His Bark is Worse than His Bite: Perceptions and Rationalization of Canine Aggressive Behavior

Rachel Orritt, Harriet Gross & Todd Hogue

University of Lincoln

Qualitative methods are increasingly used to investigate the complexities of the dog-human relationship. In order to inform a larger study of human dog interaction, a focus group study was carried out to address the question 'How is aggressive behavior in dogs perceived and rationalized by people who have experience of dog behavior?' Six focus groups, including three
'non-professional' groups (two groups of dog owners and one group of amateur trainers) and three 'professional' groups (a behaviorist group, veterinary group and academic group) were carried out, involving participants who were recruited opportunistically. The focus group transcripts were analyzed using thematic analysis. Findings indicated that participants who do not work with dogs in a professional capacity are largely defensive of dogs when discussing aggressive behavior. However, these participants also discussed factors that make a dog 'risky' and how responsible owners manage that risk and the characteristics of 'dangerous dogs'. For
the professional groups, aggressive behavior in dogs presents a barrier to everyday work. They considered working with the owners of dogs showing aggressive behavior and battling anthropogenic stereotypes and misconceptions to be part of the professional  challenge. Professionals also contributed views on the nature of 'dangerous dogs' and demonstrated awareness of how perceptions could be distorted by the media and propagation of stereotypes. This research highlights the variability of perceptions about canine aggressive behavior. Findings can inform the critical interpretation of quantitative results, and offer a foundation for quantitative study of human directed aggressive behavior in dogs.

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Keywords: aggressive behavior, dog aggression, dog bites, perceptions, thematic analysis
Posted in 2015, Volume 3, No. 2