Do dog breeds have predispositions toward certain behavior?

I have heard so many people insist that breeds such as AmStaffs (Pit Bulls), Dobermans, and Chows aren’t aggressive by nature. These same people blame the disposition of the dog on the owner.

I agree with this to an extent. I believe that a good owner can mold a potentially bad dog into one that has good behavior. Alternatively, a bad owner can give a potentially good dog a bad attitude.

Having that said, how can anyone say that breeds do not have a tendency toward certain behavior. Can anyone seriously tell me that Pit Bulls are not aggressive by nature?

These same people must then also believe that Border Collies have no herding instinct and Retrievers don’t have the natural inclination to retrieve.

I think that certain breeds have instincts and predispositions toward certain behaviors (your Border Collie and Retreiver examples are good), and that these behaviors can be amplified by the owners.

It would depend on what pit bulls were originally bread for. On a logic level, it wouldn’t be a good idea to breed any dog breed to be intrisically agressive or mean, since that makes them harder to train. More than likely, a breed like a pit bull was bread for pysical characteristics, and the trained to be agressive.

Just as some side info, Rotweillers weren’t bred for being mean. they were work dogs, and are actually quite gentle and loyal. But I don’t know what pit bulls were originally bred for.

pit bulls were bred as fighting dogs.
we had a pyrranean mountain dog, which is used as a sheep dog, and she would keep watch on my baby sister’s pram when mum was shopping.
however, she wasn’t the brightest dog and would jump through closed windows to protect us from the post man.

our lab/alsatian cross however will swim and catch and retrieve stones and sticks without any training.

so i definitely think that some dogs do things through instinct and breeding rather than training.

Dalmatians were originally bred to run alongside stagecoaches and wagons to protect it from robbers and such. As a result, dalmatians have tons of energy, and I’ve seen this expressed in my family’s dalmatians, who always are running around wanting to play–never sitting still.

Pit bulls and other fighting dogs are bred for aggression against other dogs. They are very loyal and affectionate towards humans, unless they are trained otherwise or abused. Unfortunately, such dogs sometimes put unfamiliar people (especially children) in the wrong category, and attack them. Dogs’ logic, such as it is, is quite simple, but alien to humans.

Well I know the retriever gene is alive and well in labs. When my lab was a puppy she used bring me HUGE tree branches (it was soooo cute) and would fetch balls and bring them back to me at the age of 12 weeks.

Every Rottie I have ever met has been a sweetheart. A friend of mine has an especially large male Rott and the dog is a big baby. As nice as they come and scared to death of bubbles (or balloons). Funny to watch a dog as potentially menacing and fearsome as this one is run away from a soap bubble.

Certain breeds can indeed be disposed to certain behaviors. Just look at the herding group of dogs. They naturally herd stuff without even being trained. Any dog might be able to do the same but it is just more upfront and at the ready in a herding dog. So too for dogs like Pit Bulls when it comes to aggression. Still, I have met plenty of Pit Bulls that were very nice and friendly. Unfortunately for those who want a menacing dog they choose Pit Bulls and such so they get a rep for poor behavior but in this case it is the owners fault. People like that would make a Chihuahua mean if that is all that was available to them.

I agree with you. And the consensus and specific cites to scientific research in this thread
also agrees. However, one poster in that thread tenaciously and vigorously asserted the opposing viewpoint (that different breeds don’t have different behaviors). Didn’t convince me then, and doesn’t now.


I’ve always heard and seen that Basset Hounds are gentle, loyal, lazy, and stubborn. Having owned one, I agree. He saw a rabbit once and just took off after it like nothing I had ever seen before, which is consistent with his breeding.

I have never seen or heard of a Basset going nuts on a rampage.

Amazing, ain’t it? I never quite believed that until the day my parents’ Siamese, previously and ‘indoor only’ cat, got out of the house. Their dog, a half-Australian Shepherd, came out to watch the amusing spectacle of three humans trying to chase down a cat with virtually no success. Suddenly, it was like a switch closed in her brain–“Cat’s outside. Cat belongs inside. OK!”

People who compare hard things to ‘herding cats’ have never seen an Aussie Shepherd doing it. OK, it’s easier when it’s only one, but it was truly beautiful to watch. No training, no parent or older dog to teach her, just pure instinct. We all just stood back and watched in awe as the dog took that cat straight inside within about 90 seconds.

Yep, different breeds tend to display different characteristics. Often they are bred to enhance these traits.

Otherwise, it would be hell picking a breed to suit a particular living situation or temperment or working requirement.

We have Newfoundlands for some specific reasons- their love of and gentleness towards babies and children, their loyalty to their people and home, their great intelligence. They are also the perfect size!

Modern dogs are a human creation.

Modern dog breeds were all developed by selectively breeding for various traits.
Terriers, for example, were bred to hunt vermin (rats, etc.), so they’re typically small (for going into holes), tough, and stubborn. Herding breeds were bred to select for herding behavior. Herding behavior ranges from the border collie’s “eye” (staring at the sheep to intimidate them) to the Australian Cattle Dog’s nipping at the heels of cows to move them. Sighthounds (greyhounds, Afghan hounds, whippets, etc.) were bred to course after game they could see. You et the basic picture.

Expression of the traits in a particular breed can vary quite a bit from one animal to another. I have 4 dogs (2 purebred Australian Shepherds and two Aussie mixes). One of my purebred Aussies has a LOT of herding instinct. When she sees a group of smaller animals* she wants to circle around them and keep them rounded up together. My other purebred Aussie had no interest in herding at all. The two Aussie mixes also have no herding instinct.

I believe a lot of the pit-bull breeds WERE bred for dog-fighting. As Nametag said, this normally means aggression toward other dogs.
Many dogs can be trained to be aggressive towards people. But for most well-socialized and well-bred dogs, aggression toward people is rare.

*Keep in mind that a running child looks a lot like a Small Running Prey Animal to many dogs. My dog Sasha certainly thought so the day she tried to round up a group of kids playing on the lawn.

Since chows were mentioned in the OP, as a chow chow owner I feel compelled to reply.

To answer the general question, different breeds certainly have predispositions toward certain behavior. The same is true of chow chows. Anyone who knows chow chows knows that the breed is a one family dog. That can manifest its self in a few differnet ways. A well bred and raised chow chow will be most comfortable around people it knows and will be very, very loyal. It will take him or her a little bit of time to get used to a new person. This is in contrast to, say, a lab who will love everyone it ever meets. A poorly bred and/or raised chow chow will end up being over protective of the family and even agressive against strangers. It’s important to socialize any puppy and chow chows in particular.


The only hard evidence we have is from ER accident stats. The Indianapolis Star (probably from the AP) says the worst offenders in the dog-injures-human category are pit bulls, rottweilers, and chow-chows.

Another YES to the OP.

I have a Rhodesian Ridgeback and they were bred in South Africa to aide in dterring lions from families crossing the plains regfions. They were bred for being wholly courageous, and to never bark. They intimidate through posturing and growling. Though mine rarely does either.

My pup Grissom is lively, full of bouncing rambunctiousness and practically trained himself. He comes when called, at all times. Stays pu when told to, and never begs at the dinner table. So what are his drawbacks you may ask.

He is fiercly loyal. When strangers approach Mrs. Phlosphr and I he stares them down and remains completely still, until they offer a hand or bend down to his level. Then his tail wags and we know he’ll be fine.

It is amazing and i have a very similar story!

I have a Shiloh Shepherd (think German Shepherd and you have 95% of the idea) and our cat got out of the house. Fortunately we lived in a condo so the cat was only in the hallway but it was a mighty long hallway (about a block long, twisty with lots of nooks and crannnies) and catching her was going to be a major pain. Our dog, who likewise never had a lick of training in herding, ran out without our prompting and herded the cat back to the house. I promise the cat had no intention of being cooperative but the dog had her number. Ran wide around the cat, came in from behind pointed towards our door and moved like lightining to block the cat’s attempts to go the other way and get back around the dog. The dog was having none of it and scooted the cat straight back to the house. I just stood there with my mouth hanging open in awe…too cool!

I’d emphatically agree with this post.

We just got a Chow/retreiver mix, with the Chow side dominant, and while she is a sweetheart with our immediate family (though it took her a while to acclimate to my 8 year old son) she needs a period of adjustment before warming to our friends. In obedience class she has a rough time focusing on her lessons and is a definite aggressor, though she has no problems at home once the distraction of other dogs is eliminated.

As an aside, our instructor recommended one of those collars with the prongs facing inward, but this strikes me as totally barbaric and cruel. Anyone have any thoughts/ experiences with these things?

Those things look totally evil don’t they? However, they are not nearly as cruel as they seem…not cruel at all in fact.

Take one off the rack and wrap it around your arm and tug on it so it tightens. You’ll find there is no pain at all…just lots of little prongs grabbing your arm.

I was reticent to get this for our dog but the people at teh puppy kindergarten where we had her go had me do the thing above and strongly encouraged its use. Only once in maybe a year did my dog tug at her leash so hard that it caused her to let out a tiny yelp as the prongs grabbed her. Even with the thing she still will pull pretty hard on her leash on occasion and it doesn’t seem to phase her much if at all. However, after that one good hard tug that elicited a yelp I have noticed her treating the leash and collar with a little more respect. She’ll still pull but you can almost feel her remembering that hard tug and she doesn’t quite try to go full-bore for whatever it is she wants at.

[sub]Note that most of the time my dog is fairly well leash trained and usually stays with me or only slightly pulls if she’s eager to be somewhere. It’s just on occasion that she forgets herself and strains at the leash and a command to call her back or sit almost always sees her obey.[/sub]

This I think is the most accurate answer for the OP. Instincts and predispositions to certain behaviors that they were specificly bred for would always be there, but the handling by the owner is the defining factor. I have two mutts bred of normally aggressive dogs.

One is Malky, a doberman/pit mix, who is sweet as a puppy and dumb as a brick. Playful and energetic, there isn’t an ounce of aggression in him. He’s coddled and loved, and with eyes like baby fur seals, he begs for attention like he’s starved.

The other dog is Apache, German Shepherd/Wolf mix, this dog is too lazy to be aggressive. However, when he was younger, he displayed a little territorial behavior around me when I was dating my husband, and that has since evaporated. He’s more inclined to beg for a scratched tummy than to growl, but of the two, he’d be more likely to be protective of his pack ( us ) than Malky.

It ultimately comes down to whether or not the owner wishes to cultivate the instinctual breeding of the dogs, rather than make them into the family petting zoo. :cool: