Opinion: What’s the Deal with “Dangerous” Dogs?

Is it our own instincts as humans, rather than those of dogs, that contribute to the perception of “dangerous” dogs?

Will Hite, Reporter

As a proud companion to my wonderful pit bull terrier (and previously to a Staffordshire Bull Terrier), I have always been baffled by the notion that certain dogs—pit bulls, Doberman Pinschers, and Rottweilers at the forefront—could be inherently dangerous. But baffled as I may be, there are certainly real obstacles and consequences that owners of these “blacklisted breeds” have to be cautious of. Whether taking my dog for a walk or inviting guests over for dinner, there are specific courtesies that I have to obey, like crossing the street or crating my canine friend. But with the enduring fear of such breeds amongst the general public, many hospitality and insurance companies go as far as to implement restrictive policies that actually ban these dogs from their locations. 

Naturally, I am inclined to call out these restrictions as unjust, but before I do that, it is important to explore what factors play into the perceptions of dogs like mine as aggressive or dangerous. The first thing that comes to mind is their size and mass: nearly every dog banned by insurance companies at their insured locations is classified as a large or burly breed―think of the large heads of Pit Bulls, the heaping frame of a Cane Corso, or the long legs of German Shepherds. But even as the old adage cautions “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” society still jumps to ban breeds that appear threatening.

Of course, I understand the alternative argument that “The statistics don’t lie: some dogs are consistently violent.” However, a quick search on Google suggests that while the statistics don’t lie, they may be misleading. German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and some bulldog breeds rank within the top ten most popular breeds by ownership according to the American Kennel Club; so, it makes sense that a majority of reported dog attacks would be about breeds that comprise large majorities of the dog population. But I am still left wondering: if certain dogs aren’t inherently more aggressive, why would the general public fear these breeds?

To me, the answer is best explained with a comparison. In the United States, we tend to treat pets like members of our families. Because of that, we protect them in the same way we would protect our family members, most specifically children. If a small child toddled over towards your infant, the natural response would be to cautiously facilitate the interaction. After all, children need that human interaction to develop emotionally. What’s more, it would be very easy to pluck your child away or break up the meet-and-greet if things got too heated. The same thing happens with most dogs. A small dog trots its way over towards yours: you calmly allow them to introduce themselves, knowing that you could easily break things up if they start to get too wily.

Now imagine a full-grown adult running towards your child (or a strong dog breed bounding at your canine companion). There would be no tolerated interaction, simply because human instinct equates the size of a figure into its calculation of threat. Moreover, you as the dog owner may feel personally threatened or wary of bodily harm. For this reason, many dog owners are reluctant to allow bigger, bulkier dogs to interact with their own, contributing to an overall unfounded fear.

So dog owners and dog lovers alike must ask ourselves this: is it our own instincts as humans, rather than those of dogs, that contribute to the perception of “dangerous” dogs? If so, consider adopting one of these blacklisted breeds from a local shelter and give them a chance to show just how loving and companionate they can be.