Aggressive Dog Breeds Are Seriously Misunderstood — Here’s What To Know If You Adopt One

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Deciding to welcome a new pup into your life is a big step. If you're adopting a stereotypically "aggressive" dog breed, you might think that this transition will be much rougher than it would be if you were bringing home a Golden Retriever or a Basset Hound. But according to one expert, breeds like Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, or Chows Chows that often get a bad rap are able to be just as sweet and gentle as any other dog.

The very first thing to know if you're thinking about adopting a pup that some people consider aggressive is that your dog is not their breed's reputation. "I work with many service dogs and therapy dogs that are stereotypical 'aggressive' dog breeds and I work with Golden Retrievers that have bitten people," Russell Hartstein, CDBC, CPDT-KA, a certified professional dog trainer and founder of Fun Paw Care, tells Bustle. What your dog will be like really comes down to just that: your dog.

In addition to giving your new fur baby the same love, kindness, and healthy discipline that you'd give any other breed, having a few tools up your sleeve just in case you need some extra help could be useful, Hartstein says.

Here's what you should know about adopting a stereotypically aggressive breed, according to an expert.

1. Being Prepared Is Key

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"The first thing a future parent should investigate is what is their overall 'dogmanship,'" Hartstein says. Before welcoming a pup into your home, regardless of breed, it's important to reflect on how much you know about what you're getting yourself into. While being an expert is certainly not required to be a good, loving dog owner, having some knowledge in dog training, nutrition, or psychology might be useful. Another thing worth asking yourself is whether you've cared for other "difficult" dog breeds, Hartstein says. Having spent time with rowdy pups might give you a better baseline to start from.

2. Consider Fostering First

Especially if you've never adopted a dog on your own, having some experience taking care of one without total commitment can be helpful. Volunteer at a shelter or foster a dog prior to adopting one, Hartstein says. Getting some hands-on training like this can help teach you about your specific breed as well as basic knowledge about the tools and commitment required to be a great fur parent.

3. Look For Help

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When it comes to adopting a dog, especially one that might have a reputation for being aggressive, there's no harm in touching base with an expert, Hartstein says. Look for a dog trainer or behaviorist that you trust and can build a relationship with so that when you get your pup, you have someone to turn to for help, he says. The same goes for a trusted place to board the dog, a dog walker, vet, etc.

4. Don't Use Punishment Tools

If your dog's breed comes with some not-so-great stereotypes, you might be tempted to shut down any unwanted behavior swiftly. Just be sure never to use any punishment equipment, Hartstein says. Tools like a choke chain, pronged collar, or any type of shock collar can all do much more harm than good with your sweet new fur baby.

5. Don't Use Negative Tactics

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"Any fear-induced training technique will have tremendous emotional, mental, physical, and physiological fallout that will make the behavior issue much worse," Hartstein says. Instead of turning to outdated, archaic, and inhumane ways to “teach” an animal, make sure you're using positive reinforcement of good behavior, he says.

6. It's OK To Use A Muzzle

A dog who's new to your home might take some time to adjust, regardless of their breed, and that's OK. If your dog has a history of biting, don't feel like you have to keep them confined to your house. Instead, just put a muzzle on them to make sure that your pup and the public are both safe, and consult with a dog behavioralist for help breaking the biting habit.

7. They Need Love

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When your dog is newly adopted, they might be scared to be in a strange place with strange people, especially if they've had a history of abuse or lack of care. Be sure to show your new dog exactly how much they're loved. "Since most dogs reactivity and aggression are caused by fear, always build a dog's confidence, safety, and tools that they have to deal with their fear," Hartstein says. "Training helps dogs tremendously and [so does] understanding how to meet your dog's needs in a safe and healthy way."

As you prepare for your sweet new pup to come home with you, do your best to have an open mind and let them show you what their personality is like. After an initial settling in period, you're sure to become friends for life.