Crufts, the world’s biggest dog show, celebrated its 125th anniversary this year. Sadly, as usual the event didn’t pass without controversy, as The Kennel Club once again came under fire for allowing a “deformed” German Shepherd Dog to advance to best of breed. Viewers who witnessed the television footage of the dog in the main arena on Saturday night expressed shock and disbelief at the sight of the visibly distressed animal, and since the dog barely managed a trot around the ring, the majority of the footage was abruptly cut short (the ‘full’ version of the clip can be seen here). But German Shepherds with extreme sloping backs winning at Crufts is nothing new – search on YouTube for any year of pastoral group judging (like this one from 2012, German Shepherd at 21:25 minutes, or this one from 2015, with a more obvious sloping back at 20:01) and you will see how the ‘frog-legged’ German Shepherds never fail to appear.
Compare the two photographs below. The dog on the left is Ramacon Swashbuckler, Crufts Best in Show for 1971. On the right is Cruaghaire Catoria, the dog at the centre of this year’s controversy. Although the 1971 champ’s back isn’t straight, particularly in comparison to most ‘working line’ dogs, it is clearly a different animal to the show line German Shepherd of today.
However, the Crufts team on Channel 4 were quick to address the issue during the following night’s programme. Perhaps in previous years it would have been easier to sweep the negative press under the carpet, but thanks to advances in social media, it seemed like everyone was talking about the German Shepherd, making it impossible to ignore. But the ‘discussion’ on live TV still left us wondering how on Earth the dog managed to achieve the title of best of breed. And talking about one individual dog is not going to change anything, either – there is a much bigger picture here, for it seems that there is major conflict between the views of show judges and the majority of the public as to what constitutes a healthy example of a German Shepherd Dog. Take a look at the breed standard, which emphasises that the dog should be “fit for function” and able to perform “traditional work” – even the tiny illustration of a German Shepherd in the top right corner looks nothing remotely like Catoria. And so arguing over whether one individual animal should be present in the competition is futile when it appears that judges are actively working against the breed standard, and this is clearly something which has been happening for many years. Drastic steps now need to be taken, otherwise the best of breed German Shepherd for next year’s show could well be a Catoria clone – or worse.
From all this, it may seem like I am one of the many people who refuse to visit Crufts over ‘cruelty’ fears. Not so! I adore Crufts. In fact, I jokingly refer to it as the highlight of my year (ok, maybe I’m not even joking). For three days of the show I was glued to the livestream from the main arena, hooked on the various stages of agility and flyball competitions. Since Crufts is local to us, being held in Birmingham since 1991, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to attend the show for almost as long as I can remember, and this year was no exception. Friday was an action-packed day as me and my dog-loving friend exhausted all five halls of the NEC, chowed down on what has now become the ‘traditional’ Crufts pork bap and met lots of breeds at Discover Dogs. As always, though, the arena programme was the highlight and we welcomed the opportunity to rest our aching feet and watch some of the best agility dogs from around the world compete, including the wonderful Ashleigh and Pudsey.
My genuine affection for Crufts is probably one of the reasons why I feel so disappointed that such an odd-looking German Shepherd was presented as the best example of its breed. With such obvious disregard for animal welfare, is it any wonder that the BBC dropped its television coverage of the event back in 2009? It is perhaps also the reason why the RSPCA’s #dogsbeingdogs made my hackles rise. The idea behind the hashtag was for people to share photos of their pets in their natural environment as a ‘true’ celebration of dogs. When I saw the hashtag I couldn’t help but think that I’d seen plenty of examples of ‘dogs being dogs’ at Crufts – from the amazing West Midlands Police Dog Unit display, to the unbridled excitement of the flyball teams, the unmistakable bond between assistance dog and disabled owner, the talent and training abilities shown during heelwork to music routines… The list goes on. The trade stands also provide a great opportunity for canine charities to promote their work, something which the RSPCA now miss out on since withdrawing their support from the show.
During our day at Crufts I didn’t see one dog that looked mistreated. Tired, yes, but abused? Definitely not. And yet there are clearly issues with pedigree dogs and the standards by which they are judged. This is where we have to be careful with the use of the term ‘cruel’. For while the public branded Catoria’s breeder cruel for producing such a deformed looking dog, the general idea of creating a dog like Eric the Pekingese – an animal which, in its ‘show coat’, is about as far removed from the natural wolf-like state as you could possibly get – was seen as some sort of joke. It seems very hypocritical to complain about the state of the German Shepherd while sharing pictures of Eric photoshopped on to Donald Trump’s head.
‘Cruel’ should be a term reserved for dog fighters or people who abandon their pets at the side of the road (or worse still, move house and leave them to starve to death). It seems wrong to refer to such an amazing and enjoyable event as cruel, with no evidence of malnourished or abused dogs. There are undoubtedly many flaws when it comes to The Kennel Club and its breed standards, but there are also positive sides to the organisation too, as pointed out by ‘Supervet’ Noel Fitzpatrick on the show. In my view, the heart of Crufts is a celebration of dogs. There has to be other ways of putting pressure on the Kennel Club to change its ways; boycotting the whole event for fear of ‘supporting cruelty’ really would be barking mad.
“They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep…
…They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out,
Then off to a lengthy absence…”
The above extracts are taken from ‘Not my Business’, a poem written about the abuse suffered by African people at the hands of the army or secret police. Although the violence and injustice conveyed by author Niyi Osundare seems a world away from our equality-rich society, nobody could possibly deny the similarities between the narrative and the recent reports of the 22 innocent Pit Bulls dragged from their homes by Merseyside Police – killed for no reason other than a lack of pet insurance and paperwork errors.
Exempted dogs (those that are confirmed to be of illegal type but deemed safe to return to their owners) by law have to be neutered, microchipped, tattooed, kept on a lead and muzzled in public and insured with third party pet insurance. If owners fail to meet any of these conditions, their dogs will be seized. Chloe, a six year old Pit Bull type on the Index of Exempted dogs, was taken from her 66 year old owner during a morning raid in a style usually reserved for dealing with dangerous criminals rather than family pets, with the metaphorical ‘waiting jeep’ taking the form of seven police vans. Although it is not yet clear whether her owner did indeed have Chloe insured via DogsTrust membership as she had claimed, it seems that Merseyside Police acted without compassion, making little distinction between the family and those involved in illegal activity. In any other case, an innocent middle aged lady would never be grouped with criminals, yet her dog’s physical appearance led to exactly that. All exempted dogs have to be proved to be of ‘sound temperament’ before being released to their owners, meaning that neither Chloe nor the other 21 Pit Bull types were dangerous dogs.
Despite exempted Pit Bulls presenting no more of a threat to members of the public than any legal breed, failure to comply with the exemption conditions is likely to mean death for the dog. Controversy surrounding the destruction of friendly and exempted Pit Bulls is nothing new; during the early years of the Dangerous Dogs Act the case of Dempsey, another family pet, made headlines when her muzzle was taken off in public in order to stop her from choking on her own vomit. Despite the removal of the muzzle being a temporary measure as an attempt to save her life, Dempsey was ordered to be destroyed. It took three years to save Dempsey, during which time she, like so many other ‘Section 1’ dogs currently affected by the Dangerous Dogs Act, was kept in secure police kennels. It was a legal loophole that eventually saved Dempsey; her muzzle had been removed by a family friend who failed to inform her owner of the court hearing, and as a result of her owner’s lack of awareness, Dempsey was spared – proving that sometimes ignorance really is bliss. (Further information on Dempsey can be found here).
But unlike Dempsey, the Pit Bulls seized in Liverpool, dubbed the ‘Merseyside 22’ by campaigners, were not given the chance to be saved. This is not the first time that Merseyside Police have taken direct and arguably unjustifiable action towards the destruction of Pit Bulls. In 2007 the force came under scrutiny from the dog world, including organisations such as the Kennel Club, when it initiated a week-long ‘amnesty’ – allowing owners to hand over illegal breeds without themselves being prosecuted. The Kennel Club pointed out that criminals with potentially dangerous dogs were unlikely to partake in the amnesty, while responsible owners would be more likely to comply with the law in order to avoid imprisonment, and their well-behaved dogs would be put to sleep as a result.
The amnesty ended with the seizure of 86 illegal ‘types’. The then Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside, Helen King, was quoted in a BBC report,
“We understand that it has been a very difficult decision for many people to part with their animals. We are grateful to all of you for putting the safety of your children and the people of Merseyside ahead of the affection for your dog.”
Just as the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 itself was a knee-jerk reaction to the dog attacks heavily reported in the media, it seems that the amnesty was Merseyside Police’s response to the widespread media attention surrounding the tragic death of Ellie Lawrenson, a five year old girl killed by her uncle’s dog – a Pit Bull type with a history of aggressive behaviour towards both other dogs and people. The dog clearly was a danger yet was not dealt with until the aftermath of the fatality; the owner’s negligence was to blame for his niece’s death. The subsequent seizure of 86 Pit Bull types, including those which had not shown any signs of aggression, did not alter the outcome – just as breed specific legislation does not prevent future dog attacks.
In an article regarding Jade, another of the 22 Pit Bulls destroyed towards the end of last month, Chief Inspector Chris Gibson said,
“These dogs pose a danger to the public, as well as to the families where they are housed. I’m sure there aren’t many who would be happy to let their children or grandchildren play out in the street, if one of these dogs was in the vicinity. These dogs are not designed to be family pets.”
Do all Pit Bull types really present a danger to children? If we are to believe what we read in the newspapers, then yes. But real statistics prove otherwise. According to DEFRA there are over 2,000 exempted Pit Bulls living in the UK as of 2013, and, since the Dangerous Dogs Act is infamous for failing to eradicate Pit Bulls, as was the intention of its creator Kenneth Baker, it is likely that there are thousands more living ‘illegally’ (“There are more Pit Bulls in this country than Labradors”, an illegal breeder told The Sun in February this year). Despite all these ‘devil dogs’ living amongst us, there have been less than twenty deaths as the result of dog attacks (from any breed) since 2005. To put this in perspective, it is estimated that around ten people are killed per year in the UK as the result of horse riding accidents. And according to statistics published in the book ‘Dogs Bite But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous’ by Janis Bradley, children are more likely to be killed by toys and playground equipment than as the result of a dog attack. Pit Bulls are not ‘devil dogs’ at all, and were historically bred for low aggression towards humans since those involved in dog fighting never wanted to be bitten themselves when dealing with their dogs. Socialised and well-cared for Pit Bulls are no more likely to terrorise the neighbourhood than a Golden Retriever (indeed, Pit Bulls have ‘beaten’ popular dog breeds such as Retrievers and Beagles in temperament tests – obviously these are “not designed to be family pets” either).
Fatal dog attacks are extremely rare, especially in proportion to the millions of dogs living in the UK, yet when attacks do happen both the media and law enforcers want something to blame, and as a consequence of breed specific legislation Pit Bulls are the scapegoat. Prior to 1991, the Rottweiler, German Shepherd and the Doberman all received similar negativity and any of these breeds could easily have replaced the Pit Bull in the Dangerous Dogs Act. The full version of ‘Not my Business’ consists of the message that injustice should never be ignored since one day there may be a knock at your own door. If we continue to turn a blind eye to the routine euthanasia of Pit Bulls how long will it be before more breeds are put in danger by legislators? Targeting innocent owners, and innocent dogs, instead of unscrupulous breeders and irresponsible owners who produce the real dangerous dogs is a fault with legislation, the blame for which does not lie with one police force. But as long as the euthanasia of family pets on the basis of appearance and prejudice alone continues, the recent action taken by Merseyside Police is definitely the business of all dog owners, no matter what breed we have at home.
DDA Watch campaign for the removal of breed specific legislation and assist families whose dogs are seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
“This name is not often bestowed seriously but rather in jest. Perfect for the dog who leads burglars to the family silver and runs from the neighbourhood cat”.
The above description, taken from a ‘Choosing Dog Names’ book, is for the name ‘Killer’. The recent tragedy involving a pit bull type of this name demonstrates that there are dog owners out there incapable of understanding that the name is best used ironically. Far from running, ‘Killer’ had reportedly attacked the neighbourhood cat in 2012. Full details of the incident, in which 11 month old Ava-Jayne Corless died as a result of her injuries inflicted by the dog, are as yet unknown, however it appears that the dog was one of at least two kept at the property and had also previously intimidated neighbours. Clearly the dog should not have been housed with small children, let alone allowed to enter a room with a baby on its own. It is another case of how the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 does not protect the public, since when an attack does happen it is too late – both for the child and the dog – while hundreds of dogs with wonderful temperaments are needlessly euthanised.
Back to the name itself. Whilst ‘Killer’ would be an amusing name for a Chihuahua, the larger the dog is the more important it becomes to choose a name without any negative connotations. Bully breeds are already viewed with enough (usually unfounded) suspicion without a tough nickname added to the mix. Of course, owners of dogs such as Killer already know this, which is exactly why they give such a title to their dog. ‘Killer’ was probably never intended to be a family pet and was instead made into an aggressive status dog. But how much influence does a dog’s name really have on its behaviour?
An experiment devised by Professor Stanley Coren aimed to answer this question. 291 university students were given a brief description of a dog, along with its name, and were shown a short video clip of various scenes involving a German Shepherd barking and jumping up at a person before being pushed away. The students were then asked to select adjectives from a list which best described the dog’s behaviour from what they had seen; both positive and negative attributes were listed. The important part of the experiment, of which the students were unaware, was that the name of the dog within the descriptions differed. Half of the group had been informed that the dog’s name was tough sounding, such as Killer, Ripper, Butcher or even Assassin, while the other half thought that the dog’s name was a popular pet name such as Buddy or Lucky. Interestingly, the results showed that the students who were under the impression that the dog had a violent name were three times more likely to view the dog as aggressive than the students who had received a positive sounding name on their description. The students were also asked to describe the video clip in their own words, and descriptions from the group with tough names went along the lines of “The dog saw a man and didn’t like him. The dog barked at him and tried to jump on him to make him go away, but the man pushed him off before he could be bitten”. In contrast, the positive name group thought that the dog was barking to greet the man and that the jumping up was playful rather than intimidating.
If a name can have such an impact on our perception of a dog, then reactions to the dog will also be influenced by it. If the students in the experiment were interacting with the German Shepherd rather than watching a video, it is likely that their actions would correspond with their words; those who thought ‘Assassin’ was about to bite their arm off would probably run a mile. The way that people react to dogs plays a significant role in their behaviour since dogs communicate mostly via body language. ‘Assassin’ may be the friendliest dog in the world, yet when faced with a terrified, screaming student with waving arms he could become stressed and may bark or even lunge if he felt threatened and unable to escape. Or, if the student did indeed run away, the dog may have given chase, reinforcing the student’s view that the dog was dangerous.
The name that you choose for your dog not only reflects yourself but also creates an impression of your dog, which could result in harmless behaviours being misinterpreted– potentially leading to behavioural issues around people.
By the way, this is my new puppy. His name? Dave.
See Dr Coren’s original article on the name experiment here.
The Pug is one of the oldest surviving dog breeds, thought to have originated in China around 700 BC, although records suggest that dogs of a similar appearance to the breed we know today existed as early as 500 BC. Queen Victoria loved pugs and played a significant role in establishing the breed in Europe, placing the little wrinkled dogs firmly in the hearts of Victorian dog enthusiasts. Pugs belonging to royalty were treated as such and would be seen riding at the front of the carriage in clothes matching those of their masters.
However, not everyone shared the Queen’s passion for pugs. The author Taplin wrote that they were “applicable to no sport” and “appropriated to no useful purpose”. The name ‘pug’ itself was defined as a nickname for ‘monkey’ in the 1700s, a time when keeping marmosets as pets was not uncommon. Although it is still perfectly legal to own a primate in the UK, our now extensive knowledge and understanding of animal welfare means that our attitude towards animals has changed dramatically. With the obvious implications of keeping such an animal in the unsuitable, alien environment that is our homes, most of us wouldn’t think twice about owning a monkey. So why are pugs, one of the unhealthiest dog breeds, still as popular as they were under Queen Victoria’s rule?
It is not difficult to answer this question. Pug faces adorn endless lines of cushions, bags, T-shirts, pyjamas, onesies and phone cases. The pug craze is highlighted in the media, with photographs of various celebrities holding their pets splashed across newspapers. On the internet, sites such as tumblr’s ‘Pugs in Clothes’ support the attitude that it is acceptable to treat pugs as an accessory rather than a living, (just about) breathing creature. Pugs are cute, and the current trend and apparent necessity for all things pug is a far cry from the days when the breed could only be owned by emperors, with illegal ownership punishable by death!
A pug in a Starbucks outfit taken from the site ‘Pugs Dressed as Things’.
Instead of addressing the health issues within the breed, such as the obvious breathing difficulties and proptosis (a medical emergency involving the eye popping out of its socket, usually caused by holding the neck too tightly but can also be the result of play), unscrupulous breeders continue to produce litter after litter of pugs. Breeding dogs in order to meet public demand is nothing new; following the release of the 101 Dalmatians movie in 1996, people with little knowledge of the high-energy and often demanding breed were able to ‘cash in’ on the Dalmatian’s popularity, with many dogs unsuitable for life as a family pet produced as a result. Sites such as Pets for Homes and Gumtree are an ideal outlet for such breeders, making it easier than ever for anyone to purchase an animal without any real consideration. Indeed, if live meerkats were as readily available as their fluffy toy counterparts, it is likely that we would be overrun with them too.
If pugs are ‘on trend’ in the eyes of the public, it is true that Staffordshire Bull Terriers and other such breeds are also ‘fashionable’ amongst certain members of society. You only have to look at the music charts and there is the artist ‘Pitbull’, who chose his stage name based solely upon the breed’s notoriety. If Labradors were to become the ‘devil dogs’ of 2014, would we suddenly see an increase in youths parading down the street and lurking on street corners with ‘Marley’? It is true that breeds such as the Akita and Dogue De Bordeaux have seen an increase in popularity in the last few years, while the German Shepherd and Rottweiler, once favourite targets for the media’s dangerous dog campaigns in the 80s and 90s, have appeared to return to more responsible owners.
If gang members require a dog that will intimidate others, it has to be a breed that has the ability to strike fear into the hearts of the public – one that they have seen in the news. Would they be less inclined to choose the Akita, complete with its fluffy coat and curly tail, for use as a status dog without attacks featuring the breed shown in the media?
Just as pugs are widely available, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Staffie crosses can be found in every classified ad section and are often sold via a ‘mate of a mate’, and, in comparison to other breeds mentioned, are usually highly affordable. Those who want a dog bred for aggressive tendencies are unlikely to approach a Kennel Club registered breeder, and they have no reason to do so. Statistics shown in the February 2014 issue of Your Dog magazine show that Staffordshire Bull Terriers are the most stolen dog breed in Britain, and many pet charities are currently working to raise awareness of the dangers of leaving a dog tied up outside a shop. From a financial perspective, there is no point in producing dogs that nobody wants, and with these statistics proving exactly what sort of people are after a Stafford, the market for ‘weapon dogs’ is as large as ever. Unfortunately it is always the dog that pays the price for becoming either ‘useless’ or unfashionable, a statement that any rescue centre full of poorly-socialised and neglected Staffords would support.
Until the image of the Stafford is changed, the future for the breed remains the same. The great work of the East Anglian Staffordshire Bull Terrier Display Team, who perform in the main arena at Crufts, is just one example of how media stories can be weakened and opinions changed by showing a breed in a positive light.
As for the Pug, it is likely that in a year or so the novelty items embellished with a pug face will be met with the same exasperated sighs that the once admirable and now arguably overused ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ merchandise generates. In an ideal world, Staffords would become the new pug and, instead of an increase in breeding, the thousands in rescue would be adopted as a result.
At least Staffords can be played with without the risk of proptosis.
When news of a serious or fatal dog attack surfaces on the websites and pages of the daily papers, the image used alongside the story is often one of the main features of the article. As the reader’s focus is shifted from the details of the incident to the large colour photograph of the dog, the nature of the report is changed from an informative news story to one that strives to evoke feelings of unease and incite hatred towards the breed as a whole. Often the breed is misidentified in the caption, and it is all too easy for journalists to make a mistake with regards to the dog shown, as highlighted in the coverage of the Lexi Branson case when many national and local papers printed photographs of Lexi with a Dogue De Bordeaux, a dog which was not present at the time of the attack. Although it takes seconds to tarnish a breed’s reputation, the media faces no consequences when publishing false information about dogs.
If a photograph of the dog involved in the attack is not available, tabloids will typically use a stock photo of a similar breed in an aggressive stance with its hackles raised and lip curled back into a snarl. It is not understood quite how the inclusion of an image showing a ‘random’ dog can be justified; it can not be for demonstrating the signs of aggression since we all know what an angry dog looks like. If the media really wanted to prevent further occurrences of bites through the use of photography, a simple ‘do’s and don’ts’ when interacting with dogs would be of much better use than a picture of a supposedly vicious beast. In the case of the photographs used in these articles, the camera can indeed lie; it is easy to make a dog appear to be on the verge of launching an attack despite it being of good temperament. The photograph below is commonly used alongside Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Pit Bull type attack stories, yet it is believed that the dog pictured is a family pet and is actually sneezing.
The real reason that so many papers do publish such images is simply to fill space and to echo the message within the story itself: these types of dog are dangerous. Compare any generic ‘dog mauls child’ article to one of a wild animal attack and the contrast, in both language and accompanying photographs, is obvious. A tiger killing a zoo keeper is an example of a tragic and terrifying incident but is one in which the animal involved is not likened to Satan, as in the case of the child-mauling ‘devil dog’. The reason for describing dogs that attack as such is simply because, unlike tigers, we live alongside dogs, and have done for thousands of years. They help the disabled amongst us, they assist with catching dangerous criminals, they are able to find missing persons, and most of all they are a valued companion. When the dog-human relationship goes wrong, and on the rare occasion a person is seriously hurt as a result, there is an element of shock and an uncomfortable feeling that the cuddly pooch we share our sofa with has the potential to cause life-threatening injuries. It is this response that the media utilises when including images of a snarling Staffie.
Dogs can be trained to show aggression on command, and although this is usually restricted to those in police and security work, can also be used in films. Some examples of training wolf-like dogs to show aggression for ‘acting roles’ can be seen in the video clips here and here. It is also possible to make a dog appear to be dangerous without any training; a photograph capturing a split second of a bark (or even a sneeze) can be misleading when accompanied by a sensationalist headline. In the photograph below, taken from this blog post by Mymegaedog, a friendly German Shepherd is barking in anticipation of its owner throwing a ball. The image underneath it shows the same dog just a few seconds later.
It would be overwhelmingly simple for the media to use a similar photograph of a barking dog and include the caption ‘Danger dog terrorises children in park’. Taking the image out of context portrays a different dog altogether to the playful Shepherd waiting to engage in a game of fetch.
Photographs, and indeed theatrical stories on dog attacks as a whole, do not contribute to stamping out irresponsible dog ownership. Instead they play on the ‘vicious weapon’ look, making Staffordshire Bull Terriers and similar breeds the ideal choice for those in search of a ‘status dog’ and diminishing the chances of a responsible family adopting one. The image is a shock tactic that the media relies on to support the content of their story in the majority of dog attack reports, which somewhat undermines the eyewitness accounts that are surely harrowing enough and do not require a stock photo to demonstrate the severity of an incident. It is unfortunate that such dubious and often inaccurate images are favoured over any photograph showing a friendly-natured example of the breed, which would weaken the story, but also show the dog that the reader is more likely to meet.
Researchers from the University of Lincoln have recently published a paper entitled ‘Acculturation — Perceptions of breed differences in behavior of the dog (Canis familiaris)‘, which exposes the fundamental flaws in breed specific legislation and why, as part of the Dangerous Dogs Act, it does little to protect the public.
Their findings, which have been published in the American journal Human Animal Interaction Bulletin, demonstrate that those who receive little interaction with dogs are more likely to adopt a prejudiced view, comparable to racial stereotyping, than their dog-loving neighbours. According to the paper, more than half of those surveyed who identified as ‘experienced or knowledgeable’ about dogs oppose the stereotyping of specific breeds or types of dog, compared to only 15% of those who have had little or no experience with dogs. Less than one in 10 of respondents who had not owned a dog disagreed with the statement that breed specific legislation is necessary for protecting the public, with many holding the view that if a dog appears to be dangerous, it is more likely to show aggressive tendencies than its small and fluffy counterparts.
The research is a confirmation of what many of us dog lovers already know; that media and the Government play a major part in shaping the views of those who have little prior knowledge of dogs and what influences their behaviour. The research team concluded that breed specific legislation creates a false sense of security amongst the public, who may believe that dogs not deemed ‘dangerous’ by law and of a different shape to banned types are ‘safe’ and always good-natured. Breed specific legislation teaches the public that a dog’s temperament can be predicted based on its appearance, which of course is not possible. To quote the Kennel Club, “this is why dogs placed on the Index of Exempted Dogs have never been proven to be dangerous and why dogs of a breed or type other than those expressly prohibited have been involved in dog attacks.”
Myths such as the ‘lock jaw’ phenomenon also support the researchers’ opinion that breed specific legislation leads to negative stereotypes, forming an image of a vicious, crazed animal with locking jaws in the minds of the public. Whist it is true that Pit Bull Terriers do indeed have a strong bite capacity, the structure of their jaw is no different to that of any other dog breed. An experiment shown on National Geographic channel demonstrated that the Pit Bull Terrier has an average bite force of 235 pounds, compared to 238 pounds from a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler’s 328 pounds. A YouTube clip of this experiment can be seen here.
A ‘false sense of security’ has recently been talked about with regards to the popular term ‘nanny dog’, widely used amongst Staffie owners with good intentions of dispelling myths and forming positive opinions about the breed. It has been suggested that by telling everyone about the loving nature of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, owners and breed enthusiasts are inadvertently sending out the message that it is perfectly safe to leave a dog alone with a child. Whilst I’m sure that this was not the message that owners had in mind, a lack of knowledge together with misunderstandings fuelled by such messages is potentially an accident waiting to happen, through no fault of the dog. No dog, regardless of breed, size, age or temperament, should ever be left alone with a child – even a ‘nanny dog’.
The presence of breed specific legislation lays the foundation for the myths and negative stereotypes surrounding bull-breeds, which encourages the ‘wrong’ type of person to own a bull-breed, increasing the likelihood of dog attack incidents through the concept of ‘status dogs’, which, together with a general lack of knowledge and public misunderstanding, in turn supports the argument for breed specific legislation. It is a vicious circle that can only be broken with an overhaul of legislation and introduction of laws that place the blame solely on those responsible for their dog’s actions.
Read the University of Lincoln’s article here.
For more information on the Kennel Club’s views on dangerous dog legislation, see their campaign briefing here.