Chihuahuas and Dachshunds) while other breeds scored high only for specific targets (e.g., dog-directed aggression among Akitas and Pit Bull Terriers). In general, aggression was most severe when directed toward other dogs followed by unfamiliar people and household members. Breeds with the greatest percentage of dogs exhibiting serious aggression (bites or bite attempts) toward humans included Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers (toward strangers and owners); Australian Cattle Dogs (toward strangers); and American Cocker Spaniels and Beagles (toward owners). More than 20% of Akitas, Jack Russell Terriers and Pit Bull Terriers were reported as displaying serious aggression toward unfamiliar dogs. Golden Retrievers, Labradors Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Brittany Spaniels, Greyhounds and Whippets were the least aggressive toward both humans and dogs. Among English Springer Spaniels, conformation-bred dogs were more aggressive to humans and dogs than field-bred dogs (stranger aggression: Mann-Whitney U test, z=3.880, P<0.0001; owner aggression: z=2.110, P<0.05; dog-directed aggression: z=1.93, P=0.054), suggesting a genetic influence on the behaviour. The opposite pattern was observed for owner-directed aggression among Labrador Retrievers, (z=2.18, P<0.05) indicating that higher levels of aggression are not attributable to breeding for show per se.

Date 2008
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 114
Issue 3/4
Pages 441-460
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.04.006
Language English
Author Address Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 3900 Delancey Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6010, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Aggression
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal rights
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Australasia
  6. Australia
  7. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  8. Bites and stings
  9. Breed differences
  10. Breeds
  11. Carnivores
  12. Cattle
  13. Commonwealth of Nations
  14. Developed countries
  15. Dogs
  16. Equipment
  17. Europe
  18. France
  19. Genetics
  20. Health
  21. Households
  22. Mammals
  23. Mathematics and statistics
  24. Mediterranean region
  25. Oceania
  26. OECD countries
  27. peer-reviewed
  28. Pets and companion animals
  29. Primates
  30. Public health
  31. Questionnaires
  32. Ruminants
  33. Techniques
  34. trauma
  1. peer-reviewed