Thursday, November 16, 2006

Like Owner, Like Dog?

Vicious dog attacks, resulting in serious injury or death of a person, have increased to the point that many people feel “something” must be done. Unfortunately, the “something” too often results in knee-jerk reactions. Ban all pit bulls! Problem solved—right?

Not entirely. Because there’s more to this problem than just the dog.

Are certain breeds at higher risk for aggression? Absolutely. But in the hysterical-media coverage of dog attacks, the question hardly ever asked is: What kind of person owns a dog like this?

Recently, though, a team of researchers did ask that question, and they’ve uncovered some interesting answers. According to a study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence (which, BTW, how sad is it that such a journal even has to exist?), owners of aggressive dogs are often—brace yourselves for a shock—not very nice people.

Specifically, this is what the study found: Of 355 dog owners, every single one who owned a breed at high risk for aggression had been found guilty of breaking the law at least once. Offenses ranged from traffic citations to “serious criminal convictions.”

When the study looked at owners of aggressive dog breeds who also had been cited for failure to license their dog, 30 percent had at least five criminal convictions or traffic citations.

The criminal record rate for owners of licensed, low-risk dogs? One percent.

One of the study’s authors, Jaclyn Barnes, says: "Owners of vicious dogs who have been cited for failing to register a dog (or) failing to keep a dog confined on the premises ... are more than nine times more likely to have been convicted for a crime involving children, three times more likely to have been convicted of domestic violence ... and nearly eight times more likely to be charged with drug (crimes) than owners of low-risk licensed dogs."

This is one reason I’m leery of breed bans. A breed ban doesn’t address the fact that certain people are drawn to owning aggressive dogs. And if you think such people must all be drug dealers, or others of that ilk, think again. One of the worst dogs I ever dealt with was a 125-lb Rottweiler owned by a seemingly nice suburban mom. Plain and simple, this person just liked having a bad-ass dog. The fact that the dog snarled at her own husband was, she believed, proof that the dog loved her—and she encouraged it. Take away all Rottweilers, and I’m convinced she’d immediately select another high-risk dog and train it to be a bad-ass. Unfortunately, she's all too typical of this kind of owner.

For too long, the spotlight has been solely on the dogs behind the dog attacks. This study begins to shine it where it really belongs: on the dog owners. Solve that problem, and breed bans won’t be necessary.
There’s more to the breed ban controversy…but I’ll save that for a future post.


Cherie Graves said...

As a long standing owner/breeder/trainer/and handler of American Staffordshire Terriers I believe that this study can be slanted to have any outcome that the persons running the study want. I do not consider myself to be an atypical owner, but I'm not at all a criminal type. I do not smoke, drink, take drugs, sell drugs, or otherwise engage in criminal activity. I did receive a speeding ticket once when I was rushing a newborn litter of puppies to the veterinarian. I chose to go to Coury, and the judge cleard me of guilt due to extenuating circumstances. I have always taken an active role in politics, and in participating in being a proactive and useful member of our society.

The people that I know and associate with who are also American Staffordshire Terrier owners are professional people, too. They are doctors, attorneys, contractors, police officers, dog groomers, and upright citizens.

Although it is considered to be politically incorrect to label people by race, sexual preference, religion, or social status, racisism is alive and well, and channeled through our preference of dog breed as a social stigma that is fueled by urban myth, fear mongering, precipitous legislation, and witch-hunts directed at upwards of seventy-five breeds of dogs, and their owners, plus the uncounted number of owners of mixed breed dogs. The same old bigoted tactics have been dusted off and redirected at dog owners, and their dogs.

I'm sure that if we conducted a study of cars owned by criminals that we could also show that those very same makes and models are owned by law abiding citizens. Perhaps we should check out the contents of their pantries, too. I'll bet they eat the same brands of food as those of us who do not break the law. Human beings are going to have basic elements of their lives in common whether they are law-breakers, or law abiding. We are all consumers. We do not have separate products strictly for the use of good people, or bad people.

Would one assume that if a certain brand of cereal was found in a certain percentage of pantries of child abusers that every person whose pantry contained that brand of cereal is an abuser? To draw this conclusion would be erroneous, but it could certainly make a study that would make an interesting article.

Le't use common sense, and stay away from pigeon-holing society with erroneous labels.
Cherie Graves, chairwoman
Responsible Dog Owners of the Western States
323922 N. Hwy. 2
Diamond Lake, WA 99156

American Staffordshire Terriers
"Home of the swinging, flying show dogs"

Walter Rowntree said...

Breed-specific dog laws (And the inability to get homeowner's insurance if you own a listed breed) has led to the concept of breed specific disguises. This last Halloween I disguised my Doberman as a standard poodle. This was the first breed specific disguise concept, others now being Golden Retriever kit for German Shepherd and the Old English Sheepdog kit for Mastiffs. I will send a picture of Hana, my dobie, all dressed up to Christine, though it may not be possible for her to add it to these comments. My doberman has floppy uncropped ears, so if anyone asks I tell them that she's a 'coonhound cross'

Anonymous said...

While it may be true that certain breeds are chosen by "not very nice people" one must be very careful NOT to overinterpret the results of the study cited. The "not very nice" people who want aggressive dogs probably can attribute their entire dog-education to the media, which tends to get hysterical about certain breeds.

What this study CANNOT show is that all people who own certain misunderstood breeds (there are no "aggressive breeds"--that idea is a media-generated myth) are "not very nice." In fact, I would venture to say that MOST dog owners, regardless of breed chosen, are pretty responsible.

I have a child who owns a dog that belongs to a breed often thought to be aggressive. His dog is a Rottweiler. His dog is also a specially trained assistance dog, because my son is disabled and relies on the dog to function in his daily life.

It would behoove those who carry out and publish studies, as well as those who read them, to understand what exactly the data show. In this case, the data show nothing more than the fact that "not very nice people" have bought into the myth of "dangerous breeds."

Karen B.

Anonymous said...

OMG!!! I am a proud owner of 5 dogs. a pomeranian, a black lab, an eskimo spitz (a rescue), a Rhodesian ridgeback and an american staffordshire terrier aka pit bull (another rescue). I have never committed a crime nor has my husband.I do not enjoy "agressive breeds" and I do not encourage any of my dogs to be agressive. When I rescued my pit he was a terrified puppy straight from his mom that was dumped at a nearby church. The pastors wife was just about to call the pound on him when i showed up and took him home. I would not have normally chose an amstaff but i am wise enough to know that the stigma that now follows this breed would have ensured him a date with a needle at the pound. I resent the implications of this "study" All of my dogs are up to date on their shots, well fed, loved dearly and if not being walked on a leash, are either in my house or in my fenced in back yard. I am however aware that dogs ALL dogs can be territorial and protective of their loved ones and i will say that if someone were to threaten me or mine, I would be grateful to my furry friends for loving us enough to protect us if they could. But again, that protection is a natural instinct of ANY breed including my 6 lb. pomeranian! And in an animal that was not TAUGHT to be outwardly aggressive, it will not show aggression unless it feels itself or it's people are being threatened. Thanks for listening, Barbara