Intelligence, not breed, is a predictor of aggression in dogs, says trainer Tyson Hainsworth.
A 50-year-old Langdon, Alta., woman was attacked and killed by her own dog, a pit bull-boxer cross, after she defended a child the dog attacked.
Now, questions are again being raised about whether dog breeds traditionally considered “more aggressive,” like pit bulls should be allowed to be owned as pets.
“They just have more power than a lot of other dogs,” Hainsworth told Danielle Smith on 770 CHQR. “There’s lots of dog bites that happen that they just never get reported because they’re not as severe.
LISTEN: Dog trainer Tyson Hainsworth joins Danielle Smith to explain why some dogs are more aggressive than others
“A lot of pit bulls, if they do start fighting, they don’t want to back down and they tend to latch on a little bit more, and that’s what causes a lot more problems.”
Hainsworth said boxers are a generally amiable breed, despite their appearance.
“I’ve seen some boxers that are aggressive but mostly they’re goofy, easy-going dogs.
“We typically find that intelligence is the biggest predictor of whether a dog will be aggressive or not.”
Applied dog behaviour consultant Neal Espeseth agrees that the breed of the dog does not predict aggressive behaviour.
“There’s no such thing as a bully breed.”
“A Yorkshire Terrier will perform the same behaviours under the same conditions,” Espeseth told Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED. “It’s just that the dogs are bigger and the bite is bigger. No, we don’t need to ban dogs.
“It’s really unfortunate that there’s any kind of discrimination going on.”
Hainsworth believes canines fall along an alpha-beta-omega continuum of behaviour, with alphas exhibiting more dominant behaviours and omegas exhibiting more submissive behaviours.
LISTEN: Dog behaviour expert Neal Espeseth joins Ryan Jespersen to discuss the warning signs of aggressive dogs
And while all dog breeds will produce dogs throughout that spectrum, some breeds will have higher representation along the more dominant areas of behaviour.
“There’s certain breeds that you see more (alphas) of — basically, anything with higher levels of intelligence. If we ever deal with aggression issues, we deal with pit bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, even Poodles, Maltese.
“Both of those little dogs are quite intelligent and they bite lots of people you just never hear about it, it never makes the news.”
Hainsworth said pit bulls get a bad rap in public discussions because of the severity of their bites.
“That’s why you hear so much polarization over the topic of pit bulls is, if you have a pit bull that’s not all that intelligent and wouldn’t hurt a fly.
“Where we do training, we have chickens and I’ve had pit bulls out where you bring around the chickens and they look afraid of the chickens. They just want to move away. They literally wouldn’t want to hurt anything.”
Hainsworth said that all dogs will, using their behaviour, communicate their temperament with humans and humans can learn how to read a dog’s behaviour.
“You want to understand some of your pack structure rules, things that dogs place value on. And once you understand those rules, then you can start to see where a dog thinks they outrank you or not. So some common ones would be food — that can trigger fights, also possessions, anything they consider a possession. So if they grab a sock or a stick, a high-ranking dog won’t want to give it up.
“So another example, tug of war. Omegas will never play tug of war with you. No matter how hard you try, they’ll say: ‘Oh, that’s your toy. There’s no way I’ll challenge you on it.’ Only betas and alphas will play tug of war with you. Betas will let go easier; alphas really won’t want to let go.
“Attention will be another pack structure rule. So a high-ranking dog can force attention on a low-ranking dog, but not the other way around. So that’s why if a dog’s not afraid to come right up to you, especially jump on you, then you know they’re a more confident dog and could potentially have aggression issues later in life if you’re not careful. But if they’re not coming up, you know they’re more in that omega category.”
Hainsworth said dogs can, over time, think they can usurp control from their owner.
“They can definitely think that they outrank the owner.
“I’ve worked with lots of clients where their dogs have turned on them and bit them, but you don’t tend to hear about that as much.
“You’ll see warning signs, if you understand the rules, where the dog’s trying to show rank. Like, if you come up to them on beds or furniture and they growl at you, or if you’re near the food dish and they growl at you, or near a toy and they growl at you, or if you go to pet them.”
“Lip curls, ears going back, hair standing up on the back, tail between the legs, body getting stiff, there’s all different kinds of signs,” Espeseth added.
Hainsworth said it’s unlikely for a dog to go from showing zero aggression towards its owner to suddenly attacking.
“Not from my experience. Once you know what to look for, you’ll always see signs. But I’d say the vast majority of the population doesn’t know how to recognize those signs.”
Espeseth aggreed that there is always signs of aggression before an attack.
“These behaviours don’t just pop up at Tuesday at 2 in the afternoon. There is signs of aggression. Always. Aggression is a symptom of an underlying behaviour. These behaviours were already there.”
Hainsworth has advised most of his clients and the public to not get a dog that exhibits alpha-like behaviour, whether a rescue dog or a bred dog.
“I would definitely not suggest getting an alpha dog, not unless you really like to follow a lot of rules and be pretty strict with your training.”
And Espeseth said never trust your dog around children.
“We just can’t.”
After the attack in the hamlet to the west of Calgary, RCMP Staff Sgt. John Spaans said the dog that attacked its owner, along with a second dog in the home, has been quarantined under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
Spaans also said the owner can voluntarily euthanize the animal or the dog can be put down on order by the courts. The dog can also be released back to the owners under strict conditions.
But Hainsworth said the attack on the owner and child crossed a line.
“In my opinion, I would put the dog down. It’s just too dangerous at that point.
“Once it happens once, you know it’s likely they’ll escalate to that level again, so, just in good conscience, I wouldn’t try to do any training. I would just put the dog down.”