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Maryland Homes and Gardening

How safe are aggressive dog breeds?

Italian-mastiffThe dog breed you choose, especially for your first pet, can make a big difference. Some dog breeds are naturally more high spirited, or aggressive, than others.

The gift of an Akita was the very first dog owned by dog trainer Ira Hartwell, and the experience of training this dog is what directed him to ultimately discover his passion for dog training. Known to be a strong, independent, and dominant breed, Akitas require a strong handler.

"I discovered I'm good at it," he says remembering that first dog he trained daily while working the graveyard shift in the hospitality industry. "I trained it to heel off lead," he says, which led other Akita owners to ask him for his assistance in training their dogs to be as obedient.

Learn more about dog trainer Ira Hartwell and his training methods.

But what about other types of dog breeds? When asked his opinion on pit bulls, which have been ruled an "inherently dangerous breed" in the state of Maryland by the Maryland Court of Appeals, he says, "The American Staffordshire Terrier is loyal to a fault. It loves its owner and will defend them. Bad owners will teach the dog to fight and think it is okay."

According to the website,, pit bull-type dogs, along with Rottweilers, Dobermans, Huskies, Mastiffs, and Chows have all been cited as causing fatalities, but all dog breeds can be dangerous if incorrectly trained.

"It's important not to play tug of war games with your puppy," says Ira. You are just teaching it to use its teeth as a weapon. Do not get down on the floor and wrestle with a dog. No rough housing."

Safe games to play with young dogs are fetch and catch. The attention you give to training your dog to recognize certain commands can be part of their socialization, along with supervised playtime with other puppies.

"Any dog can get out-of-control," Ira says. "Tolerate no unprovoked aggression with man or beast. A well-trained dog is a reflection of you. If your dog were a person, what kind of person would he be?"

Pit bulls in Maryland

A task force was organized by Maryland lawmakers to further investigate the ramifications of the legislation, which establishes breed-specific liability in the event of a dog attack. No longer does the victim need to establish that the owner was aware of a past history of aggression, simply being all or partially pit bull establishes legal responsibility. As an immediate reaction, many landlords are refusing tenant applications from anyone who owns a pit bull and are not renewing leases for tenants who already do own a pit bull.

There are concerns that individuals interested in aggressive dogs will simply shift their interest to other breeds. Meanwhile, many mixed dog breeds with a proportion of American Staffordshire Terrier in their blood line wait in local shelters to be adopted into homes.

Prince George's County has banned pit ball ownership since 1996.

What's your take on labeling certain dog breeds aggressive? Share your opinion in the comments section.

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