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.