Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What's Up With That: Breed Specific Legislation

My friend from Will My Dog Hate Me? blog brought up this topic for her latest Friday Focus series, and that's what inspired this post.

Breed specific legislation... First, let's start by calling it what it is: breed specific bans—unless you came across a piece of legislation providing some breed specific privileges. If you did, please do let me know!

Such legislation clearly suggests that there is such a thing as a bad breed. How correct is such thinking?

It is true that incidents with dogs of certain breeds are more likely to make the news than others. One of the main reasons for that is that large dogs can simply cause more damage when things do go wrong. You don't see many headlines on Schnauzer or Jack Russell Terrier attacks. Is it because they are so meek and docile? Not the ones I know... but ripped pants are hardly breaking news. Though I did come across a story of a Chihuahua attack: Pack of Angry Chihuahuas Attack Officer. But that's just embarrassing.

So yes, size does matter when it comes to incidents involving dogs. Should we ban all breeds physically capable of doing any substantial damage then? Or just those of certain color …?

We've been sharing our lives with Rottweilers for about 20 years now and we couldn't ask for sweeter, more loving dogs. They are clearly not living up to their bad reputation, possibly because nobody told them they should...

Is there such a thing as a bad breed?

I think that this is the wrong question to start out with. Are some breeds more vulnerable to bad breeding? Yes. Are some breeds more likely to end up in the wrong hands? Yes. But what does that tell you? It is not the breed that is the problem, but the breeders and the type of people who are likely to choose such a breed for the wrong reasons.

Quite often poor choices can precede a bad reputation. It seems that every time a movie comes out, with an adorable canine hero, it creates a high demand for that particular breed. Everybody wants it, so everybody breeds it, and good breeding practices go out the window. Result? Increase in the number of dogs with negative character traits within the breed.

That, combined with improper upbringing, results in a breed getting a bad reputation and rightfully so. But who is to blame? Do you see the level of human involvement?

Poor breeding practices: does that mean character traits are genetic?

Yes, indeed they are. Dogs have been bred for particular traits all along. Hunting dogs, herding dogs... these all become part of their genes. Are aggression or tameness also part of the genetic make-up? According to a scientific experiment with Siberian foxes they are. Among other amazing discoveries, this experiment shows the dramatic difference breeding choices will make. And here we are, back to the human element.

Is it possible that eventually an entire breed could become damaged goods? Possibly, but I really don't believe so. There will always be people who will breed those dogs out of true love for the breed, will do so responsibly, and thus preserve healthy bloodlines.

Legislate against specific breeds or not?

Well, it's the easy solution to the problem, isn't it? It is much easier to enforce a breed specific ban than to enforce responsible breeding and ownership. It is easier to pass a breed specific ban than to evaluate individual dogs or bloodlines. Is this what it boils down to? What is easier?

Here is the important question. Is that going to solve the problem? I believe not. Removing certain breed from the face of the Earth will not remove what is at the root of the problem, which is the human element. With all Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Shepherds and Boxers gone, will this be the end of dangerous breeds? No, it will not.

All that will happen is that another breeds will fall victim of the human tendencies that brought around the problem in the first place. So then we'll have to ban all Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers … whatever breeds would be next, until no breed larger than a Jack Russell Terrier is left.

Even if we wiped out all dogs, it would still not solve the problem. Why? Because the dogs are not the problem. We are! And as resourceful as we are, I'm sure another species would take their place….


I believe is that the only way to solve the bad breed problem is the solve the human problem that is behind it. There truly is no other way in my mind.


Friday Focus: Breed Specific Legislation
The Silver Fox experiment
Why Do We Choose The Breeds We Do?

What is your opinion? Leave a comment.


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  2. Awww, I don't know what to say! Thank you! Glad you're enjoying my blog!

  3. Politicians don't take their responsibility seriously. They chose whatever gives the public the feeling that they are doing something about the problem.

    Like the Danish example, where they are working on a breedban for 14 breeds in all. Even they know experiences from England and Germany have turned out negative, they score points with the general public that has become afraid after recent dog attacks. Still they decide to go ahead, against better judgement.

    One of the breeds on the ban list, one of the Ovchartka lines, only has 14 individuals in the whole country. And one of them is a service dog...

    I am very much against BSL, but there is one thing that is bothering me. One of the top behaviorists in Denmark (the Danish Victoria Stillwell) has proclaimed in a TV interview that certain breeds are dangerous because they are wired to fight to the end. Where the average dogs bites and releases, these dogs will continue until the end. But thats it, one interview, nothing more. Nothing on the website, nothing more about it on the papers. It's like the subject is avoided. What should I think? The statement is too thin just to take for granted, but avoiding to discuss the topic further also doesn't help. It would be great if behaviorists would be more visible in the BSL discussion (at least in Denmark).

  4. The only breed I would potentially have some reservations with are the Pit Bulls. Even Stanley Coren commented on this issue--being hardwired to kill.

    The problem is that if you breed a certain breed for this 'quality' long enough, it does become part of their instinct.

    Since Stanley Coren said that, I tend to believe him, knowing how much he loves dogs and that he in fact defends all other breeds.

    Are there any healthy bloodlines left? I cannot say. I do find it hard to believe that as many as 14 breeds would have suffered the same degree of genetic damage.

    Though it still is a result for poor breeding...

  5. On Pit Bulls and some other breeds, I do believe in breed specific laws, but not necessarily outright BANS.
    I've met and played with rehabilitated Pits from dog fighting rings. My fearful dog Kittie has even been within 100 ft of them (oh, who me? I wasn't paranoid...) and all without a reaction from the other guy.
    I think, however, that it would do some good to breed the calming signals back INTO them, and for them to only have the most appropriate dog parents.
    Also, do you think that certain trainers' views on these dogs comes more from a liability and safety standpoint?
    All dogs are individuals, and the wrongdoings of a few shouldn't damn them all.

    PS Kudos for obtaining BLOG AWARDS.
    They should give you more. =]

  6. I liked this post because you admit you believe genetics play a role. As much as it pains me to say it, I believe certain breeds are predisposed and I've seen it firsthand with pit bulls. In fairness, I know people who swear their "pibbles" are the sweetest things ever. But I also know people who swore that...and then the dog bit them and broke their arm. However, I do think that because it's genetic, this instinct could eventually be bred out of them. So I guess the question is how many people are willing to try and how many years and years of dedication would it/will it take?

  7. Hi JJ, thank you for reading and commenting. I cannot really judge Pit Bulls specifically, because of the lack of my exposure to them. I met only two, those were perfectly fine. If Stanley Coren, who loves dogs passionately, has doubts about the state of this particular breed, I have to take that into consideration.

    Could their dangerous traits be bred out of them again? I believe so. Are all Pit Bull bloodlines damaged? I wouldn't think so but I don't know.

    I believe that evaluation of individual dogs or bloodlines would be the only true solution.

  8. Hi Maximus! Thank you for your comment! Did you watch that video? I think what the experiment has shown is truly amazing.

    All those foxes (which could be considered a 'breed) were originally highly aggressive. Selective breeding against aggression resulted in perfectly tame and friendly bloodlines.

    Of course this works both ways and, unfortunately, breeding for aggression will bring results as well.

    Is the breed gone beyond the point of no return? Or are there enough bloodlines to draw from to reverse the process? I cannot say.

    I have to say I liked the CA "Dangerous Dog" legislation, rather than breed specific. To me that sounds more reasonable.

    Enforcing such law could possibly put things on the right track.

    The other issue here I think is distinguishing the circumstances under which the dogs bit. Every dog can bite under certain circumstances. Is it always the dog's fault? Hearing about the amount of abuse some dogs go through, often I wouldn't blame them at all if one day they lost it ...

    I am a meek person avoiding conflict. But push me far enough, I'll bite too.

  9. My personal belief is that breed specific legislation is useless in protecting the public. Responsible owners will behave appropriately with their dogs and irresponsible owners will behave inappropriately with theirs.

    There is a genetic component that can be involved with biting or aggression. But again, it's the owner's responsibility to understand this and to properly train and manage their dogs.

    It's interesting that another commenter brought up the idea of diluting or eliminating a breed tendency that has become undesirable once the majority of that breed have become pets. While that is possible (certainly diluting it, at least), it takes many, many generations of extremely careful breeding to achieve. And some say it's already happening in many breeds.

    Go to any dog forum and watch the arguments break out between show breeders and working breeders of the same breed, for example. The working breeders will tell you that the American Doberman is now an embarrassingly 'soft' dog who can't be properly worked, while the show breeders will say that they can be worked but have indeed been bred a bit softer because they are more often bought as pets these days. (And the pet owners who don't breed, show or work dogs will still say they're nervous around Dobermans!)Pick your breed-if there are working lines and show lines, you won't need to wait long to see the arguments of what a proper temperament is for the breed! They seem to most frequently be at odds in dogs who were originally bred with an eye toward protection work or large game hunting.

    And that gets back to the problem of just how one properly breeds for temperament when even people with a great deal of experience in a particular breed can't agree on the definition of 'proper temperament'.

    It's complicated!

    Regardless of the dog's breed, my impression is still that the overwhelming majority of bites could have been prevented with proper management, even in a dog with an iffy temperament. Banning breeds won't compel people to behave more responsibly around or with dogs, unfortunately.

  10. Ugh, I don't know why it's so hard to get everyone to see it this way. I guess because as you said, it's "easier" just ban a certain breed and hope for the best. Too bad this doesn't solve anything!

  11. Dear Lindsay. Yeah, that's the biggest problem - it doesn't solve anything.

    Kind of reminds me the situation in my old country (Czechoslovakia then) after the revolution. With country falling apart the government decided to focus on how the country should be called. Dash, no dash ...? Why should Czecho be first and Slovakia second? Will the dash fix that?

    For crying out loud, call it Bob and move on, people!

    This eventually resulted in the country splitting up. Now there is a solution ...

  12. good post... fyi, there is no such breed as pit bull... there are a bunch of breeds lumped together and called pit bull such as American Staffie, Pit bull terrier, and others. My girl is a pit mix and it took me 8 times to find the real pit here...
    take the quiz...


  13. also, regarding 'pit bull's' people can possibly agree that supposedly the most brutally trained vicious pb's were the former michael vick dogs, right? well, read the book lost dogs about the dogs, and how most have been adopted into loving homes, some have become therapy dogs, service dogs, and only ONE out of 52 dogs had to be euthanized because she had been so overbred, she lost her mind. These dogs prove without a shadow of a doubt that these dogs are NOT the problem, it's the people/owners.

  14. Definitely. Pick your problem, track it to the root and you'll find a human element.

  15. Great post and interesting comments. I'm definitely of the mindset that we should "ban the deed, not the breed." True, humans have had a huge effect on the problem, especially in breeding. But there are great dogs and not so great ones in *every* breed. When I worked for a vet, it wasn't the Rottweilers or Dobermans that made me nervous - it was the Chihuahuas and other small dogs whose aggression was never properly handled (because they're too small to do harm?). It's not just the breed, but how well the owner trains and handles the dog.

    I linked to this post today on my big dog blog's monthly best-of list (http://ht.ly/32Eru). I've read a lot on BSL but this was the first that made a point of the size issue. Thanks.

  16. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    Glad you liked my take and thank you for posting a link on your website! :-)