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These Dog Breeds Can Be Aggressive Toward People

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

It is an unfortunate reality that (1) dogs have teeth and that (2) they sometimes use those teeth to threaten people. Or bite.

Which breeds bite?

Dog showing teeth

Any dog can be triggered to bite. Some are more easily triggered than others, and the triggers are also different in different dogs.

  • ANY dog can bite if he feels frightened or cornered.
  • Or if he's in pain.
  • Or if he has inherited genes for an unstable temperament.
  • Or if he is not raised and trained properly. With all dogs, you need to establish yourself as a confident, take-charge leader and teach the dog to look to YOU for direction instead of making decisions himself. When owners fail to do that, dogs may growl or bite because they believe they're justified in doing so. Thus, many aggression problems are caused (albeit unintentionally) by the owner.

But all breeds are not equal here...

Just because any dog CAN bite, doesn't mean they're all equally likely to bite. Each dog must be evaluated on its own merits, but breed-wide tendencies  should also be considered, since aggression is a trait that is often inherited.

In short, some breeds are more likely to inherit genes for a gentler, more peaceful, more submissive temperament. Other breeds are more likely to inherit genes for a tougher, more aggressive temperament. And of course there's everything in-between.

In my experience, most crossbred and mixed breed dogs tend to be on the peaceful side. Unless, that is, two commonly aggressive breeds are crossed (for example, a Doberman crossed with a Rottweiler).

Cane Corso

Like most mastiff breeds, a Cane Corso should only be owned by people who are experienced with large breeds with a potentially high risk of aggression.

High-risk breeds

Perhaps you secretly think it would be cool to own a breed with a high risk of aggression.  But how much experience do you have with such dogs? If you can't handle the dog, how much threat will there be to the public? Do you live in seclusion, or in a close community?

Because honestly, you wouldn't think people could be so clueless, yet we see it all too often....

Some idiot brings home a male Cane Corso, when he has no experience with large male dogs with a strong working background and high risk of aggression. Said idiot then raises the dog improperly and leaves him outside in the yard without supervision, whereupon the dog breaks through the fence and attacks an 80 year old lady walking her toy poodle. Dead and dead.

Irresponsible owners are largely responsible for breeds being banned today in some communities. If people would stick to breeds they can truly handle without endangering the public, we'd have far fewer dog attacks.

Breeds with a higher risk of aggression toward people

In these dog breeds, a sizable percentage of individuals are dominant, territorial, protective – or may have inherited genes for a sharp or unstable temperament.

Breeds on my CAUTION list

Airedale Dogue de Bordeaux
Akita Fila Brasileiro
American Bulldog German Pinscher
Anatolian Shepherd German Shepherd
Australian Cattle Dog Giant Schnauzer
Beauceron Komondor
Belgian Shepherd Kuvasz
Bouvier des Flandres Leonberger
Boxer Lhasa Apso
Bullmastiff Neapolitan Mastiff
Cane Corso Pit Bull Terrier
Chihuahua Rhodesian Ridgeback
Chow Chow Rottweiler
Dobermann Tibetan Mastiff
Dogo Argentino Tosa Inu
three Pit Bull Terriers

"Pit Bulls" with a high risk of aggression toward people are usually unregistered or crosses/mixes. UKC-registered American Pit Bull Terriers  from champion show lines are seldom aggressive toward people.

"What if I want a dog to protect my family/home?"

Some owners want a dog with a high risk of aggression because they think the dog might actively save them by engaging with (and defeating) a bad guy.

That isn't going to happen. Not unless you've trained the dog in practical fighting skills – specialized training that takes a very long time.

This reality often doesn't go over well with owners who had their heart set on a "protective" dog. Unfortunately they have gross misconceptions about the true protective abilities of dogs. They rhapsodize about how much their pet loves them... "He's so faithful, without a doubt he would lay down his life to protect me."

The reality is very different. Pet dogs are not Lassie or RinTinTin. Despite their owners' fond hopes, pet dogs – of any breed – haven't a clue about how to protect their home or family.

Every day around the world, people are assaulted or robbed, or their homes burgled, while their confused German Shepherd or Rottweiler looks on, wagging his tail uncertainly, or barking frantically but not knowing what else to do.

Protective instincts  are NOT the same thing as protective abilities or skills.

How do I know this? Because for many years I trained dogs in protection and police work, and competed in a German sport called schutzhund (German for protection dog). The training is long and rigorous, and for the safety of both owner and public, protection training is paired equally with obedience training for maximum control.

Practicing protection work

You need a skilled instructor to help your dog learn how to engage effectively with a bad guy.

What are dogs taught during protection training?

HOW to fight a human being. What parts of the anatomy to bite, depending on whether the bad guy is brandishing a weapon or not. How to bite deep, lock down, and hold on, no matter what the bad guy tries to do to get you off.

And confidence, confidence, confidence. Based on months and months of "confronting bad guys" in practice... and always coming away victorious.

Without this training, a dog who tries to bite someone will almost certainly bite improperly. He'll snap at an ankle or hand and miss, or he'll get in one quick bite, then dart away – whereupon the enraged criminal will shoot him or knife him or break his ribs with one good kick.

Virtually ALL inexperienced dogs who suddenly find themselves in a real fight with a human being will back down. Now the tables have turned, as the angry bad guy (who was already crazy enough to break into a home with a barking German Shepherd) chases your bewildered, no-fighting-skills dog with murderous intent.

Dogs who threaten bad guys, but can't back it up with actual fighting skills, are more often injured or killed, compared to peaceful dogs who leave the bad guys alone. Do you really want your beloved dog to die trying to protect your TV set or the fifty bucks in your wallet?

Legal liabilities of high-risk dogs

I've already explained that dogs with protective instincts but no training can't actually protect you from serious bad guys.

Doberman threatening mailman

Dogs frequently can't tell who is a threat, as any mailman or delivery driver will tell you.

But what they ARE amazingly good at, judging from all the dog bite cases clogging up the civil courts, is misjudging situations.

Anthropomorphic opinions to the contrary, dogs are pretty poor judges of whether someone is a "bad guy" or not. Most dogs who bite, bite people they know (friends and family) – or the mailman, the meter reader, the UPS guy, the Avon lady, a police officer, or your neighbor.

We live in a litigious society. That means people are quick to sue.

If your dog bites an innocent person, if he even charges toward them and causes them to fall or have a heart attack, you will wind up in court paying medical bills, pain & suffering, even punitive damages. Not to mention the guilt you'll feel.

Bouvier des Flandres offering a paw

This particular Bouvier des Flandres happens to be friendly and playful with everyone. Most aren't.

If a breed is high risk, are there any non-aggressive  individuals in that breed?

Any non-aggressive Dobermans? Chows? Chihuahuas? Bouviers?

Oh yes. Definitely yes. At the beginning of this article, I wrote, "Each dog must be evaluated on its own merits, but breed-wide tendencies  should also be considered, since aggression is a trait that is often inherited."

For various genetic reasons, a considerable percentage of dogs within any breed have NOT inherited the breed's typical genes for temperament.

For example, a sizable number of Rotties (Dobes, Boxers, etc.) are big softies who would be very reluctant to harm a human being.

If you find such an individual (or a breeder who produces such pups), you might be able to have your cake and eat it too.

Your dog will LOOK like a Rottweiler (or Doberman, etc.), which should make most bad guys seek easier pickings.

But your friendly dog wouldn't threaten anyone, so you won't have to worry about anyone's safety. Or lawsuits.

What's the downside? Well, how can you be sure you really DID find one of the atypical Belgian Shepherds? What if you unknowingly picked one of the more typical ones?

Here's a related issue.....

Banned/restricted breeds

In response to an increasing number of dog bites, communities around the world have enacted laws against the ownership of certain breeds.

Rottweiler wearing muzzle

In some areas, a muzzle might be required if you own certain breeds.

A breed might be banned outright. Or you may be required to muzzle such breeds in public. Or to obtain extra liability insurance, or to pay fees to register such breeds in a Dangerous Dogs database.

In addition, some insurance companies have a list of restricted breeds. Bring home one of these breeds and your rates might be raised, or your homeowner's policy might be revoked.

Or you might not be covered if your dog bites someone, and then you'd be responsible for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Banned/restricted lists are always headed by Pit Bulls and pit bull "types" (breeds and crosses that resemble pit bulls). Many lists also include Rottweilers, Chows, German Shepherds, Akitas, Cane Corsos, and others.

So if you're considering a medium, large, or giant breed with a high risk of aggression toward people, you might want to call your homeowner's insurance company and local government offices and ask about any breed restrictions.

Keep in mind that even if a breed doesn't yet appear on their list, it might in the future. Some communities and homeowners associations already have restrictions on ALL dogs over 100 pounds.


Most owners do best with a dog that doesn't have a high risk of aggression toward people. This might be a purebred, crossbreed, or mixed breed.

Don't worry that your lower-aggression dog won't be a good watchdog. Every breed can (and usually will) bark or offer some kind of alerting behavior when he sees or hears something unusual near his property.

Even the barking of a friendly or inoffensive dog is all the "watching" that most families need. Barking draws attention, so the majority of burglars will shy away from homes in which any dog is barking.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

To help you train and care for your dog

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