Don’t Blame The Dog – Part 1

Compulsory microchipping will come into effect in April 2016, but is it enough to stop the rising number of dog attacks in Britain?

For the last 5 years I have been a dog owner. Before that I lived in a house where there were dogs. Before that I had relatives with dogs. There have always been dogs in my life, so it should come as no surprise that I’m quite fond of the hairy, smelly creatures. A lot of the dogs I currently know are cross breeds; my own girl is a labrador with a healthy dose of what I suspect may be boxer. I know a whippet x staffie, a retriever x rottweiler and a collie x german shepherd. To look at them you wouldn’t really be able to give them a breed name (no – I don’t accept ‘Boxador’; my dog is a labrador cross, or is a straight forward cross breed. Boxador’s just a made up word.) To a degree, dog ‘breeds’ don’t really exist any more. You have a selection of breed standards, dictated and managed by the Kennel Club, but in some cases they’re somewhat deviated from the dogs first given that breed name. Most of us dog owners who don’t show our dogs can’t be certain that our cocker spaniel hasn’t got a clumber spaniel somewhere in its ancestry. In fact if we go back far enough we’ll find that they are all descended from wolves. And yet there are people who shell out thousands on a certified ‘Standard Poodle’ with papers showing its lineage back through a series of champions and what-not. This I don’t understand. But if it makes the owner happy, whilst simultaneously ensuring the dog gets a good life with food, water, fuss and a comfortable bed, then who am I to pass judgement?

I’m a blogger, that’s who!

But seriously I don’t judge people who want to spend that much money to get a dog with a known history and who has certain physical attributes. We all have our preferences. I personally prefer larger dogs, would pick a short-haired critter over a long-haired critter, and I would favour a longer nose over a shorter one, but that’s just me.

What I do have issue with is the notion that a dog of a certain shape and size is deemed dangerous regardless of its temperament.

I’m presuming the majority of our readers are in the United Kingdom, but for the benefit of any who aren’t, or any who are here but aren’t aware of this, here’s a quick run down of Breed-Specific Legislation, or BSL. I will try to remain unbiased… Basically BSL is a general term for the legal ban on the ownership of certain breeds of dog. The legal act responsible for BSL in the UK is the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, This act means it is illegal to own, sell, breed or abandon any of the following breeds; pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, Argentine Dogo or Filo Brasileiro. And yet it doesn’t end there – you don’t have to have a piece of paper proving your dog is one of those breeds in order to find yourself in great trouble and your dog put down. If a police officer suspects your dog may be the same ‘type’ of dog as one of those breeds, then they have to seize your dog. It’s a magical word, ‘type’. What it means is that if your dog fits within the rough measurements that they have decided make up the ‘pit bull type’ (or the ‘Tosa type’, but pit bulls are a lot more common here. Or would be, were they not banned!) then it’s probably a dangerous dog and thus ought to be put down. The RSPCA weigh in on BSL here.

This might be the appropriate time to point out my additional layer of bias. For fairness, and in the name of honest bloggery… I would love a pit bull type dog. Not as an attack dog, nor as a personal protection dog, but as a regular pet dog. When my beloved labrador cross leaves me (which will not be in the next 4 years. We’ve made a bargain, she and I, that we’re aiming to hit 15 at the very least!) and I reach the point where I’m looking to allow another dog to join my family, I would love to take in a pit bull. It won’t happen, I know this. Not least because I have no intention of breaking the law, but also because I would be going to a local rescue and, judging by their webpages, I’m almost certain to come away with a staffordshire bull terrier; the smaller cousin of the pit bull because I feel so sorry for these small bull-breeds being so grossly overbred by idiotic urban and suburban youths thinking they’ll look tough with a ‘ferocious’ staffie by their side. All the same, I have a great fondness for the pit bull.

Continuing the theme of openness and honesty, I’ll admit that the only research I’ve been able to find on dog attacks split out by breed did have pit bulls and rottweilers as the clear main perpetrators. This was an American piece of research, where the pit bull isn’t a banned breed and, at first glance would indicate that we’ve done the right thing with our ban, but the stats didn’t tell me was how many pit bulls there were in America who weren’t tearing about and hurting people. It’s very hard to find true data about dog attacks here in the UK, let alone anything going into detail about what dog was responsible. If you keep reading you’ll find out what I think is a better alternative than a flat out ban.

The first dog I was ever bitten by was an English springer spaniel. I was probably 5 or 6, and no doubt played some part in causing the incident. I was given a Mickey Mouse plaster and everything was ok. In more recent years I’ve been playfully savaged by a rottweiler-golden retriever cross, and even as I type this I bear the still-healing wounds of a staffie. In both cases the dogs doing the biting were puppies and were playing with me as if I were another puppy. Young dogs do not know any better than to explore the world with their teeth. It is completely down to their owners to be aware of this and to train their dog against this behaviour. That’s the best thing about dogs – aside from the smell of their paws and their adorable big brown eyes – they’re all completely trainable. Not that my dog is perfect; her recall isn’t the best if there’s something more interesting to smell, but we’re constantly working on that, even despite her advancing years. You can teach an old dog new tricks, you just have to try.

I am a firm believer that a dog’s behaviour is its owner’s responsibility. If a dog bites a person then that falls on the owner; either for not training their dog not to bite, for not restraining a dog who was at risk of biting (i.e. a newly rescued dog, or a dog which is afraid/in pain) or for not supervising their dog when it was with a person who did not know how to act around dogs/was doing something to incite the dog to bite. There are so many dog training programs on tv these days, as well as a growing number of books on training techniques and behaviours, an d a wealth of local behaviourists and training groups that there is simply no excuse for having an out-of-control dog.

This is the exact reason why I support the microhipping movement; not only can a lost or abandoned dog be more easily returned home/have its owners brought to justice for said abandonment, but if a dog is on the loose and causing damage or injury it will be possible for the police to find out who is responsible for it. However, I don’t think microchipping is enough. People simply won’t do it, and when will their dog get checked for a chip? When it’s too late. I think the government needs to go further in their legislation. I strongly believe that the dog licence is the way to go. Similar to a car licence I think a prospective dog owner ought to sit a theory test before being allowed to collect a dog from a rescue/a registered breeder (I could write so much more against ‘back yard breeders’ but this is already a long post – look for part two to see my opinions on them!) this test would ensure the owner knew the basic requirements for a dog, what to do in an emergency, where dogs can and cannot go etc. In my ideal world neutering would be compulsory, unless the new owner was a registered breeder, and had passed some higher test on breeding and associated welfare requirements etc. I would insist all dogs were microchipped, vaccinated annually and all puppies/rescues/first time owners would be required to attend training classes and achieve at least the Kennel Club bronze award. (I’m not a particular fan of the KC, but their bronze award training covers all the basics a dog owner should be able to do.)

Only once all of these measures were in place, would I repeal the banning of the four breeds mentioned above. Once all dog owners are licensed and all dogs are trained, the dog attack stats should start to fall, and pit bulls could start to be safely reintroduced. Gavel!

A fantastic site I found in my research for this article is Deed Not Breed


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