10 dog breeds with aggressive reputations

April 2, 2024 - 8 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
A brindled Presa Canario with a muscular build and alert expression, against a smooth, neutral-toned background.

Some pups come with a ruff-and-tumble rep. But are so-called aggressive dog breeds as menacing as they’re cracked up to be? 

In this article, we’ll explore some of the most dangerous dog breeds—or so their detractors would have you believe. Then we’ll sniff out whether they’re truly treacherous or simply misunderstood.

The reality behind the "aggressive" dog breed label

When it comes to doggos, the term aggressive can be misleading. The truth is, the most “aggressive” breeds are often just those who have strong personalities and require consistent training and socialization. (These are themes that’ll come up a lot in this article.)

There’s a difference between aggression and assertiveness. For instance, a dog's determination to protect its family or territory stems from loyalty and instinct, not a desire to harm. Recognizing these behaviors as communication rather than hostility allows for better understanding and a more effective response to a dog's needs.

Golden Chow Chow with mouth open sitting against a beige background.

It’s true that dogs, especially those tagged as tough types, need clear boundaries and positive reinforcement. This approach helps them approach social situations with confidence while steering clear of fear, anxiety, or aggression. 

Without the right foundation, there's a real risk that these breeds might not integrate as seamlessly into family and community life. This isn't to say they're naturally more aggressive, but rather that their strength and protective instincts require careful guidance.

Commonly misunderstood dog breeds

Some breeds are quickly judged by their furry covers. But digging deeper reveals stories and characteristics far removed from the aggressive labels they've been assigned. Let's shed some light on their true natures, moving beyond the stereotype of mean dogs. 


Akitas, which can grow up to 130 pounds, are often reserved around strangers and protective of their pet parents. These behaviors are frequently mistaken for aggression, yet akitas tend to be affectionate and gentle with their families. With early socialization, they can navigate the world with confidence, not reactivity. 

Originally bred for hunting and guarding, akitas need consistent training and enriching activities that satisfy their need for physical exercise and mental stimulation. When their intelligence and energy are channeled constructively, Akitas may be intensely devoted, but certainly not aggressive. 

Pit bulls/pit bull terriers

A grey and white Staffordshire Bull Terrier with a wide smile, floppy right ear, and bright, attentive eyes, set against a beige background.

The terms "pit bull terrier" and "pit bull" often create confusion, as "pit bull" isn't a specific breed but a generic term used to describe dogs with similar physical characteristics. Dogs that get grouped under the pit bull umbrella include American pit bull yerriers, American staffordshire terriers, and sometimes staffordshire bull terriers

So are pit bulls aggressive? American pit bull terriers, specifically, are known for their strength, confidence, and loyalty to their families—traits that can sometimes be misunderstood due to the breed's historical use in dog fighting. But American pit bull terriers possess a remarkable capacity for love and loyalty, emerging as affectionate rather than aggressive family members in the right environment. 

The bottom line: Pitties can thrive when they can be part of the family and receive consistent guidance and affection. Can’t we all? 

Cane corsos

A black Great Dane puppy with a white chest patch and paws, wearing a red collar, sitting against a beige background.

The cane corso, an imposing figure originally bred in Italy, can trace its lineage back to Roman war dogs. They’re not war dogs anymore, of course, but they’re often labeled aggressive due to their formidable appearance and tendency to be protective. 

Training and socialization for a cane corso should be early and consistent, introducing them to a variety of people, places, and situations. This exposure helps them learn to discern between normal social interactions and genuine threats, so their protective behavior can be appropriate and controlled. 

Chow chows

A fluffy red Chow Chow with a thick ruff around its head, panting lightly, positioned on a white background.

With their lion-like manes and squished-up faces, chow chows get a lot of attention for their unique appearance. But beneath their plush exterior lies a breed with a deeply ingrained sense of independence. Originating from China, where they were used for hunting, guarding, and even pulling sleds, chow chows have a rich history that contributes to their unique mix of loyalty and territoriality. 

Early socialization and patient training can help integrate a chow chow into the family. Due to their independent nature, they may not be the most outwardly affectionate pets, but they form strong bonds with their pet parents. Their aloofness toward strangers and other animals doesn’t indicate aggression—just a bit of wariness and a preference for their loved ones. 

Doberman pinschers

A black Doberman Pinscher with tall pointed ears and intense brown eyes, set against a plain beige background.

Doberman pinschers simply exude strength. This makes them a top choice for roles like police dog and military dog, where their toughness (not to mention their extreme intelligence) can be hugely helpful. Unfortunately, their athletic build, alert stance, and  rugged work life have all contributed to a reputation for aggression. In reality, dobermans are highly loyal, intelligent, and capable of deep affection for their families.

But their intelligence and energy levels demand engagement; they thrive on tasks, training, and athletic pursuits that challenge both their minds and bodies. Proper socialization from a young age helps them distinguish between normal interactions and actual threats, which can prevent overprotectiveness. When raised with care, dobies are protective, gentle, and loving companions—but not aggressive. 

German shepherds

A German Shepherd lying down with ears perked up and tongue out, featuring a black and tan coat, looking forward with a playful gaze, against a beige background.

Like Dobies, German shepherds radiate toughness, versatility, and intelligence, making them a favored choice for law enforcement and military roles. Despite their capability and devotion, German shepherds are sometimes labeled as aggressive, a misconception likely rooted in their protective nature and strong presence.

German shepherds do have a natural inclination to guard and protect. When properly directed, this tendency enhances their ability to serve faithfully rather than leading to aggression. Their eagerness to learn and please their owners makes them excellent companions, even around children. As always, early socialization and positive reinforcement training are critical. 


A Rottweiler standing side view with a black and tan coat, tongue out and a bright expression, against a beige backdrop.

Rottweilers are also dependable working dogs, but their powerful build and protective instincts have contributed to a perception of aggression. In reality, they can be gentle giants when they’re raised with consistent discipline, love, and, of course, early socialization. Rottweilers thrive in environments that respect their need for structure and engagement.

Rotties form deep connections with their families, often showing a playful and loving side unknown to strangers. With the right guidance, they prove to be more than their stereotypes, serving as devoted family members who guard the homes and hearts of those they love. 

Presa canarios

A brindle-coated Presa Canario lying down with its head resting on its paws, against a soft grey background.

The presa canario, a majestic breed from the Canary Islands, is known for its imposing size and vigilant nature. Originally bred for working with livestock, this breed has a strong protective instinct and a commanding presence, often leading to misconceptions about its temperament. The presa canario is indeed a powerful dog, but with the right training, it reveals a loyal and gentle side. 

But presa owners must commit to rigorous and consistent training from an early age, focusing on obedience, commands, walking and leash etiquette, socialization, and more. Presas requires confident handlers who can establish clear leadership, providing guidance with firmness and love. With such care, a presa canario can be a devoted family member, offering protection and companionship while respecting boundaries.

Siberian huskies

A Siberian Husky with striking blue eyes and a grey and white coat, looking forward with a keen gaze, against a beige background.

Siberian huskies are often mistaken for being aloof or aggressive due to their independent nature, but they’re actually quite social and enjoy being part of a lively household. Their reputation for stubbornness stems from a high level of intelligence and an energetic spirit. They need engaging activities to keep them mentally and physically satisfied.

Huskies were bred to pull sleds over long distances, which explains their endurance and love for running. This background also means they require a significant amount of daily exercise to prevent boredom and destructive behaviors. Proper training, with a focus on consistent commands and positive reinforcement, helps harness their energy in a positive direction. 


A tan Chihuahua with large ears and expressive eyes, lying down and looking directly at the camera, against a beige background.

These picayune pups aren’t exactly known to be dangerous—they are, after all, the world’s smallest dog breed. However, Chihuahuas have big personalities, often defying their diminutive size with a bold and confident demeanor. And barking. Lots of barking.

There’s no doubt Chihuahuas can be feisty, but this often stems from a strong loyalty to their pet parents and a natural protective instinct. Proper socialization and training can help mitigate these behaviors, revealing a playful, loving companion who is just as capable of warmth and affection as any larger breed.

Okay, they might still bark a lot.

Responsible ownership and training

Regardless of breed, dog ownership comes with a responsibility that goes beyond providing food, water, and shelter. It’s all about understanding and catering to your pet's behavioral, physical, and emotional needs. This understanding becomes even more crucial for breeds often labeled as "aggressive." Through responsible ownership and proper training, these dogs can defy stereotypes.

Training should start the moment your new companion steps into their new home. Consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement are the pillars of effective dog training. It's not just about teaching commands; exposing them to different animals, environments, situations, and people helps them become well-adjusted adults. This exposure reduces fear and anxiety, common triggers for aggressive behavior.

Equally important is the pet parent's commitment to their pet's ongoing education and wellbeing. To be healthy and happy, dogs need frequent exercise, lots of mental stimulation, and regular veterinary care.

Should you avoid dog breeds with an "aggressive" label?

Choosing a dog breed is a deeply personal decision, one that should align with your lifestyle, your living environment, and your willingness to meet the breed's specific needs. With the appropriate care and approach, many breeds labeled “aggressive” can blossom into affectionate, well-behaved family pets.

It is true that certain breeds can show aggressive tendencies and may pose risks if they're improperly trained, poorly socialized, or neglected. This doesn't mean they're inherently dangerous, but it does highlight the need for a committed, responsible approach to their upbringing. Training a puppy to be well-behaved is much easier than retraining an already aggressive dog, though the latter is not impossible. 

Before you reach a decision, make sure you’re ready to invest the necessary time and effort. Consulting with breed-specific rescue groups, professional trainers, and experienced veterinarians can help shape your expectations and prepare you for the journey ahead.

Welcoming any dog into your home, irrespective of breed, is a significant commitment. Dog insurance can alleviate the financial stress of unexpected health issues*, helping your furry friend get the care they need, no matter the cost. 

*pre-existing conditions excluded. See your policy for details.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.