Psychological characteristics of vicious dog owners

An article on the psychological characteristic of vicious dog owners has just appeared online in the compelling academic publication, The Journal of Forensic Sciences, finding that those who who own dangerous dogs are more likely to endorse antisocial and psychopathic character traits and more likely to report criminal behaviour.

The study was led by psychologist Laurie Ragatz who collected data from 869 college students who completed an anonymous online questionnaire assessing type of dog owned, criminal behaviors, attitudes towards animal abuse, psychopathy, and personality.

It’s only a correlational study but the introduction has a nice summary of the research findings as well as a previous study on the same topic:

Each year, 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs, of which 386,000 are seriously injured and over 200 die. Several dog breeds have been labeled “vicious” or of “high-risk” for aggression. To date, only one empirical study has examined the characteristics of persons who choose to own their high-risk dogs. Barnes et al. reports that owners of Akitas, Chow-Chows, Dobermans, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Wolf-mixes endorsed approximately 10 times more criminal convictions than owners of nonvicious dogs. Further, vicious dog owners reported more crimes involving aggression, children, alcohol, and domestic violence than owners of nonvicious dogs.

The current research sought to replicate and extend these findings with a college sample. The present 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.

…As hypothesized, 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.

Comparing owners of vicious dogs to other groups, no significant differences were found regarding secondary psychopathy (e.g., impulsiveness or self-defeating behaviors) or attitudes towards animal maltreatment.

Among the college sample, the vicious dogs were predominantly male and weighed 68 pounds. The owners had more self-reported overall criminal behaviors as well as violent criminal behavior. They endorsed significantly more sensation seeking and primary psychopathic traits.

Link to article.
Link to DOI entry for same.

4 thoughts on “Psychological characteristics of vicious dog owners”

  1. Interesting stuff. When you say they endorse the behaviour, does that mean they approve of it in others and don’t think it’s wrong? Or is there another meaning.
    Sorry to sound thick.
    (I got confused by “more likely to report criminal behaviour” as well, it wasn’t until the end that I realised that didn’t mean to the police!)
    Cheers (I’m not sure I am the audience for this blog, is it for science people mainly? It’s very interesting though!)

  2. I’m white, but my kids are black.
    Back in a different time, and a different place, in a version of South Africa I hope has now gone.
    If I walked down a street in a white suburb with white kids, the dogs ignored me.
    If I walked down a street in a white suburb with black kids, the dogs barked ferociously.
    ie. The dogs were racist.
    If I met the owners in the street with my black kids, everyone is all polite and civil.
    If I overheard the owners chatting in a bar, they’re pretty racist.
    ie. I believe (anecdotally, but repeatable by myself, and confirmed by people in the same position) that dogs merely reflect (implement) the
    hidden prejudices of their owners.

  3. “finding that those who own dangerous dogs are more likely to endorse antisocial and psychopathic character traits and more likely to report criminal behaviour.” This was mind blowing. There is a group with an IL director who is always making false criminal complaints against people and she breeds and raises Pit Bulls and her group advocates for Pit Bull breeders. When I read this sentence about the owners being more likely to report criminal behavior, I couldn’t believe it. This article pinned this group dead on! Not to mention the mantra they preach is completely anti-social and verges on psychopathic behavior.

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