Note: This post was originally published on April 1, 2009. It has since been updated with a new introduction and further background on the history of dangerous dogs. Our original author’s list by breed can still be found below.
What makes one dog breed get a reputation for being more dangerous than others? Should you be more cautious around specific breeds? And does a dog’s breed even matter, or is it always a case of bad training?
Let’s explore some of the world’s most dangerous dogs, what makes us consider certain dog breeds to be dangerous, and role and history of dog training in building these reputations.
Dangerous Dogs (by Design?)
There are a number of reasons people tend to think of certain dog breeds as more dangerous than others. Not all reasons hold the same validity (hard statistics versus personal experiences for example). But they can play an important role in our understanding of these animals and our discussion about what might make some more dangerous than others.
Here are some of the reasons we tend to consider certain dogs to be the most dangerous dog breeds:
- There are more reported incidences of dog bites and serious injuries from some breeds (this is one of the big reasons pit bulls are considered the most dangerous dog in some municipalities, even requiring special insurance if you want to have one in some areas).
- The sheer size of some breeds can increase that perceived “danger factor.” While many of the largest breeds are known for their calm temperaments, the danger has to do with the potential for more serious injuries if those dogs happen to attack or even accidentally injure someone.
- Some dogs are seen as dangerous because they were literally designed to be seen that way over the course of history. For example, we’re used to seeing German Shepherds used as police dogs. We’re used to seeing breeds such as Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers being trained as guard dogs. And we’re used to the stories of American Pit Bull Terriers being trained for dog fighting.
- Another big thing that affects our opinions of dog breeds is our personal experience with them and anecdotal stories we hear from others who have had either positive or negative experiences with certain types of dogs.
Let’s focus more on that last example, as I believe it can have the most impact.
How Our Personal Experiences Affect Our Views of Dog Breeds
Whether it’s right or wrong for us to judge a dog breed based on our limited experiences and the stories we hear about them, it’s something most of us do on some level (myself included). So I’d like to share some personal stories and how they’ve affected me (or not affected me how you might think).
In our comments on the original list we saw this. For example, we had people saying pit bulls aren’t dangerous because their own experiences with the breed have been pleasant. Others shared experiences on the other side of the spectrum.
Personally I come in somewhere in the middle. I’m not naive enough to think that breed alone makes all pit bulls dangerous or more vicious than other dogs. But I’m also not naive enough to ignore the evidence that this breed has a history of causing more frequent and more serious injuries than most, if not all, others.
Clearly the breed plays some role. Some breeds lean toward different temperaments, or have different loyalties (such as being great with their own families but naturally suspicious of strangers or other animals or even small children, who have less self-restraint than adults).
Personal experience is also a factor though. My brother has a small dog. He took the dog outside at his apartment building into the parking lot. Another neighbor was outside with their pit bull. It wasn’t on a leash (which was required there, but going unleashed isn’t terribly uncommon around here). By all measures the dog would have seemed like a normal, calm family pet. Until it saw my brother’s dog. It immediately charged at them and grabbed his dog by the throat (there was no provocation, no unusual noise, and they were across the lot — not close to the pit bull’s owner in any way). My brother was able to rescue his dog by lifting the pit bull and literally prying its mouth open (which, by the way, is a stupid thing to do — please don’t ever follow that example). The dog let go and his dog was okay after being treated for its injuries. The pit bull then latched onto my brother’s arm though. Again, he was okay after being treated, but the wound wasn’t insignificant. It could have been far worse.
That puts me in that middle ground territory I mentioned before. Personal experience with this breed is terrible. There is no sign that this dog was trained to attack or fight. Its owner seemed to be caught completely off-guard. It just snapped at the sight of a smaller dog. That kind of sudden reaction is far from unheard of with this breed.
But that said, I don’t fault an entire breed (this case pit bulls actually including three different breeds) for the actions of that single dog. The lack of predictability of some breeds would make them “more dangerous” in my view, almost as much as poor training and bad behavior by an owner (like allowing any breed with known issues with children or other animals to run free without a leash).
This is far from the only example I could give. Saint Bernards are also sometimes cited as some of the most dangerous dogs. But they’re also known for being calm-tempered and being good with kids. It’s their fierce loyalty that can be an issue.
A family member had one years ago. That dog was a great dog for most of its life. It even helped to stop a burglar in the family’s building. But years later it lunged at another family member who the dog knew for its entire life. They came to visit, and out of the blue the dog lunged and went for her eye. She’s still terrified of the breed to this day (and understandably so after an experience like that). We can’t explain the unprovoked attack. It might have been a breeding issue. The dog might have been having a bad day in some way. We just don’t know. I understand her fear of the breed. But it’s not one I hold myself as a result — perhaps because I didn’t see it first-hand.
I personally own a mixed breed dog — border collie mixed with a lab. At this stage in her life, I would also consider her to be a dangerous dog, especially around children. She is in no way violent. She’s great with cats and other dogs. But she’s still at that point where she’s young, wants to play all the time, and she doesn’t realize her own size or strength. The hyper aspect is breed-specific. Both labs and border collies can be very high strung, especially in their first couple of years. Neighbors and family members don’t want her playing with their tiny dogs, and I think that’s understandable. And I wouldn’t take her out to play with small children for fear that she’d accidentally hurt them by jumping up or knocking them over as she tries to play. Being dangerous isn’t always a case of being vicious, and that’s why so much falls onto the owner. It’s our responsibility to make sure our dogs aren’t put into situations where they’re more likely to cause harm.
If you’ve had experiences that have shaped your own views of what makes for a dangerous dog breed, let us know in the comments. Tell us what happened and whether or not you think it’s a fair way to judge a larger group of dogs based on the action (or actions) you’ve seen first-hand, and why.
Now let’s get to our original list of some of the seemingly most dangerous dogs, based on breeds. Now that you know why certain breeds have earned their “most dangerous dogs” reputations, can you think of others that might also have a similar history? Tell us in the comments.
Every person that I know deeply cares about his or her pets. They are their best friends. They tenderly love each other. Sometimes they eat together, sleep together, and go for walks together. I’m more of a cat person, but I can’t sit still when I see little puppies or big dogs with big soft fur. I want to hug them, play with them, and give them some of my love and tenderness too. I’ve also seen many adult dogs of different breeds worth praise and true admiration. They are clever, sociable, and funny when you want to play; calm and patient with kids. And they’re something I can’t credit to cats: they are faithful.
Personally, I don’t know any dog that would bite without warning or just snap. It’s my firm belief that behavior of the dog doesn’t depend on its breed so much as it being the right training and the “master” that matter. In my opinion, humans are most often responsible for dangerous dogs. That said, there might be some truth in the idea that some breeds have more unstable temperaments than others, but knowing this we should never provoke them.
Think for a minute and analyze your own life. Are we always polite? I can think of several situations when I would have gladly slapped a man in the face, but thank God I’m weak enough and I can control myself (at least I think that I can). Now think about animals. They have instincts too, and they may forget about good manners. It’s not as if they understand them in the same ways we do.
It’s also important for dog owners to protect both other people and their dogs from unexpected circumstances and thus the unpleasant situations. For example, when going outside, they could always use a dog-lead and a muzzle. They could be careful and not let the dog play on its own without a leash, especially when there are other people around. When you have a dog, you become forever responsible for the animal you’ve trained and tamed.
In any case, it’s good to know what breeds of dogs might be most dangerous, just to keep yourself safe. Sometimes the danger in a dog isn’t even a nasty personality, but a matter of them not knowing their own strength. Even though I personally still find it hard to believe that breed alone deems a dog “dangerous,” you never know what a dog’s owner has taught it. The research into the most dangerous dogs included below was performed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the CDC, and the Humane Society of the United States. We’ll start with least dangerous of the bunch. Sorry, but there won’t be any terrifying photos today.
Origin: Balkans, India, Middle Ages
Weight: 40-70 lbs
Height: 20-24 inches
Dalmatians are active and energetic dogs, loving to be outdoors. They are very playful and love running.
There’s still no definite info about what this breed was originally bred for. This is the first dotted breed in Europe, Asia and Africa. They were serving as warriors, hunters, and shepherds before finally becoming the symbol of the English fireman.
Origin: Germany, 1850-ies
Weight: 50-64 lbs
Height: 20-25 inches
The boxer is a very strong “square” dog. Boxers love to walk, but the owner should never forget the leash. It’s also better to refrain from aggressive games. Still, boxers recognize all members of the family and can play well with the children.
The boxer breed was bred in feudal Germany and dates back to the line of bulldogs that existed in Europe in the XVI century. Its ancestors were used in hunting wild boars and other big wild animals. The first puppy in a new breed was given a name “Box.” Boxers qualities, such as their strength, were highly valued by farmers and shopkeepers.
Origin:Canary Islands, Africa
Weight: 100-125 lbs
Height: 25-26 inches
The Presa Canario hails from the Canary Islands, where the dogs were trained for hunting and for war. During the 18th century, English traders and merchants came to the Canary Islands, bringing with them their working and gladiator dogs, notably the Mastiff of England and the Bulldog. Englishmen also brought with them their traditions of pit fighting for which their breeds and the island dogs were inevitably mixed and eventually bred to produce the ultimate fighter. Nowadays the breed is used for guarding and the handling and driving of cattle.
The dogs of this breed can be gentle and noble with their families, showing great affection to their owners, and being suspicious of strangers.
Origin: Switzerland, Middle Ages
Weight: 110-180 lbs
Height: 24-29 inches
Saint bernards are amazingly big and easygoing dogs, but due to their impressive size they can look a bit awkward. They are quiet and peaceful, love children and are not built for active and rapid games. Saint bernards will need all of your attention, so if you spend days in the office, this dog is not for you. They are tremendously strong and, of course, they require a good bit of space.
Most likely, the ancestor of the Saint Bernard was the Alpine Mastiff, which was a pretty aggressive breed. They were used as working dogs and scouts. Nowadays they are considered excellent home companions.
Origin: Germany, Middle Ages – XIX century
Weight: 90-120 lbs
Height: 27-32 inches
Great danes are beautiful and majestic animals, with a gentle and loving nature. They love to play with children and participate in all family events and activities, especially in the outdoors. They are happy to go for a walk and don’t mind the company of other dogs, and despite their gigantic size Great Danes can even feel quite at home in a city.
In the middle ages, these dogs were used for dog fighting and for hunting big mammals.
Origin: China, antiquity
Weight: 40-65 lbs
Height: 18-22 inches
The chow chow is an independent dog often focused only on its own needs. Chow chows need constant physical activity and communication, even if they don’t seem to like being disturbed much.
Chow chows were bred for hunting and helping shepherds.
Origin: Germany, XIX century
Weight: 65-90 lbs
Height: 26-28 inches
Doberman pinschers (often just called dobermans) are dogs that were originally bred to protect and defend. It is important to avoid any type of aggressive play and struggle with these dogs, instead letting the games be guided to develop the doberman’s intelligence. Even though they aren’t small dogs, dobermans can adapt to life in a city and become a perfect companion for the experienced, physically active owner.
This breed was bred in Germany by Louis Doberman who decided to combine the qualities of guard dogs and and the terrier. Luis was a policeman and needed a dog that would devotedly defend its owner.
Origin: North America, ancient times
Weight: 80-110 lbs
Height: 23-28 inches
The malamute is a friendly dog, but it has rather an independent temper. It’s better to keep this dog in a village, far from the city. Sometimes violent and energetic, they constantly need to move or play. It’s a working breed where the dogs are used to a cold climate, so if you don’t live in the deep north, make your malamute a nice playground as they are always in need of physical activity.
The name was given to the breed by a local tribe which used the malamute to transport goods on a sleigh.
Origin: Siberia, ancient times
Weight: 35-55 lbs
Height: 20-24 inches
The training of a husky is a complicated thing, and this dog is not recommended for beginning dog owners. Initially these dogs were used to transport goods on a sleigh. Not afraid of cold weather, they’re very active and loving dogs. The love to get together with other members of their breed and howl at the moon.
Origin: Germany, XIX century
Weight: 70-85 lbs
Height: 22-26 inches
German shepherds are very beautiful dogs, distinguished from other breeds by their reliable and obedient temper. They are in need of constant and serious physical activity though, and they seem to give preference to long walks and active games.
Originally (as obvious from the name), the dogs were used for grazing sheep. They are great home guards and often participate in programs for the disabled.
Origin: Germany, 1820-ies
Weight: 85-110 lbs
Height: 23-27 inches
Rottweilers are powerful dogs with strong jaws, primarily meant to protect. The breed was bred especially for that purpose. They often don’t like strangers and other dogs — they are guards at heart, and the dog owner should always remember that.
Origin: US, XIX century
Weight: 30-55 lbs
Height: 18-22 inches
The pit bull was bred especially for dog fighting and, sad as it is, they’re still used for this purpose today.
Photos source: www.flickr.com.