Sunday, October 8, 2006

More on my post about the Best Friends Dangerous Dogs Summit

Well - this is actually more about the comments from my post about the upcoming Best Friends Dangerous Dogs Summit in Colorado.

Today posted in the comments:

I think Marjorie's research on dog bite stats is brilliant (thank you very much for that) and highly commendable, however must strongly disagree that all dogs are created equal based on genetics.

In fact I think it is misleading to suggest that genetic similarity creates a completely level playing field. To say that a Golden Retriever and a Presa Canario have the same temperament just because they are genetically similar makes zero sense to me.

I'm going to confer with two good friends of mine about DNA/genetics etc. who are both PHD's in biology and see what I come up with in respect to our canine friends.

I completely agree with the first paragraph :)

But the 2nd paragraph I'm going to have take severe umbrage with. I said originally that I didn't think Angela had been to the website - and I'm going to have to say that I still don't think you've been there Angela! Because if you did then you'd have become convinced by Marjorie's very articulate writings about temperament as it relates to aggression and know that the 2 are not related. And if temperament and aggression are not related - then temperament and genetics doesn't matter either.

And I also have a problem with saying that golden retrievers are different than presa canarios on a molecular level. That's like saying that black people are different than white people - or muslims are different than catholic - which I'm sure that any person in their right mind would disagree with. A dog is a dog - a human is a human. Temperament is determined by upbringing and propensity. Behaviour can be changed with training - bad behaviour that has been learned - even behaviour that has resulted in the death of a living thing can be trained out of an animal.

That is what is so truly dangerous about breed specific legislation and picking out certain breeds - people think they're going to be safer if they just get rid of the "problem" dogs because "those" breeds are bad. The real problem is NO breed is bad - only certain DOG OWNERS are bad. Lazy people, angry people, crazy people - those are the problems. All DOGS are exactly the same. And to say anything else is intellectual masturbation. A golden retriever really can kill a child if he's given the right amount of abuse and taunting and teasing and tethering. Really - he can. And one of these days I'm going to be proven right - and it'll probably be in Ontario, or maybe England or Winnipeg - or maybe even the municipality of the distrit of Guysborough. Because all of those places have banned pit bulls - so they'll be in short supply pretty soon.


  1. Anonymous11:09 AM

    Heya Joan,

    No I've been to goodpooch millions of times but I just disagree there is no genetic link to aggression.

    And I also don't think all humans are equal. Which means I would not want Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy for a father, not that I'm a racist.

    Most of what is on goodpooch I agree with fully and the rest of I just wish were true because it's Utopian...and who wouldn't want to live there.

    But it is not scientific to eliminate genetic markers as a possible explanation just by comparing what breeds have bitten. That is not genetic research it's skewed statistics. Maybe a million people own Golden Retrievers and only 1000 own Presa Canarios. Maybe the people who own the so called "dangerous breeds" keep them confined and on leash at all times. Who knows...but it's just not the proper measure of genetic predisposition to say that of the dogs who have bitten none these are our scientific findings.

    I think we will never agree on this and that is okay because we are both entitle to our opininons and there's nobody more fun to debate with...LOL

    Most people also don't think aggression can be passed down in humans either.

    Oh and now that I've typed this I realize it was not so much that I believe that breeds are aggressive, because I don't really. I think within breeds people are breeding for good or bad temperament. So you could have someone breeding aggressive goldens or aggressive matter. But, because of the hysteria about dogs who are in danger of being banned, or worse have been banned if we don't do something about the bad breeders the fight will always be uphill. Because the crisis already exists. And there is no doubt that big athletic dogs are a problem if they are aggressive. If a Great Dane is aggressive it's huge cause for concern and they are thought to be a docile breed...always exceptions of course.

    So yeah, I don't think aggression toward humans is necessarily breed specific but I still believe that it's something that can be passed down.

    And I think if you kept at it long enough you could breed it into an entire breed but this is unlikely. However, the "gaminess" or whatever in pitbulls has nothing to do with human aggression IMHO. Whole different issue. And although responsible breeders have bred it out of them we all know dog fighting is as popular today as it was 100 years ago. Maybe more. The purses are high and the matches attract handlers from across North America. They have websites and magazines and it is huge. And then there's the lower level stuff done by lower income people. But it's everywhere. So those "breeders" are doing nothing at all to restore the breed and are continuing to on purpose breed dogs who enjoy scrapping it out with one another...or who will because what animal could enjoy that. The whole thing is disgusting. So, largely people acquire there bully dogs from shelters or back yard breeders and not from registered breeders so there goes the argument that any negative characteristics have been completely bred out of them.

    And again, this goes for any breed. It's just more important for some than others right now because the public are ignorantly freaking out.

    Anyway, gonna go walk the dogs and eat turkey now...Happy Thanksgiving and pats to your crew.


  2. Anonymous11:49 AM

    Oh and way off topic and I don't know much about it although I think it is simply fascinating...

    There is school of thought that serial killers are part of the natural evolution of the species. Scary huh?

    I had a really great link about this a few months ago but I lost it.

    Managed to find this but it's not as good:

    Maybe true...maybe not. Who knows...just interesting is all.

    The link I had before talked more about the "urban jungle" and also about how serial killing was one of nature's ways of combatting overpopulation! Hope I can find that again. It's a simply terrible thought...but fascinating.


  3. Anonymous12:02 PM

    Last one I promise :

    Can you tell this fascinates me to no end? A friend and myself sat up until 6AM arguing about this last year...

    Recently, studies have given increasing

    consideration to the genetic make-up of serial

    killers. The connection between biology and

    behavior is strengthened by research in which

    scientists have been able to develop a violently

    aggressive strain of mice simply through selective

    inbreeding (Taylor 23). These studies have caused

    scientists to become increasingly interested in

    the limbic system of the brain, which houses the

    amygdala, an almond shaped structure located in

    the front of the temporal lobe. It has long been

    known that surgically altering that portion of the

    brain, in an operation known as a lobotomy, has

    been one way of controlling behavior. This surgery

    was used frequently in the 1960s but has since

    been discontinued as it also erases most of a

    person's personality. More recent development,

    however, have shown that temporal lobe epilepsy

    causes electrical impulses to be discharged

    directly into the amygdala. When this electronic

    stimulation is recreated in the laboratory, it

    causes violent behavior in lab animals.

    Additionally, other forms of epilepsy do not cause

    abnormalities in behavior, except during seizure

    activity. Temporal lobe epilepsy is linked with a

    wide range of antisocial behavior, including

    anger, paranoia, and aggression. It is also

    interesting to note that this form of epilepsy

    produces extremely unusual brain waves. These

    waves have been found in only 10 to 15 percent of

    the general population, but over 79 percent of

    known serial killers test positive for these waves

    (Taylor 28 - 33).

    Taylor, Lawrence. Born to Crime


  4. I first want to get something out of the way.

    I frequently read inaccurate conclusions about the information provided at I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here, but I want to make my position very clear.

    One of the most common implications about is that we’re a “pro ‘pit bull’ site” or that we somehow “promote” ‘pit bulls’. Nothing could be further from the truth, though.

    I am the founder of, and was the Director up until the end of 2004. I, personally, have no particular affinity for ‘pit bulls’. I like them no more, and no less, than any other ‘breed’ I don’t personally fancy…like Labrador Retrievers or Shih Tzus, for example. Perfectly fine dogs. Wouldn’t want to own one.

    While I’ve trained many ‘pit bulls’, I find absolutely no difference in training a ‘pit bull’ and, say, a Poodle. A submissive Poodle is dealt with very similarly to a submissive ‘pit bull’. (Poodles, by the way, tend to be higher on municipal dog bite statistics than ‘pit bulls’.)

    People jump to the very wrong conclusion that is some sort of ‘pit bull’ advocacy site, when it’s a REALITY advocacy site. When journalists would make this kind of implication, I’d usually say, “I have no love affair with ‘pit bulls’. I have a love affair with the truth!”

    Especially as an expert in the field of dog bite statistics, I won’t sit idly by and let ignorant people make false statements or use myths to justify inaccurate conclusions.

    As I said in my original post, a lot of the information people pass along between one another is based simply on something they've heard or read, and not something they can really prove, from a scientific standpoint.

    This leaves many people (maybe most people) "believing" in those things that make sense to them, based on their understanding of the situation. That's perfectly understandable. But it in no way suggests their views are accurate.

    This is what irks me most. …The fact that people are more concerned with justifying their personal beliefs, than with accepting black and white facts.

    In their attempts to validate their own preconceived theories that aggressive behaviour is inherited (something many people deeply believe), many refer to a number of “new theories” or hypotheses about shared genetic commonalities amongst those who commit violent acts. At best, these theories are unproven. At worst, they’re junk science.

    Since science can’t prove a negative, I always encourage those who espouse a genetic cause for a learned behaviour, like aggression, to prove their theories. What’s the gene? Where is it located? What are the alleles? The neurotransmitters and secondary receptor sites? Where, who, and under what circumstances was the discovery made? How has it been tested?

    Universally, they don’t have any cogent or relevant answers.

    Since the dogs who actually attack are from a wide variety of breeds and mixes, and locations; it is clear there is no direct genetic relationship between the individual dogs who actually attack, and thus no direct genetic link as a theorized cause for their aggressive behaviour. If attacking dogs are not genetically related, how could the cause for the attack be shared genetically? It can’t. In fact, nearly 100% of the time, there isn’t a single dog in an attacking dog’s ancestry known to have been attributed with an unprovoked attack.

    As I write all the time, “If any breed were programmed to attack, certainly more than 0.1% of them would.”

    The largest studies to examine the actual bodies of dogs involved in the most serious attacks against humans found no medical or physiological anomalies. There were no heightened hormone levels, for example. No brain tumors or brain abnormalities of any kind. The dogs spanned the gamut of dogs shapes and sizes and original breed purposes. They were healthy dogs with more terrestrial commonalities, like being intact male dogs, with known aggression histories, and were victims of human neglect, such as chaining, physical abuse, and a lack of any demonstrable obedience training or socialization.

    THESE last qualifiers are the factors common to virtually all dogs involved in attacks…not their breed.

    The reason I want to people to understand the real causes for canine aggression is so that we can all reduce the number of completely preventable unprovoked attacks.

    Unprovoked bites are easily prevented, if we understand the causes and contributing factors.

    Focusing on breed is not only incorrect, it is counterproductive. It diverts resources, and fails to accept the real-world data of dog bites: that is – Non-‘pit bull’ dogs bite and attack and kill, the most, by anyone’s standards.

    In addition, a dog’s breed predicts very little about its real-world behaviour, and even less about the likelihood it will bite unprovoked. (From a personal standpoint, I’ve been asked to work with far more aggressive Golden Retrievers, than ‘pit bulls; and my own dog has been the near-victim of far more aggressive Labs and Goldens, than ‘pit bulls’.)

    Because of these baseless stereotypes, people behave far too familiar around dogs they believe are safe because of their breed, and far too hysterical around dogs they believe are dangerous because of their breed.

    Aggression attributed to dogs from “liked” breeds is routinely dismissed, minimized, or justified. “Oh, Golden Retrievers are such friendly dogs, I have to believe little Sally did something to provoke ‘Champ’. They’re not like ‘pit bulls’ who attack for no reason.”

    I was flabbergasted by one media dog bite report that, despite only being three short paragraphs in length, included the statement that the attacking family pet (not a ‘pit bull’) was “not an aggressive dog” FOUR TIMES! One official involved in the case reiterated, “We want to make this clear, this was not an aggressive dog. We think the babysitter overreacted to the dog’s actions." The victim, the dog owner’s son, had to be treated in hospital. Does anyone, for one minute, think that, in this time in history, that if the dog had been a ‘pit bull’, the reporter and authorities would repeatedly try to downplay the dog’s aggressive behaviour? I was stunned, to say the least.

    Whenever a ‘pit bull’ or suspected ‘pit bull’ behaves aggressively, it is automatically considered a function of its breed. Whenever most non-‘pit bull’ dogs behave aggressively, it is automatically considered aberrant or situational; an isolated incident.

    As I pointed out in my previous letter, Golden Retrievers, for example [a breed notoriously (and incorrectly) described as being virtually devoid of any aggressive tendencies], is #4 on the list of breeds responsible for the most serious dog attacks that occur in Canada; behind #1 German Shepherds (which tend to, far and away, lead all the bite, attack, and fatality statistics across Canada), #2 Cocker Spaniels, and #3 Rottweilers.

    Unprovoked bites and attacks are incongruous with the term “inherently friendly”.

    If I haven’t made it clear enough already, I’ll make it crystal clear by putting it this way:

    Golden Retrievers cause more serious dog bite injuries than ‘pit bulls’ in Canada.

    Of the Golden Retrievers that have been involved in attack incidents I’ve investigated, none have been closely genetically related. They don’t share meaningful common ancestry with each other, nor do they share meaningful common ancestry with other attacking dogs (from other breeds).

    The dogs actually involved in attacks, in the real world, are no more closely genetically related than the dog population, in general.

    As such, it is difficult to understand why people continue to espouse this “inherited” theory of aggression, when attacking dogs are not even genetically related. If the dogs that actually attack aren’t genetically related, then they don’t share some kind of aberrant, inherited gene that caused them to attack.. This theory is pretty much completely refuted.

    People who espouse a genetic cause for aggression could only then reasonably hypothesize a “mutated” gene theory. I.E. Each individual attacking dog might possess some kind of gene that mutated in such a way as to cause its aggressive behaviour.

    Okay…sure. This could be an idea worth investigating. However, knowing that aggressive behaviours, themselves, are learned, it would probably, ultimately be a futile endeavour to look for mutated genes common to all attacking dogs, then theorize a way this mutation causes a dog to growl at a stranger, for instance. As yet, I haven’t heard of a new, scientific “discovery” along these lines, though.

    As hard as I try to get people to really “think” about the ideologies they’re espousing, I’m stymied by a person’s natural inclination to justify his/her beliefs, and need to cling to commonly-held (even though they might be scientifically baseless) beliefs. (My background in psychology probably makes me more aware of this proclivity.)

    (A note of caution: It said that, when people begin to read an article, they do so with the hopes of reinforcing their existing beliefs. When the information contradicts those beliefs, they either stop reading or go through the remainder of the article thinking of ways to refute each statement, rather than considering the information’s validity, or article’s overall merit.

    It is a rare bird who openly and objectively reads new information, and doesn’t automatically dismiss it, out of hand. Those who are open to the idea that their own beliefs might actually be wrong, or at least misinterpreted, are those who gain the most from research.)

    I’ve written extensively on these subjects, including what’s published at Some good primers might be:

    “Everything you wanted to know about ‘pit bulls’”

    An admittedly more ruthless look at “So-called ‘pit bull’ experts”

    “The truth about aggression”

    “Temperament and aggression are inherited?”

    “The myth of ‘aggression genes’”

    (Sorry, I can't seem to force a hyperlink, even with html.)

    I always welcome any evidence to the contrary of anything published at (especially under the disclaimers peppered throughout the “So-called ‘pit bull’ experts” article). (Hey, I’m only human, and I’m tired of reading the same old stuff, over and over again.) With expertise in a number of scientific and dog-related fields myself; including but not limited to over 30 years experience training dogs; a decade successfully re-training aggressive dogs; and 8 years being asked to consult on canine legislation initiatives, as well as pointed research into dog biting incidents around the globe, I’m always improving my knowledge base. As was put so aptly in one article, “We don’t know everything. We’re always surprised by the number of people who claim they do.”

    To date, though, I have found no piece of scientific (or otherwise verifiable) data that suggests a genetic cause (or a genetic link) between the dogs who actually attack, or any kind of scientific, statistical, or practical evidence that aggressive behaviour is anything but learned, or that any entire breed behaves any one way. (See “Temperament and Aggression are inherited?”)

    I am always happy to participate in reasoned, mature debates on these issues.


    Marjorie Darby

    And purely as a sidenote, the comment about an aggressive Great Dane being more of a danger, is particularly irksome, in that I'm also a lifelong Dane owner/fancier, and recognize this notion as having little more validity than one's imagination.

    This kind of "big dog = big injury" hysteria leads to the kind of unconscionalbe discrimination that sometimes makes my life very difficult, as the owner of sometimes several Great Danes at once.

    Let's not let facts get in the way of histrionics, though. Sure, none of my very big dogs have bitten a living animal (human or otherwise). No. Not once. But I am a responsible dog owner. I have trained and socialized my dogs to live in human society, where they'll meet strange people and animals. They don't consider anyone or anything to be a threat to them, unless it is actually a threat. Thus, they don't feel unjustifiably threatened, which is a necessary precursor to biting so-called "unprovoked".

    I've had fruitless discussions with people who can't escape their own worst case scenarios that, as adults, they might be able to fight off an attacking Pomeranian, but not a Mastiff.

    Even though most bites and attacks take place on, or directly adjacent to, the owner's property, and involve a dog known to the victim, I could ask these people if they own a Mastiff or if they know of anyone who does, and they're usually reply, "No."

    Then there's the fact that most serious bite victims are children (and then the elderly), it is clear this is an imagined fear of perfectly healthy adults.

    If you don't own a dog, you don't voluntarily interact with dogs, you avoid unsupervised dogs, and you don't live near a dog that is known to be aggressive, your risk of a bite is virtually nil. Whether your neighbour responsibly owns a Pomeranian or a Mastiff, your risk of attack remains the same. If you negligently own a Pomeranian, your risk of being bitten by a Pomeranian skyrockets. You are most likely to be bitten by your own dog.

    My expertise in dog bite statistics comforts me, in the face of these hysterics, with the knowledge that it is the size (or frailty) of the victim, not the dog, that best predicts severity of injury in the event of an unprovoked bite.

    Adults are rarely seriously injured by dogs of any size. While children and frail adults have been killed by even the tiniest dog breeds.

    But much, much more important is the conduct of the owner, and the behaviour of the individual dog, no matter what its breed.

    I can't put this any more plainly. Despite years of research, I have yet to find one properly trained and supervised dog involved in an unprovoked attack.

    Whether a properly trained and supervised dog is a Pomeranian, a 'pit bull' or a Great Dane, is irrelevant. They're not a danger.

  5. Anonymous5:31 PM

    Hi Marjorie,

    Well obviously we are all misunderstood :)

    I agree 100% that the overwhelmingly large cause of dog bites is humans but I won't back down from my personal opinion that aggression is possible to be passed down through genetics.

    I feel completely justified in having personal opinions.

    And I would still prefer to be attacked by a Yorkie than a Great Dane any day of the week.

    Not to be argumentative...let's just let sleeping dogs lie.

    And hope that lots of people have learned from all this and I really appreciate all your shared information.


  6. Thanks. You just proved my point.

    Despite everything I wrote, despite all the facts about the who, what, where, when, and how of dog bites, you still claim you'd rather be attacked by a Yorkie than a Great Dane

    I don't know why people can't escape their imagined fears, but those imaginations don't replace reality. And the reality is that most dog bite victims were injured by small and medium-sized dogs, and very few adults are seriously injured by dogs at all, no matter what size the dogs they meet might be.

    But hey...there's an old saying, "There is no reality, only perception."

    I'm quite proud of the fact that I've often been described as being "mired in reality."

    I sure hope the scientific, statistical, practical, and completely verifiable information I've provided helps people differentiate between reality and myth.

  7. I'd like to add that I, myself, really dislike when what I've written begins to take on a "tone".

    Printed words don't adequately show inflection, and I rarely intend to chastise or offend.

    To summarize what I'm trying to say in all this is...I don't pretend to be "right" or "all knowing". I have a great deal of experience and yes, even expertise in some areas. I expect those facts to be recognized. I am not just some random dog owner or self-described dog trainer, with atrociously limited experience.

    By the same token, I'm not saying that any views, other than mine, are wrong.

    I primarily deal in facts, not opinions. And when it comes to aggression having a genetic cause, there are no facts that draw that conclusion. I simply ask those who espouse such a theory to explain it in a cogent, intelligent, verifiable, fact-based way. Simply saying "it is my belief" or "I've heard" is fine, when limiting the discussion to personal opinion.

    I have a higher standard for drawing conclusions (and I wish more people did, too).

    I say, "Bring it on!" Give me the data that supports the theory of an aggression gene. Show me the geneological studies. Point out the location of the alleged gene. Tell me how it was discovered, and how it has been tested. I'm ready, willing, and able to consider (and verify) such evidence, and would be happy to put it into a context that dog owners and the public can use.

    But in the face of absolutely zero factual evidence, and ONLY personal beliefs and opinion to go on, I wonder why so many are so convinced they're right?