Aggressive Dog? Depends on Who’s Making the Call

When Rumpy and I are out and about, we see all sorts of reactions in people.

Some people get a look of surprise on their face, as though they’re not quite sure what to make of him.

Others turn in fear of Rumpy. If walking, they head away from us, but often look to make sure he doesn’t jerk away from me and attack them.

And then some people immediately have a smile on their face. They stop and ask about the Rumpster, and perhaps give him a head rub.

Those who are attracted to Rumpy invariably tell me of their own dog. I’ve heard stories of all sorts of beloved animals while Rumpy makes new friends.

Some insurance companies identify Alaskan Malamutes as dangerous breeds.
Some insurance companies identify Alaskan Malamutes as dangerous breeds.

A recent study conducted in Sweden found that our empathy toward dogs impacts how we perceive their behavior. The researchers asked vet students about their experiences with and empathy toward dogs, then showed them videos of dogs, and asked them to describe if the dog’s behavior was dangerous. Not surprising, the less empathy the student had toward dogs, the more aggressive they labeled the dog’s behavior.

The "dangerous dog" attacking the bed comforter
The “dangerous dog” attacking the bed comforter

How is this relevant for those of us who share our home with a dog of a “dangerous breed”? It simply reinforces what we already know- we must be sure to take steps to make others not feel unsafe around our dogs.

Earlier this week when two people were working across the street and Rumpy was eyeing them, I explained to them that Rumpy likes to watch people, but he’s not aggressive.

When people walk nearby, I have Rumpy stop until they pass, so he won’t nudge them or try to engage them in play. The dog lovers will invariably stop, while the rest will quickly go on their way.

I do not try to lecture people about my dog. Instead, I let people learn by watching us that, at least with Rumpy, they are in no danger.

What do you do to make others feel safe around your dog?



The study? Factors Affecting the Human Interpretation of Dog Behavior, by Meyer, Iben; Forkman, Björn; Paul, Elizabeth S., published in Bloomsbury Journals. I accesssed the study through


50 thoughts on “Aggressive Dog? Depends on Who’s Making the Call

    1. It’s important for us to remember that people who don’t have experience with dogs could see our dog’s normal behavior as aggressive. It’s up to us to assure them our dogs will not cause them harm.

  1. With small dogs, it’s easy. People are not afraid of them, although they tend to get overly-familiar. Small dogs, especially Scotties, will bite a lot sooner and with less provocation than big ones and despite the way they look, they are not teddy bears. With the big shepherd, people have pretty much the same reaction as they do to Rumpy … avoidance or recognition with not much in between. I can’t believe ANYONE could consider any of the sled dogs vicious. They are so people oriented! The original big, friendly dogs.

    1. It’s only because they don’t know about the breed. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me if he’s part wolf. Uh….. no. He’s a dog.

    2. Actually, some people are afraid of dogs like me. Especially some children (and also some large dogs). One time, I was walking through Soho with the Lady (my person), and a fancy-looking woman approaching us gasped in horror and clutched her chest.

      My Lady turned around, expecting to see a giant NY rat scampering up the sidewalk. But the fancy woman, looking askance at me, said, “I’m afraid of dogs!”

      For reference, I weigh 15 lbs. and am 13 inches tall.

      1. Albert, there are many people who are afraid of things far smaller than you. Why else would we spend so much money on pest control?

      2. Miss Bonnie is 14″ high and weighs about 22 pounds (bring on the biscuits!!) and Nan is 12″ tall and about 14 lbs. No one ever seems to fear them, though Nan has been trying to evoke fear her whole life. We used to ask the UPS guy to pretend he was scared. It made her happy.

        A REAL sewer rat IS terrifying.

  2. I walk my neighbour’s alsation every Wednesday lunchtime (I work from home and they have a long day) and amazed how people naturally assume he is an aggressive dog. Most probably would be if we got attacked, but over all Kendo is a massive softie x

  3. Been there, done that. Tippy was the most gentle and friendly dog that ever lived. Jack – as I have already told you – has some issues. I have to warn people not to try and pet him, when we’re out. He’s much more muscular looking, and he actually looks kind of “pit-bull-ish.” But, when we adopted Tippy, they identified her as a “Shepherd mix,” whereas Jack was identified as a “Lab mix.” It was almost impossible getting renters insurance when we had Tippy, but no problem when we got Jack.

    1. It’s crazy, isn’t it? Rumpy has never harmed a soul, but I had a heck of a time finding someone to rent to me when I moved here because of his breed. I’ve rented three other times with him and had no problem, but suddenly here it was a big deal. I don’t get it.

      1. The hardest thing with Jack, is when little kids come running up to him – wanting to pet. He’ll let kids pet him, but they have to stop and let him smell first. But I have to go, “No! Don’t pet him!”

      2. I don’t let kids near Rumpy. I am not taking any changes the kid does something to antagonize him, then he pays the consequences.

  4. When I was living with my parents still, and even into college, I would take my 85-lb. boxer into the elementary school where my mom worked for a presentation with the kids. I’d have Boomer lie down, and then the kids would sit around him and pet him. That way, they could see big dogs aren’t scary!

  5. I love it. The animals behavior is almost always the product of our training and affection toward them… sadly, environmental, and other forces unseen, or detected by humans can cause ONE particular animal to take their aggression out on the nearest potential threat they fore see, leaving a bad report on ALL the breed, and akin.
    I love Malamutes. And Rumpydog is beautiful.

    1. My neighbors have dogs, and while they are not a “dangerous breed,” they do act aggressively toward Rumpy. I don’t let him anywhere near them, because I don’t want him to be identified as the culprit should they attack him.

  6. We had Sabrina, a 95lb black lab and pit bull mix, she was the biggest marshmallow I’ve ever known. She was the most awesome family member along with 3 kids and 2 cats. When walking with her, I would always pull over and let people and other dogs just pass by and they were terribly grateful when I did. She looked really scary with her big pitbull head, even though I knew she would never hurt anyone or anything. I trusted her more than I trusted other people especially little kids. Also once while walking her, 2 roaming neighborhood dogs did attack her and she just ran behind me and cried. Just the most gentle dog ever. Miss her. Thanks for educating people about big dogs.

    1. I am fearful when walking Rumpy, not because he is a dangerous dog, but because I fear he will be thought at fault for the shenanigans of other dogs.

  7. Dogs can also sense a person’s feelings towards them. Molly definitely can tell who she can snuggle up to for a pet, but we usually make her sit until the person shows interest. (Dogs can do some pretty good “cute” when they want to.) Best to be cautious no matter the size or breed.
    Always a delight when a couple of neighborhood constantly getting “accidentally” loose small dogs run up snarling, circle, and nip at totally baffled Molly (who exhibits more self control and patience than I would if I were her) and the owner calls from a distance, then finally comes over and tries to chase her dogs off all the while saying her dogs aren’t “aggressive”.
    Dogs of all sizes and breeds need to be socialized with other dogs and people.

    1. Gee, that sure sounds like aggressive behavior to me! You’re nicer about it than I am too. The second time it happened, I’d have called animal control and reported the owner.

  8. I have a miniature schnauzer who’s one of the meanest critters on 4 legs I’ve ever known. He’s very aggressive and not friendly towards other dogs and certainly not to other people. I don’t know why he’s like that; it’s just his personality. I had him neutered several years ago and keep him on a leash whenever we go out. But I still have a hard time brushing his teeth and giving him a bath. He’s been banned from 2 Petcos because the groomers couldn’t handle him. I get him groomed at his local veterinarian’s office, and he seems to do just fine there. But their groomer once told me I’m lucky they take him because he’s so incorrigible sometimes. Dogs have their own personalities, but it’s still up to the owners to do what they can to control them.

  9. Being that we’ve been rescuing mostly rotties for 28 years, ( and a few other breeds) we know how this is. In all the tons of dogs we’ve had, the most aggressive was a choc lab. Go figure. If I ever had the wonderful opportunity to me the Rumpster, I know it’ll be love at first sight. ❤

  10. I don’t have a dog but some of neighbours do and when they are walking the dogs, I would stop to just stroke them or just tap their heads. Some of neighbours who don’t know me so well will drag their dogs slightly away from me ‘coz they think a moslem like me will not touch dogs. But once they know I love animals, they even let me walk the dogs or just chat with their pets for a while….

    If I meet Rumpy, I think I will definitely talk and play some time…. 🙂

      1. It doesn’t have anything to do with the like n dislike, it is more about the dog saliva make us wash ourselves more thoruoghly before praying. Anyway not so important coz now soap is available to clean ourselves perfectly but most moslem still think better not to physically contact with dog….

  11. Omg when I saw this it made me cry. U cannot judge a book by its cover as well as animals. As by my name u can tell I love all animals small big thin chubby sweet aggressive adorable ugly. And this dog seems to be sweet and adorable.

  12. I hold them back. Scotties can be very vocal on seeing walkers. They do not like to be ignored. I will say that they want you to say something or if it is a scary looking person, I will say something to warn the person off from the “eminent danger”, if they get too close.

  13. I would not think of Rumpy as an aggressive breed at all!

    I agree, true dog lovers do not judge a dog on it’s breed or looks. I volunteer at an animal shelter that gets every breed imaginable come though, including those stereotypical “aggressive” breeds like pitbulls and in my experience the pitbulls are the absolute sweetest dogs EVER! I’ve had multiple ones come through that would rather cuddle on a bench than go for a walk!

    Not everyone is a dog lover, I know people who are afraid of all dogs!

    1. That is true. There are lots of people who are afraid of dogs. They sometimes fake it when the dogs are small, but there’s no hiding it when the dog is big.

  14. To me, Rumpy doesn’t look like agressive at all but probably it’s because I knew already he is not…I love dogs and cats but sometimes if a big dog like German shephered or Shiberian husky was passing us, I made sure if the owner kept the leash tightly….because when my Kevin was puppy, he was attacked by Borzoi dog and Golden Retriever while we were taking a walk….both of them were not with leash because the owners insisted their dogs were very safe, never bitten anyone….well…anyone…but dogs? Poor Kevin eneded up seeing a vet because he had a hole on his tummy….When I took Kevin for a walk, I always kepe him very closed to me especially near children….he didn’t like children, so often barked at them….perhaps to them, my cute Kevin looked like agressive dog?

    1. It irritates me when people insist their dogs are not dangerous. Any dog off-leash who confronts a dog on-leash makes for a dangerous situation. I find those people thoughtless boobs.

  15. Lots of people want to talk to us when we’re out and about because they have never seen a dog like me. Many of them are nervous because of my size. My bipeds get me to sit unless they know the person is used to large dogs. They always try to make the time to answer questions.

  16. Ray is a Shepherd/Rotti X who was picked as a stray and, after 4 months of work by our Humane Society trainers, came to live with us. However, after 2 years, we are still working on some of his issues. We always try and put ourselves between him and an oncoming person when out on a walk. He is muzzled if we anticipate “space” issues (like crowded areas). If anybody wants to say Hi to him, he is trained to “touch” on request (which gets him used to being really close to a stranger) after which he gets treats. He is far more receptive to women than men so we have to allow for that! It is interesting that more people are cautious of him when he is wearing his muzzle even though he is the safest dog around at that time! As an aside, he has no problems wearing his muzzle (Baskerville style) because people give him lots of space!

    At home, he is 75lbs of love and cuddle! Ironically, when out on his walks, we often note that he was better behaved than all the other dogs were met! I guess the difference is that we know Ray has issues and are working on them. So many people we meet are in total denial that there dog could be a problem. Having been bitten by an “It’s ok …. she’s friendly” dog, I am tuned in to “potentially difficult” circumstances.

    1. I can so relate! I’ve been working on a blog post where I talk about my fears when walking Rumpy, not because of him, but because of what could happen if he were to have a run-in with one of those dogs that is “friendly,” because I know it would be Rumpy who took the blame for whatever happened.

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