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 âmore aggressive,â like pit bulls should be allowed to be owned as pets.
âThey just have more power than a lot of other dogs,â Hainsworth told Danielle Smith on 770 CHQR. âThereâs lots of dog bites that happen that they just never get reported because theyâre not as severe.
LISTEN: Dog trainer Tyson Hainsworth joins Danielle Smith to explain why some dogs are more aggressive than others
âA lot of pit bulls, if they do start fighting, they donât want to back down and they tend to latch on a little bit more, and thatâs what causes a lot more problems.â
Hainsworth said boxers are a generally amiable breed, despite their appearance.
âIâve seen some boxers that are aggressive but mostly theyâre goofy, easy-going dogs.
âWe typically find that intelligence is the biggest predictor of whether a dog will be aggressive or not.â
Applied dog behaviour consultant Neal Espeseth agrees that the breed of the dog does not predict aggressive behaviour.
âThereâs no such thing as a bully breed.â
âA Yorkshire Terrier will perform the same behaviours under the same conditions,â Espeseth told Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED. âItâs just that the dogs are bigger and the bite is bigger. No, we donât need to ban dogs.
âItâs really unfortunate that thereâs any kind of discrimination going on.â
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.
âThereâs certain breeds that you see more (alphas) of â 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.
âBoth of those little dogs are quite intelligent and they bite lots of people you just never hear about it, it never makes the news.â
Hainsworth said pit bulls get a bad rap in public discussions because of the severity of their bites.
âThatâs why you hear so much polarization over the topic of pit bulls is, if you have a pit bull thatâs not all that intelligent and wouldnât hurt a fly.
âWhere we do training, we have chickens and Iâve 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 wouldnât want to hurt anything.â
Hainsworth said that all dogs will, using their behaviour, communicate their temperament with humans and humans can learn how to read a dogâs behaviour.
âYou 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 â that can trigger fights, also possessions, anything they consider a possession. So if they grab a sock or a stick, a high-ranking dog wonât want to give it up.
âSo another example, tug of war. Omegas will never play tug of war with you. No matter how hard you try, theyâll say: âOh, thatâs your toy. Thereâs no way Iâll challenge you on it.â Only betas and alphas will play tug of war with you. Betas will let go easier; alphas really wonât want to let go.
âAttention 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 thatâs why if a dogâs not afraid to come right up to you, especially jump on you, then you know theyâre a more confident dog and could potentially have aggression issues later in life if youâre not careful. But if theyâre not coming up, you know theyâre more in that omega category.â
Hainsworth said dogs can, over time, think they can usurp control from their owner.
âThey can definitely think that they outrank the owner.
âIâve worked with lots of clients where their dogs have turned on them and bit them, but you donât tend to hear about that as much.
âYouâll see warning signs, if you understand the rules, where the dogâs trying to show rank. Like, if you come up to them on beds or furniture and they growl at you, or if youâre 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.â
âLip curls, ears going back, hair standing up on the back, tail between the legs, body getting stiff, thereâs all different kinds of signs,âÂ Espeseth added.
Hainsworth said itâs unlikely for a dog to go from showing zero aggression towards its owner to suddenly attacking.
âNot from my experience. Once you know what to look for, youâll always see signs. But Iâd say the vast majority of the population doesnât know how to recognize those signs.â
Espeseth aggreed that there is always signs of aggression before an attack.
âThese behaviours donât 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.â
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.
âI 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.â
And Espeseth said never trust your dog around children.
âWe just canât.â
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.
âIn my opinion, I would put the dog down. Itâs just too dangerous at that point.
âOnce it happens once, you know itâs likely theyâll escalate to that level again, so, just in good conscience, I wouldnât try to do any training. I would just put the dog down.â