The Effects of Owner Experience and Housing on Argentine Dogos

An Argentine Dogo dog sits in the garden
Photo: Lakatos Sandor / Shutterstock
What are the effects of an owner’s prior dog experience and the dog’s housing on behaviour problems? A survey of people with Argentine Dogos investigates.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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Some previous research has suggested people who are first-time dog owners are more likely to have a dog with behaviour problems, perhaps because they don’t have enough experience. Also, sometimes people say breed experience is helpful. The aim of this study was to investigate this by looking at only one breed of dog, the Argentine Dogo.  

This breed was chosen because it was affected by dangerous dog legislation in Italy and, as the researchers put it, “was publicly blamed for posing a risk to human society.” Hence, it is an interesting choice for investigating the relationship between dogs and their owners.

The survey, conducted by Silvana Diverio (Perugia University) and Gabriella Tami, was completed by 94 owners who between them had 181 Argentine Dogos. Participants were recruited via the Italian Dogo Argentine Club and at dog shows. Given the method of recruitment, it’s not surprising that 23% of participants were breeders. In fact the participants had 22% of all the registered Argentine Dogos in Italy, with an additional group of unregistered dogs.

Questions asked about the owner’s prior dog experience, prior experience with the breed, and whether the dog lived in the owner’s apartment or was housed in a kennel. Questions on behaviour problems included aggression (“baring teeth, growling, snapping and biting”) and fear (“dog showing low posture with low or tucked tail and ears back or down, eventually trembling and/or attempting to escape”).  The survey was part of a wider study into Argentine Dogos and their owners in Italy.
One interesting feature of this study is that 79% of the owners with prior breed experience had obtained their dogs in order to breed them. The breed-experienced owners were significantly less likely to keep their dog in the house and less likely to take it to dog training classes than owners who had no prior experience with Argentine Dogos. The ‘na├»ve’ owners typically got their dog for reasons of companionship.

The dogs belonging to owners without prior dog experience were more likely to be destructive, to be afraid of other dogs, and to mount people – but they were also more likely to be obedient. These owners were more likely to take their dogs to training classes, and this is probably why their dogs were more obedient. It’s possible the reported problems reflect the fact that the dogs were living with their family, and hence more likely to be in situations where these problems might be observed, or it could be that inexperienced owners are not as good at socializing their dogs.

The results for owners who were new to the breed were similar to those of people who were new to dogs in general. Again, these owners were more likely to take their dogs to training classes and to say their dogs were obedient. And while they were more likely to report fear of children, their dogs were also reported as friendlier to strangers and unknown dogs, compared to the dogs belonging to breed-experienced people.

The dogs of breed-experienced owners were more likely to live in kennels.

The authors say,
“Aggressive and protective behaviors may simply result from the reduced opportunities that these confined dogs have to interact with people. Dogs who lived in kennels were also likely to be associated with breeding and with being owned by an expert owner. Expert owners reported lower participation in obedience training classes.”

The types of behaviour problems also changed with age, with younger dogs more likely to be reported as destructive and older dogs more likely to be reported aggressive to other dogs. 

The study is correlational and does not show causality. In addition, the inter-relationship of variables makes it tricky to pinpoint the effects of experience with dogs. Perhaps rather than showing the effects of experience, the results reflect the fact that attendance at dog training classes, and living in proximity with the family (rather than in a kennel), are positive for dogs’ behaviour and welfare. 

This is an interesting study and shows that more research is needed into the effects of owners’ general dog experience and breed experience. 

If you liked this post, check out my book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. Modern Dog magazine calls it "The must-have guide to improving your dog's life."

What breed was your first dog, and why did you choose it?

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

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P.S. Finding out if shelter dogs are friendly and can street dogs become good pets?

Diverio, S., & Tami, G. (2014). Effect of owner experience, living environment, and dog characteristics on owner reports of behavior of Argentine Dogos in Italy Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 9 (4), 151-157

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