Behavior

Are Pit Bull Bans & Breed Specific Legislation Killing Our Chances of Preventing Aggressive Dog Attacks?

Breed Discrimination

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As we watch dozens of states & cities across the United States, and more provinces in Canada, implementing breed specific legislation (like Pit Bull Bans) it seems more important than ever to draw attention to the true nature of our beloved canine friends. 

What does a dog’s BREED really determine, or mean?

Group of Dogs

A dogs predisposition, breeding, physical attributes are all relevant and not to be ignored, but taking responsibility away from the owner and punishing the dogs isn’t working for anyone…except haters who want retribution and punishment to try and ease the pain of their losses. Pit Bull bans are not the answer. They aren’t working to stop/prevent aggressive dog attacks. Instead of defending these tactics, lets just say it was a good shot, but now the feedback has come and shown us that we need to pursue an alternative method if we want to get “different” results.

But if we aren’t going to use Breed Specific legislation to decrease/stop brutal dog attacks, what are we going to do?

Since the 1800’s there have been specifically bred and “engineered” dogs. Even though the amount of breeds that existed back then pales in comparison to the number today, many of these breeds are still in existence.

Today, the American Kennel Club recognizes 167 clearly identifiable and linearly traced dog breeds but there are also countless other mixes that don’t fall clearly into one breed category. Even country by country breed recognition differs, there are about 340 breeds recognized by the FCI (the world governing body of dog breeds, often known as the World Canine Organization).

Dog breeds are characterized by specific behavioral and physical traits, some might say a breed impacts a dogs nature. Way back when, each specific breed was developed to perform an exact job. Those jobs ranged from hunting rabbits and other small game, to retrieving downed birds, herding livestock or keeping humans company as snuggly lap dogs. When humans were developing a breed, breeders chose only those dogs that excelled most at their jobs to produce the next generation of pups.

A breeds physical and behavior abilities are both very important elements of what distinguishes one breed from another. A “well-bred” dog is born to perform its job, with the physical attributes necessary as well as the behavioral tendencies they’ll need to learn.

Pointers are more likely to point than Poodles. Sheepdogs are more likely to herd than lapdogs. Retrievers are more likely to fetch than Boxers. Terriers are more likely to fight back aggressively if attacked than a more submissive dog breed. However, while a dogs genetics may give it the predisposition to perform certain behaviors, a huge amount of behavioral variation exists among dogs of the same breed or breed type. On top of that, today some dogs are being bred for entirely different jobs than those for which they were originally developed. You may see Golden Retrievers as common service dogs today, while in the past they were bred for retrieving downed birds.

While a dog’s genetics may predispose it to behave in certain ways, genetics do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, behavior develops through a complex interaction between environment and genetics. This is an especially important consideration when we look at an individual dog versus a breed. Many diverse and sometimes subtle factors influence the development of behavior, including, but not limited to, early nutrition, stress levels experienced by the mother during pregnancy, and even temperature in the womb. And when it comes to influencing the behavior of an individual dog, factors such as housing conditions and the history of social interactions play pivotal roles in behavioral development. The factors that feed into the expression of behavior are so inextricably intertwined that it’s usually impossible to point to any one specific influence that accounts for a dog becoming aggressive. This is why there is such variation in behavior between individual dogs, even when they are of the same breed and bred for the same purpose. Because of the impact of experience, the pit bull specifically bred for generations to be aggressive may not fight with dogs and the Labrador retriever bred to be a service dog may be aggressive toward people. (www.aspca.org)

We’ve learned over the decades as dog owners/lovers how important early positive experiences (especially socialization) are in preventing aggressive tendencies in dogs…whatever their breed. Puppies that get accustomed to interacting, playing and communicating with both people, members of their doggie community and other animals are less likely to show behavior as adults.

Is it surprising then that dogs that are chained outside and isolated from positive human interaction are more likely to bite people than those dogs who are integrated into our homes and lives? Whether it’s a Pit Bull or a Chihuahua.

One thing that is difficult for some pit bull defenders to admit is that pit bull type dogs that find themselves in these conditions may be at greater risk for developing aggressive behavior than other dog breeds. It may even be fair to say that they are the most at risk under these conditions, more than any other breed, considering their genetics and predisposition.

The truth is that dogs of many breeds can be selectively bred or trained to develop aggressive traits. Pit bull type dogs, retrievers (yes, even those lovable Golden’s), German Shepherds…the list goes on and on.

A dogs aggressive behavior, or their demeanor and behavior in public, is directly correlated to their owner. Responsible dog ownership requires commitment to proper socialization, humane training and conscientious supervision…along with nourishment that helps them thrive physically and mentally.

Rather than Breed Specific Bans (which do not address the real issue causing aggressive dog attacks, and in many cases, human death) cities can adopt breed neutral “dangerous dog” laws, “leash laws” that stop dogs from running loose off their owners’ property, and “anti chaining” laws can also help control the behavior of individual dogs and individual owners and thereby help reduct the risk of harm to people and other animals.

It is ridiculous to blame the dog breed. It is also silly to deny the genetic predisposition that dog breeds, like Pit Bull type dogs, have to aggressive behavior when they are trained to be aggressive, improperly cared for, hurt or even neglected.

Laws that ban particular breeds of dogs only create an illusion, but not the reality, of enhanced public safety.

In 2013 President Obama made a statement that should warm the hearts of any dog lover. He said,

“we don’t support breed-specific legislation — research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources. Ad the simple fact is that dogs of any breed can become dangerous when they’re intentionally or unintentionally raised to be aggressive.”

We resonate with his statement, and want to draw attention to how breed specific legislation actually takes us further away from a society where we have less brutal dog attacks.

The ASPCA made a statement that is very fitting here,

“All dogs, including pit bulls, are individuals. Treating them as such, providing them with the care, training and supervision they require, and judging them by their actions and not by their DNA or their physical appearance is the best way to ensure that dogs and people can continue to share safe and happy lives together.”

If this was shared a million times it still wouldn’t be enough, our hope is that one day this is the perspective that all lawmakers and those in positions of power adopt. It can be so tempting to respond to horrendous incidents (like deaths by dog attack) with legislation that is doing more to further people’s frustration/rage/anxiety/fear than it is to prevent future attacks.

As we watch dozens of states & cities across the United States, and more provinces in Canada following Ontario’s lead, implementing breed specific legislation, it seems more important than ever to draw attention to the true nature of our beloved canine friends.

Portrait of a puppy on the nature close up. Pitbull. 4 months of age.

Their predisposition, breeding, physical attributes are all relevant and not to be ignored, but taking responsibility away from the owner and punishing the dogs is not the answer. It hasn’t worked. Instead of defending it, lets just say it was a good shot, but now the feedback has come and shown us that we need to pursue an alternative method if we want to get “different” results.

The problem is the PEOPLE, not the DOGS. What ever happened to people being personally responsible? If we stopped turning to hateful and ignorant, reactive, responses perhaps we could create laws that did actually prevent dog attacks, and help our canine friends live peacefully with us…as they desire.

Hold humans accountable for brutal dog attacks too, dogs don’t deserve to be blamed for our actions.

THIS CONVERSATION IS RELEVANT RIGHT NOW, AS YET ANOTHER CANADIAN PROVINCE CONSIDERS WHETHER TO IMPLEMENT BREED SPECIFIC BANS => See Update About Montreal’s Pit Bull Ban and what you can do to keep dogs safe.


1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jeannie

    November 30, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    I wish so much that they would hold owners responsible here in Arkansas. These dogs have become a huge danger, there is no question of that.

    We have a shocking number of owners who raise pit bulls to kill small animals. They think it’s funny. I personally have had a pit attack me because I was outside holding a stray cat I was rescuing. I let go and let the cat run up a tree or I’d have been badly mauled. The same dog tore a pregnant kitty to pieces in my shed right in front of me. There was nothing I could do to stop it because once a pit commits to attacking, they are no longer rational creatures. It’s terrifying and everyone I know who lives here has a similarly horrifying story to tell about a pit bull.

    The owner refused to keep the dog from wandering loose (which is also an extremely common problem here) and the dog was allowed to run with other large dogs and develop dangerous pack behaviors.

    This same pit bull slept with the owner’s eight year old boy and was the child’s best friend. The dog loved that boy more than anything. It had to eventually be put down because it became too dangerous to let it live.

    These are the sad circumstances of pits who are not taken care of by their owners. 🙁

    All that happened to the owner was that he had to pay a few dollars to get his dog out of the pound after Animal Control came to get it the first time. The second time he was told to get rid of the dog. He had a friend keep the dog for two weeks and then brought it back home where it went right back to running loose and killing other animals.

    I don’t honestly know what kind of penalties would work on these kinds of people. Jail time would just be seen as a trophy. Fines would not be paid. This is part of the reason that officials are having to ban the breeds. Because it’s so hard to enforce the laws in places like Arkansas.

    It always ends up with the dogs getting the worst of it.

    Thank you for standing up for those without a voice. <3

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