Tuesday, April 30, 2013

American Temperament Test Society

Dogs stir up strong emotions. While many people love them, many are also afraid. Fear is a strong emotion, and there's no reasoning with it. I, personally, am terrified of spiders. 

It doesn't matter that I know most spiders aren't dangerous to humans. There's just something about them that makes me want to scream and run the other way. I imagine the same is true regardless what one fears. I justify my spider panic with saying that I live in Florida and there are deadly spiders here, like the Black Widow and Brown Recluse.

It's true, from a certain point of view, namely mine. Not long ago, I saw a spider in the bedroom. My husband had to come home from work to take it out.

The creepy crawlies also have an important function to fill in the eco system, and statistics claim my fear is illogical. According to the website venomousspiders.net, an average of 6.6 people die from spider bites every year in the US.  Considering the population is some 314 million, it should be safe enough. Emotionally, I'm not convinced.

I'm not afraid of dogs, but a lot of people are. Some are afraid of dogs in general, others of specific breeds. Most statistics agree; around a dozen people in the US die from dog bites each year. Oh my, dogs are almost twice as dangerous as spiders! On the other hand, 6.6 or 12 people out of 314 million, I think the difference is negligible.

What was that? More than twelve people were bit by dogs? Sure, but more than six people were bit by spiders too, and they didn't die either. ;-)

Everyone, including me, fears something, and it's a part of human nature to try to rationalize that fear. Believing that something is true might make it true for me, but not for the world in general. This might sound self-evident, but as the world moves faster and faster, and the actions and words of each individual weigh heavier than ever before, it's important to keep the self-evident in mind.

When it comes to dogs, the American Temperament Test Society performs tests on various dog breeds every year. They measure different aspects of temperament, such as stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness, as well as the dog's instinct for protectiveness towards its person, and self-preservation in the face of a threat. This is done through simulating a casual walk in a park or neighborhood where the dog will experience various stimuli, and neutral, friendly, and threatening situations.

I find the ATTS statistics fascinating. Their statistics are cumulative, but some breeds have been tested more than others, and that will affect the final numbers. If only a handful of individuals have gone through the test, the results won't be statistically significant. (I personally believe the owner matters more than the breed for how a dog will turn out, but there are differences between breeds. If there weren't, all dogs would look the same. ;-)

Also, one shouldn't read too much into these types of numbers. Looking at the list below, some people might draw the conclusion that all Chihuahuas are dangerous, and that's not what the table says.

Here are some of their results for popular breeds. You can see the entire list here, it's long and spread out over a number of pages.


Breed Tested    Passed   Failed   Percent  
American Eskimo 84 69 15 82.1%
American Pit Bull Terrier 870 755 115 86.8%
American Staffordshire Terrier 657 555 102 84.5%
Australian Cattle Dog 194 153 41 78.9%
Bearded Collie 46 25 21 54.3%
Border Collie 292 238 54 81.5%
Bull Terrier 79 72 7 91.1%
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel 55 46 9 83.6%
Chihuahua 43 30 13 69.8%
Chinese Shar-Pei 213 151 62 70.9%
Dachshund (standard smooth) 48 33 15 68.8%
Dalmatian 336 278 58 82.7%
English Cocker Spaniel 71 66 5 93.0%
English Setter 31 25 6 80.6%
Flat-Coated Retriever 87 80 7 92.0%
German Shepherd 3194 2710 484 84.8%
Golden Retriever 785 669 116 85.2%
Irish Wolfhound 98 88 10 89.8%
Jack Russel 63 53 10 84.1%
Labrador Retriever 805 74 64 92.0%
Miniature Pinscher 55 45 10 81.1%
Mixed Breed 1107 959 148 86.6%
Newfoundland 176 154 22 87.5%
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever   30 22 8 73.3%
Old English Sheepdog 49 38 11 77.6%
Papillon 91 74 17 81.3%
Rottweiler 5652 4751 901 84.1%
Siberian Husky 299 260 39 87.0%
Staffordshire Bull Terrier 129 117 12 90.7%
Standard Poodle 253 219 34 86.6%
Whippet 200 172 28 86.0%

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