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A new Bristol University study confirms what pit bull lovers suspected all along: aggressive behavior has little to do with breed and almost everything to do with the owners.

In a survey of 14,000 U.K. dog owners (4,000 of whom responded), three percent reported aggression (barking, lunging, growling, or biting) toward family members, seven percent reported it toward strangers entering the house, and five percent reported it toward strangers outside the home.

Older dogs and dogs owned by older owners were less aggressive, as were female dogs who had been spayed. Dogs purchased through breeders were less aggressive than those obtained through pet shops or shelters, and participation in training classes correlated with less aggression toward strangers, but more aggression toward family members. Dogs who socialized with other people showed less aggression toward strangers.

Certain breeds were reported to have more aggressive qualities, but not the breeds you’d expect! These were dogs in the American Kennel Club’s “working group,” including small, intelligent, and desirable poodles, miniature schnauzers, and Boston terriers. But most dogs in the study only showed aggression in one category (toward family members, strangers in the home, or strangers outside the home).

In spite of this, certain breeds such as pit bulls, rottweilers, and German shepherds have been demonized and have been banned in certain countries and many U.S. states through the creation of breed-specific legislation, which targets them. Though these breeds are no more aggressive than others, they are stronger and more powerful and have more potential to injure and kill than smaller breeds. This is why a few aggressive examples of these breeds are responsible for human deaths from dog bites, earning them a terrible reputation.

In fact, banning potentially dangerous breeds to eliminate a few bad apples has proven counterproductive. Owners don’t want to surrender their illegal pets, so they tend to keep them in hiding, denying veterinary care, and time outdoors. The resulting lack of exercise, socialization, and health care aggravate any aggressive tendencies. And as many have observed, irresponsible people attracted to a tough and violent image tend to choose dogs with the same reputation, encouraging their bad behavior.

 Image Source: Tony Alter/Flickr