You can find many lists of "dangerous dog breeds" on the internet but it's important to question the research behind them. Many lists are based on unreliable data, so much so that reputable organizations like the CDC and the AVMA no longer include breed in discussions of statistics related to dog bites and dog aggression and oppose breed-specific laws. This is because they have found over time that many variables determine whether a dog is dangerous, and breed alone is not a good indicator.
What Are Dangerous Dog Breeds?
The NIH and CDC collected data from several sources about dog bites, fatalities and attacks from 1979 through 1998 for their aggressive dog breeds study. It's important to note that after publication of this report, the CDC no longer reports breed in dog bite and fatality statistics because they found the sourcing and breed identification so unreliable. While more recent lists can be obtained from hospitals, animal control agencies and advocacy groups research has found that these can be notoriously inaccurate due to lack of standardized reporting procedures and faulty breed identification. The list of dogs provided below are taken from the NIH/CDC/AVMA report covering 1979 to 1998 and are listed in alphabetical order and not in the order of the most dangerous.
The Alaskan Malamute was bred to be team oriented. Its job was to haul people and their belongings across long stretches of ice and snow. This breed is not great for guarding people or property because of its tendency to trust people. It is, however, a very independent breed and needs more socialization and training compared to other breeds.
Chow Chows are very loyal and protective of their family, but they are known to be distrustful of strangers. They will regard strangers with suspicion and this can be a problem if the dog is not properly trained. Chows also are reported to "bite without warning" but this is not true. They tend to have very subtle, stoic personalities and may be giving very clear warnings that a person not knowledgeable about dogs will miss.
Doberman Pinschers were used as military and guard dogs. Due to this, they were bred for behavioral characteristics that could lead to aggression to strangers without a responsible owner providing socialization and training from an early age. This situation has changed in the past few decades, and responsible breeders are breeding for the positive characteristics of intelligence and playfulness.
The German Shepherd has long been used as a protective dog as well as in military and police situations. These dogs were originally bred to protect herds of sheep and goats. A German Shepherd can also be very protective of its family and without training, can bite if they feel their family is threatened.
Great Danes are gentle giants but their sheer size makes them clumsy and they can harm a small child without meaning to. Again, the key here is obedience training and socialization. Great Danes can be cautious when meeting new people. Their size makes them intimidating which means that they are excellent watch dogs.
Pit bulls are one of the most feared dogs of all although "pit bull" actually refers to several breeds including the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. These breeds should be naturally friendly and enjoy people when they're produced by responsible breeders. Due to their intelligence and activity level, pit bull type dogs need handlers dedicated to socializing them from an early age and taking them through all levels of companion dog obedience training classes.
Rottweilers are a powerful breed that was developed for herding and later used for protection. They have a gentle nature and are very good with children. Since Rottweilers are so powerful, they must be well behaved because they can easily hurt someone without meaning to do so.
The St. Bernard is famous for being the rescue dog of the Swiss Alps. These dogs generally are good-natured but due to their massive size, an untrained and unsocialized St. Bernard could do considerable damage to someone if it became aggressive.
Like the Alaskan Malamute, the Siberian Husky was bred for work. This is a friendly breed but, like all the Alaskan working breeds, needs to be busy to stay out of trouble. These dogs are fiercely independent, and this can cause trouble with owners that are unable to maintain consistent training for them and give them outlets for their minds and energy level.
Wolf-dog hybrids are the cross breeding of a wolf and a domestic dog. These dogs are illegal to own in many states. Because of their wild heritage, these dogs require a great deal of socialization from the start and regular training, and even then should only go with experienced owners who can supervise their dogs completely.
What Makes a Dog Dangerous
The most comprehensive study of dog-bite related fatalities (DBRFs) was published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. This study reviewed over 200 cases all the way back to the 1970s and found that there were several preventable factors related to dog aggression. These factors were:
- A lack of socialization and training
- Unsterilized dogs, especially males
- Not keeping the dog as a "pet" but as an outside or guard dog
- Abuse and neglect of the dog
- Lack of supervision of the dog
It should be noted that this study only took in breed information for 17.6% of the cases studied because only those were found to be demonstrable instances of correct breed identification. A more recent study using epidemiological reports with better breed collection standards from the city of Calgary found that breed did not play a significant factor in bites but reiterated the common causes found in the CDC and AVMA reports.
Making Dogs Safe
Since biting is part of all dog's potential behavioral reactions to a fearful or stressful situation, it's important to realize that any dog can bite any one at any time. The AVMA cautions that given, "The substantial within-breed variation … it is inappropriate to make predictions about a given dog's propensity for aggressive behavior based solely on its breed." Responsible dog owners, trainers, shelter care providers and other animal care professionals can reduce the possibility of this happening in several ways.
- It is important that, whichever breed of dog you choose, you take the time to train it or and work with a professional positive reinforcement trainer if you need help.
- Early and frequent socialization as a puppy on into adulthood is critical for a dog's behavioral health throughout its life.
- Choose a breed according to your lifestyle, age of children in the home and your time availability for providing the basics like daily walks and exercise.
- Use good judgment. Don't allow your dog to be in situations where it will be teased. Most dogs will rightfully defend themselves if they are scared or in pain.
- Don't leave a dog chained in the backyard without attention or human contact. If you want a dog to guard your home, he will do so much more effectively living as part of your family.
Finally, be fully aware of background your dog comes from and its history and if buying a dog, do not purchase from puppy mills or uneducated backyard breeders. Knowing a dog's background may not always be possible with rescue dogs, but most shelter staff and volunteers do their best to get an idea of a dog's personality before they place it. If you're concerned, many dog trainers are thrilled to be asked to check out a dog for adoption before you make that step so they can help you make an informed decision.
Dog Breeds and Risk
While many dog breed statistics regarding aggression that you will find online are unreliable, this doesn't mean you shouldn't give considerable thought before adopting or buying a breed found on these lists. Many of these breeds can be loving, friendly companions with the right socialization and training but you should also be aware that because of their size, strength and natural dispositions, they may not be the best choice for your lifestyle and family. They can be amazing pets and even family dogs with the right mix of love, care, socialization, training and supervision.