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Nature Versus Nurture in Dog Aggression


The cause of aggression in dogs has been an ongoing debate, with some factions arguing that it stems from the breed of the dog and is hence inherent. Other groups contend that the hostility is due to environmental conditions. Aggression in dogs is characterized by loud backing, excessive hostility towards people, and the ability to attack relatives along with strangers. This essay is an analysis of factors that contribute to aggression in dogs and tries to debunk the myth that dogs are responsible for their behavior. The paper holds that people influence the behavior of domesticated dogs and should bear the burden of their pets’ behavior. The essay initially provides evidence that human beings are responsible for the behavior of their dogs before providing an overview of the arguments presented by the alternative view.

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Nurture in Aggression

The most aggressive breeds of dogs, according to stereotypes, are German shepherd, mixed-breed dog, Pit Bull types, Rottweiler, Terrier, Spaniel, and Saint Bernard. These breeds are considered aggressive from the onset, even before their purchase. The owners of these dogs are also treated with fear, as other people imagine the dogs might attack them. The general demeanor and attitude towards the dogs are responsible for their generalized hostility in some areas (Oxley et al.). The dogs are accustomed to minimal affection from the human beings around them and adapt to this state. They do not engage in playful activities with people like the smaller breeds associated with warmth and closeness do. People new to an area may deem these dogs as aggressive by virtue of the treatment they are accorded and the adaptations that occur thereafter.

These breeds are the highest purchased and popular within the regions where aggression is reported. Studies indicate that the dogs considered aggressive are the highest purchased breeds in certain neighborhoods. The residents of these regions report the dogs as aggressive strains within these areas, yet they make the largest share of dogs assessed. This is a misconception, given that no other result is expected from these surveys. German shepherd dogs are popular in classy neighborhoods and are considered an aggressive breed (Oxley et al.). Surveys within these areas have these hounds making more than 60% of the dogs. When the analysis of the most aggressive dogs is conducted, this breed features the most. This is an error in the research process as the participants are not diverse, rendering the results of such projects ungeneralizable. Better results can be obtained by conducting projects where almost all breeds of dogs are featured, and this is not possible given the widespread preference for the aforementioned breeds.

The purchase of the dogs and their rearing is primarily for defense. This may influence their aggression and the associated features such as loud barking and attacks on strangers. The owners of these dogs orient them towards ensuring the safety of their premises. They encourage aggression by leaving the dogs outside at night to defend their property. This encourages instincts such as the identification of strangers within the allocated areas by the dogs. They respond by barking to alert their owner of the situation and attack the stranger in fulfillment of their owners’ requirements (Mai et al.). If owners purchased the brands considered as aggressive and trained them to be playful and friendly as some people have done, the dogs would be less combative. The existence of friendly dogs within the aggressive breeds category indicates that the tag is miscounted. This shows that altering the purpose and encouraging friendly traits within the dog is responsible for ensuring they exhibit diminished aggression.

Dogs with owners younger than 25 are more aggressive, while those owned by owners older than 40 are less aggressive. This shows that dogs emulate the energy and behavior of their owners in the course of their growth. Younger people below 25 years are energetic and indulge in chases with their dogs. They throw things at them so that they can chase them. They also encourage the dogs to bark loudly by emulating the barking sound (Kogan et al.). This generally leads to a learning experience for the dogs that are exhibited aggression. Dogs owned by older people are mainly involved in walks with their owners. This ensures that they generally remain friendly towards people and strangers, hence limited confrontation. The existence of this feature for dogs from all breeds shows that the breed of the dog contributes very little to the aggression feature. It also shows that all dogs can be fashioned to suit any purpose as desired by the owner and based on the efforts made towards achieving this purpose.

Dogs that attended puppy training classes as less aggressive towards strangers due to excessive exposure to people. Dogs with this kind of training mainly undergo positive reinforcement within the teaching centers (Mai et al.). They are rewarded for their friendliness towards people, and these dogs shun aggressive characteristics. They present as generally timid and scared dogs, exhibiting playfulness and compassion. The impact of these puppy training centers when these dogs are still young is likened to the teaching of children to enable learn specific behaviors. Puppy training techniques are the same and apply to all breeds of dogs; even the ones deemed aggressive. This uniformity further indicates that dogs cannot be blamed for their nurture. It indicates that aggression of friendliness within dogs is a matter of nurture instead of nature.

Dogs from rescue centers are more aggressive than those bought from a breeder. This is because rescue centers collect stray dogs and shelter them, preventing illness and demise. They thereafter try and rehabilitate them through teaching various behaviors. People eventually take these dogs from the rescue centers and adopt them as pets. These dogs are usually more aggressive than those from puppy training centers. The formative stages of dogs from rescue centers were characterized by the need to survive, and these dogs adopted behaviors that enhanced this prerequisite (Kogan et al.). Puppies from training centers, on the other side, are accustomed to the provision of all their needs. The stray dogs learn how to hunt, and this causes the adoption of barking and aggression techniques. These are vital adaptations against humans who would seem to harm them or prey that may predate on them. This shows that these behaviors are mere stereotypes of some breeds and instead emanate from environmental demands and the need to live.

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Dogs trained using punishment and negative reinforcement is more aggressive towards strangers and are likely to lunge at family members. This is because negative reinforcement promotes fear and hatred towards people who deprive them of vital requirements such as food (Mai et al.). Negative reinforcement is a feature of Pavlov’s hypothesis that encourages deprivation as a means of rehabilitating behavior and installing new traits in animals. These dogs generally detest human contact, and this may explain their aggression towards family members and strangers. According to these dogs, human beings are associated with lack and suffering hence the need to evade human contact.

Nature in Aggression

The alternative faction contends that aggression in dogs stems from breed characteristics associated with genetics with these traits. They argue that breeds such as German shepherd and Rottweiler are inherent. These people submit that there are genes within these dogs that are responsible for their inherent aggression. This school of thought also turns to the evolution theory as an argument to support their stand (Essig et al.). They argue that during the evolution of these breeds of dogs, there was a need to attain aggression as a means of surviving the wild habitat. The wild habitat before the domestication of various animals by man was plagued with danger and extensive hunting. Dogs had to develop aggressive features to scare potential hunters and predators that may have sought to harm them. This assertion is also based on observation of other animals and the various features they have acquired over the years.


In conclusion, the notion that dogs are responsible for their aggression and the stereotyping of some breeds based on this assumption is misguided. This belief may point to the classical human escapism feature, diverting attention to other factors and absolving themselves of any error. The evidence of human involvement in the development and existence of aggression in dogs is overwhelming. The assumption that some breeds of domesticated dogs are inherently so is also inaccurate, and there is a need for additional research in this field. Further analysis into the role of human beings in this phenomenon is bound to eliminate misinformation and spur the discovery of mechanisms that encourage certain behaviors in domesticated dogs.

Works Cited

Essig, Garth F., et al. “Dog bite injuries to the face: Is There Risk with Breed Ownership? A systematic review with meta-analysis.” International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, vol. 117, 2019, pp. 182–188.

Kogan, Lori, et al. “Small animal veterinarians’ perceptions, experiences, and views of common dog breeds, dog aggression, and breed-specific laws in the United States.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 16, no. 21, 2019, p. 4081.

Mai, Dac L., et al. “Beyond puppy selection—considering the role of puppy raisers in bringing out the best in assistance dog puppies.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2021, pp. 1–10.

Oxley, James Andrew, et al. “Contexts and consequences of dog bite incidents.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2018, pp. 33–39.

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