In a sensational world, headlines about dog bites and canine aggression tend to focus on certain breeds rather than the circumstances that create these behaviors.
If you really want to understand canine behavior, then you need to know there are two types of dogs living in the United State, according to the National Canine Research Council, or NCRC — resident dogs and family dogs.
The NCRC defines a family dog as one that lives inside the home with its family. These dogs are well-socialized and learn appropriate behaviors through positive interaction with people every day. The more exposure they have to people, the less likely they will bite someone.
NCRC says resident dogs, however, are maintained outside the home, usually in a yard or kennel or tethered on a chain. These dogs are obtained mostly for negative functions, such as guarding, fighting, protection or breeding.
As a result, resident dogs are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors if someone steps into their space or if they get out of their yards. Because resident dogs live without human interactions, they can’t be expected to exhibit the same manners as family dogs.
This distinction makes sense when you think about dog-bite or dog-mauling stories. Usually, news reports say the offending dog was a “family pet.” What they mean is that the dog wasn’t a stray or running loose on the streets but was owned by a family.
Being “owned” by a family, though, does not make a dog a family dog. A dog becomes a family dog when it lives in close connection with its family.
When it comes to dog bites, certain breeds make the news more often than other dogs. That’s because these breeds more often are kept as resident dogs, not family dogs, even though they are reported to be “family pets.”
Sadly, every breed in our country that has a reputation as a dangerous dog has received that because, one, they were extremely popular breeds at the time, and, two, they were more often than not kept in substandard conditions — on a chain or alone most of the time in their yards.
Now I know there are “resident dogs” out there that are loved by their families and interact with them daily. I know that ranch and farm dogs may live outside but receive lots of daily human interaction.
What I am talking about are dogs that spend all day outside, perhaps chained in their yards, with little to no interaction with people. How can we expect these dogs to be properly socialized? Keep in mind, all dogs have the potential to bite. Some family dogs have issues, such as food guarding and being territorial, that, if not properly addressed, can lead to unfortunate interactions.
But it makes sense that dogs that receive less socialization are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors toward people and other pets. Next time we read or hear a story in the news about a dog that bites, we should ask about the dog’s living conditions rather than focus on its breed. According to the NCRC, dog bites are more likely to come from “resident dogs.”
Cathy’s advice column appears every Sunday in the San Antonio Express-News and she writes a blog, Animals Matter, for the online edition of the Express-News. Send your pet stories and questions to Cathy M. Rosenthal, c/o Features Department, San Antonio Express-News, P.O. Box 2171, San Antonio, TX 78297-2171, or firstname.lastname@example.org.