This past Saturday I volunteered for a peaceful protest that was focused on raising awareness of BSL and why it needs to be replaced by a method that has an effect on reducing dog bites.
(Yes, that dog IS precious, you can admit it.)
The peaceful walk went amazingly well. There were bully breed aplenty representing themselves with their happy grins(Mack, pictured below, had the best grin in my opinion, though he was camera shy and this was the best we could get) – fun times were had all around and I think a few bystanders may have learned something new. Speeches were made involving why BSL needs to be changed and hopefully more than a few people who saw us passing now question a law that they might not have known exists. Today my post is about what breed-specific legislation is – and the facts behind why it doesn’t actually work.
What is “Breed-Specific Legislation”?
Breed-specific legislation(often shortened to BSL) are laws that are put into place that target dogs based on their appearance.
Why would somebody target a dog based on its appearance alone?
Targeting a dog based on its appearance is often justified by the claim that certain breeds are inherently more aggressive than other dogs due to humans breeding them for activities such as guarding, hunting, or even bull baiting.
Aren’t these dogs more aggressive though if we’ve bred them to be like this?
No dog breed has been made with the intention of creating a dog that hurts humans without being commanded to do so(police dogs are trained to attack individuals on command and there are breeders who work to provide dogs that will do this). Even guard dogs were designed mostly for posturing and to show restraint in times of high stress to protect the person/property being guarded. A good guard dog should not bite everything that goes near a protected area – it should bark, alerting the owner, who should arrive and make a decision on the threat. Hunting dogs have been used for a very long time and many breeds that hunt are not considered dangerous(have you ever heard of somebody telling you that Basset Hounds are dangerous dogs with an inborn killing instinct?). Lastly there is the criminal world of dog fighting; a world where dogs are trained to attack other dogs so that people can bet on the outcome. These dogs were not originally bred to do this; they had other jobs before they were used in dog-fighting. No reputable dog breeder would support dog fighting as it is criminally cruel. The people who are breeding dog-fighting dogs are criminals. They also are careful to select only dogs that won’t turn on humans for breeding stock as they don’t want to get hurt themselves.
But doesn’t that mean that those dogs will attack other dogs?
No. Dogs are social pack animals before they are anything else. The dogs that are bred for dog fighting are by far in the minority and it has been shown that dogs rescued from dog fighting setups can be rehabilitated into households with other dogs, children and even cats. Dogs have a need to be around other dogs, as well as humans. To get a dog to attack another dog requires cruel treatment of the dog.
So… it isn’t the breed that makes dogs attack?
Most definitely not. No dog breed has been successfully made that doesn’t love humans as a rule.
Why do I hear so much about Pit Bull, German Shepherd and Rottweiler attacks then?
This is a question that doesn’t have one single answer. One factor that goes into what bites you hear is the seriousness of the bite. You don’t hear about poorly trained(or abused) Pomeranians biting people because a) they usually do little to no damage and b) it’s not sensationalist enough for media to report it. There is also the problem that often media personnel will jump onto a story before the facts are fully figured out and somehow a Labrador cross magically turns into one of the “bad” breeds. A third factor is that once a dog breed is deemed a big meanie – people who want a big meanie will get that breed of dog. Neglect and abuse can lead to a situation where a dog will bite people who invade its space – it’s not the breed that’s the problem, a dangerous owner can create a dangerous dog, and if the intent is to do so the dog will wind up being dangerous.
You say it’s a human problem – what kind of neglect and abuse leads to a dog biting people?
The vast majority of bites occur when a dog is chained and thus restricted in movement – leaving it unable to exercise or entertain itself and thus leading to pent-up frustration. These dogs usually are not taken for walks, they aren’t given play time and there’s no training. They live in a circle tied to a pole and their only activity is barking and snarling at people. I’m not going to get into the abuse that creates guard dogs for gangs as it’s just depressing and it is not something your neighbour is likely to do – unless they don’t value a dogs life – there is information out there if you wish to hunt for it but all I’m going to say is that the space is smaller than what Harry Potter was given and there’s more kicking and less food.
Where’s your proof? The government wouldn’t put in legislation that wouldn’t work.
Unfortunately, BSL has been shown to be ineffective. In Ontario a ban came into effect late 2005 that targeted pit bull and pit bull types – there were 5,428 reported dog bites that year. In 2006 the number dropped down to 5,360 reports which may have seemed promising but it seems to have been random because in 2007 it rose up to 5,492 – more than in 2005. It fell down to 5,345 in 2009 and I am not sure where the numbers are for more recent years but as you can see the effect is very small to the point of being negligible. In 20 years Calgary dropped their bite statistics by 70% – bringing in regulations that focus on education and responsible ownership – what’s truly amazing is that this was done while Calgary was still increasing in size.
So what should we do?
Enforce laws that focus on the owner – require people to provide better situations for a dog than what fosters a bite. Also important is for parents to keep an eye on their children. Most fatal attacks happen to children that were left unsupervised around dogs that were also unsupervised. The Calgary model mentioned above focuses on educating children for an hour in grades 2 and 3 on dog safety – something that will actively reduce children from approaching potentially dangerous dogs and as such can save their lives.
When you hear information about how dangerous a certain breed is – please remember that usually it’s based off of a popular belief that isn’t based on facts. A Google search can find false information on sensational topics – care must be taken to find statistics that are found using the scientific method. I connected some of the material that I’ve used in my research that is backed by other research that I sadly do not have links to anymore. The Youtube video is pretty great; the image/sound quality isn’t the best but but the people interviewed are some of the top researchers in dog psychology/physiology.
Here is a picture of Mack as promised, just for the smile.
I gotta admit, I miss that little guy already.
He gave you a grin if he thought he could sucker a few pats outta ya.
Meeting him was a treat.
Sources I drew on for this post:
The Pit Bull Hoax DVD – Youtube Link
Michael Vick’s Dogs: What Happened to Them – Sports Illustrated Album
Canada: Dog Bite-Related Fatalities – National Canine Research Council PDF
Pit Bull Ban Not Reducing Dog Bites in Ontario – CTV News Article
Fear vs Fact – National Canine Research Council PDF
(There are more things but I can’t remember them all, I’m sorry.)