Personality and Behavioral Characteristics of Owners of Vicious Breeds of Dog

There is a small but growing body of research examining the personality and behavioral characteristics of dog owners and in particular the people who own “high-risk” breeds known for severely injuring human beings (pit bull, Akita, Rottweiler, Chow-Chow, and wolfdog). The similarity between dogs and their owners can be observed every day, but was first studied scientifically in 1997. Researchers at that time showed that owners of “high” aggression Cocker Spaniels were significantly more tense, shy, undisciplined and emotionally less stable than owners of “low” aggression Cocker Spaniels. It was not until 2006, however, that attention was focused on human personality style and antisocial behaviors of the owners of vicious dog breeds. These studies have established that a person’s decision to own a vicious breed of dog suggests underlying antisocial and deviant characteristics.

A study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence showed a link between ownership of high-risk dog breeds and deviant behaviors, crimes against children and domestic violence. Researchers examined the criminal backgrounds of 355 Ohio dog owners who had either a “high-risk” or an unlicensed dog. The high-risk dogs included all pit bulls (whether they had injured a person or not) and other dogs that had actually injured a person. The study found that all of the owners of high-risk dogs had at least one criminal conviction or traffic citation, while only 27% of the other dog owners had one or the other. More significantly, 30% of the owners of high-risk dogs had 5 or more criminal convictions or traffic citations, and those owners had significantly more criminal and traffic citations in every category than those who owned low-risk, licensed dogs. Compared with the owners of low-risk, licensed dogs, those who owned high-risk, cited dogs were more than 9 times as likely to have been convicted for a crime involving children, 3 times as likely to have been convicted for domestic violence, and 14 times as likely to have been convicted of crimes involving alcohol. Jaclyn E. Barnes, Barbara W. Boat, Frank W. Putnam, Harold F. Dates, and Andrew R. Mahlman, Ownership of High-Risk (“Vicious”) Dogs As a Marker for Deviant Behaviors, J. Interpersonal Violence, Volume 21 Number 12, December 2006 1616-1634. Read the abstract at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17065657

Another study concluded that “vicious dog ownership may be a simple marker of broader social deviance.” The study compared nondog owners and owners of vicious, large, and small dogs on engagement in criminal behavior, general personality traits (i.e., impulsive sensation seeking, neuroticism-anxiety, aggression-hostility, activity, and sociability), psychopathy, and attitude towards animal maltreatment. A significant difference in criminal behavior was found based on dog ownership type. Owners of vicious dogs were significantly more likely to admit to violent criminal behavior, compared to large dog owners, small dog owners, and controls. The vicious dog owner sample also engaged in more types (i.e., violent, property, drug, and status) of criminal behavior compared to all other participant groups. Personality traits were examined and vicious dog owners were significantly higher than controls on impulsive sensation seeking. Examining psychopathic traits, owners of high-risk dogs endorsed significantly more characteristics of primary psychopathy (e.g., carelessness, selfishness, and manipulative tendencies) than small dog owners. The study revealed that vicious dog owners reported significantly more criminal behaviors than other dog owners, and were higher in sensation seeking and primary psychopathy. In short, it suggested that vicious dog ownership may be a simple marker of broader social deviance. Laurie Ragatz M.A., William Fremouw Ph.D., Tracy Thomas M.A., Katrina McCoy B.S., Vicious Dogs: The Antisocial Behaviors and Psychological Characteristics of Owners, Journal of Forensic Sciences, Volume 54, Issue 3, pages 699–703, May 2009. Read the abstract: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1556-4029.2009.01001.x/abstract

A third study established that the owners of high-risk breeds of dog displayed more antisocial thinking styles, have an arrest history significantly higher than owners of other dogs, and engage in fighting to a significantly greater degree than other dog owners. They also had higher levels of overall criminal thinking patterns to go with the actual criminal behavior. Another important finding came from this study: vicious breeds did the most biting even though they were treated the same as nonvicious breeds. The owners of vicious dogs did not differ from the owners of other dogs in how the dogs were treated. All of the dogs had the same amount of playful interaction time with their owners, training class participation, and duration of time chained outside. Despite this, however, high-risk breeds were most likely to have bitten someone (11.5%), followed by small dogs (9.3%), and large dogs (3.3%). Allison M. Schenk, B.A.; Laurie L. Ragatz, M.S.; and William J. Fremouw, Ph.D, A.B.P.P., Vicious Dogs Part 2: Criminal Thinking, Callousness, and Personality Styles of Their Owners, J Forensic Sci, January 2012, Vol. 57, No. 1, doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2011.01961.x, available online at: onlinelibrary.wiley.com. Read the abstract at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1556-4029.2011.01961.x/abstract

None of this research proves that the owner of any one, particular pit bull, Akita, Rottweiler, Chow-Chow, or wolfdog is a psychopath, criminal, or anything else. No scientific study of this nature can take the place of a proper, detailed analysis of a person’s psyche and actual behavioral history. The research does establish, however, that any particular owner of a high-risk breed of dog is statistically more likely to have the traits and engage in the behavior described in the studies.