Dog Attacks: How do we make them a thing of the past?
Breed Specific Legislation is not the Answer.

In recent years, there has been a movement to ban or restrict specific breeds of dog, to combat this issue. Considering the "Nothing I do is my fault / Promoting high self-esteem at all costs" culture shift that's trying to take hold, this probably should be no surprise...however, I'd like to offer some food for thought regarding Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL), which I see as a wholehearted attempt at SOLVING THE WRONG PROBLEM.

-Any canine that is ideally raised, responsibly owned, and properly contained is a
safe canine...regardless of breed. (Unusual medical issues, and possibly the extremely rare "bad seed", excepted. However, ill or physiologically aberrant animals are easily identifiable, and should most likely be euthanized long before a mauling occurs.)

-Any time there is a bite or attack, knowledgeable dog handlers will be able to tell you WHY the incident occurred, and also what should have been done to prevent it (with the possible exception of injury, severe illness, heritable impulsive aggression, or 'Canine Rage Syndrome'). They can explain the incident without ever needing to bring the animal's breed or type into the discussion. Though different breeds may be known for different general personalities or abilities, canine behaviour is canine behaviour, across the board. They all follow the same basic rules and psychology, and they all bite (or aggress) for the same handful of identifiable reasons.

-Some people feel that punishing bad owners AFTER the fact, doesn't take back the damage that is done...and with this I agree wholeheartedly. Responsible ownership needs to be enforced from the start, before an incident occurs! Warning signs of "an accident waiting to happen" are readily apparent, long before a bite; people need to heed these signs when they occur, rather than ignoring them until after "the incident", then looking for an easy (and misidentified) target for the blame.
Removing the "vehicle" as a method of prevention (i.e. banning questionable breeds, large breeds, dogs with teeth, etc) is equivalent to saying that since enormous numbers of people are killed by automobiles--vastly more than are bitten by dogs!--we should ban all cars (or large trucks capable of doing more damage, or fast cars, or red cars...). As with cars, the handler is innocent until proven guilty...we need to focus on the driver, not the vehicle, if we are ever to truly solve the problem. Just like dogs, automobiles have usefulness and value which should not be undermined by the actions of an irresponsible few.

BSL is ineffective.
-It gives a false sense of security to the general public, by leading them to believe that, with certain breeds of dog exterminated, they are safe from dog bites or attacks. The reality is that ANY dog can and will bite, under the wrong circumstances. Additionally, when one breed is banned, the same undesirables who created public menaces out of representatives of that breed, will simply do the same with another breed. It may take years for the statistics to reflect the new "mean" breed of choice, but rest assured that it WILL happen...just as it has happened, in the past.

-Virtually NO dog will be a threat or a risk, if they are a good match for the owner, and proper handling is practiced. If the owner does a poor job through carelessness or lack of knowledge, some dogs will be more forgiving than others...but you never really know WHICH ones will be forgiving and which will not, until someone ruins a dog and has an "incident".

- Fatal or serious dog bites are actually remarkably rare. You are actually 25 times more likely to be struck by lightning, statistically, than to be killed by a dog! (Minor dog bites are common, but most are at a level hardly even worth mentioning, let alone tallying up and calling them an "epidemic". Many dog bites leave no damage at all, and most of the others are on par with stubbing your toe, or nicking yourself with a paring knife.) What a sobering thought!
Humans' Darwinistic fear of "animals with big scary teeth" tends to override common sense, with respect to the amount of danger a dog truly poses. More on this topic here.

Dogs are not interchangeable--one dog is not the same as the next, with respect to their personality, and the value and enjoyment an individual gets from them. Once a person discovers "Their" Breed, they will often attempt to continue the relationship no matter what...even if the breed is not socially acceptable, or is discriminated against. *Imagine if you were told that you were no longer allowed to live with your child...and if you feel you must have something similar, you may have a monkey instead! What if they tried to argue that all the things you love about your child were irrelevant, that a monkey could do them just as well: give and receive love & affection, learn things, draw pictures in crayon, communicate <via sign language>. Would that be acceptable? Of course not(!)--one is no substitute for the other. Many dog breed (or type) fans feel exactly the same way--that they cannot get what they need from just 'any dog'.

-Attempting to identify aggressive "trends" in breed behaviour is shaky ground. It's much easier and more accurate to pinpoint trends in OWNERS, than in breeds! Consider the behaviour and practices of all owners who have "incidents"--this will get you much closer to the true reasons behind the animals' misbehaviour, than will scrutiny of the animal itself. You may also find that a given dog owner often has the same issues across the board, while owning multiple dogs of different breeds. Kindly Aunt Betty, who can't bring herself to discipline the "babies", will typically have out of control dogs. The 20-something next door who "sic's" his pitbull on the neighbors, will do the same thing if his pitbull is replaced by a rottweiler, or a GSD, or a mutt from the pound.

-There are more efficient and productive ways to spend tax dollars, than on tracking down and killing banned pets. This process also fosters mistrust and disregard for animal control/law enforcement, and weakens public cooperation with them in other arenas by turning them into 'the Enemy'.

-Many who scrutinize BSL point to the numerous dogs who are victims of misidentification-i.e., they look similar to banned breeds and are therefore persecuted as such. I find this argument to be a straw man, for it first requires that one accept the notion that there is something "wrong" with the banned breeds in the first place! Looks don't kill, and what a dog looks like (or what breed traits he shows) is irrelevant. Behaviour is the only relevant factor in the "dangerousness" of dogs...and behaviour--particularly aggressive behaviour--varies primarily by environment and individual, NOT by breed.

BSL is harmful to animals.
-Once banned, most animals are subjected to the worst possible fate--torn from their homes, and put to death. (Or, they may be funneled into a much less desirable living situation, such as an overcrowded shelter or rescue, where they are unlikely or unable to be adopted due to the very breed restrictions that sent them there!)

-Illegal animals are less likely to receive proper veterinary care, either because of the owner's fear of discovery, or the vet's refusal to treat them.

-Myths about the animals in question emerge, since the knowledgeable and responsible owners are afraid to speak up and educate about them. Often, the myths hype the "dangerousness" of the animal, increasing the likelihood that criminals or "undesirables" will want to acquire them.

-Banned animals can easily become victims of the illegal pet trade, and be disposed of hastily if the dealer is at risk of discovery.

-Animals subjected to BSL often cannot enjoy the everyday freedoms and quality of life they deserve. They often are subject to restricted handling, are "shut away" more than normal dogs, and sense fear or disdain from starngers...all of which will make them LESS social, and more prone to problem behaviours.
BSL is harmful to people!
-Loss of companionship can be a great loss indeed, to many people...especially those whose life revolves around their dog(s), and there are a lot of people who fit that bill.

-Misdirecting the public focus (by having people try to guess whether a breed is safe or friendly based on its appearance) can instead CAUSE dog bites, in two different ways:
1. This approach leads people to assume that the reportedly "safe" breeds are actually bite-proof, when in reality, those "safe" breeds are just as likely to bite them as any other breed.
2. Creating public fear towards specific breeds can cause the people who buy into the hype to act oddly around those dogs...which in turn makes the dog anxious and confused (and more likely to bite).

-BSL can essentially make criminals out of otherwise honest and law-abiding people. Some people will choose loyalty to their Family (the dog) over compliance with the law, which can cause serious stress and other implications.

-Excessive breed restrictions can cause financial hardships, or friction with human family, friends and neighbors.

Alternative means to achieve the desired results:
-Educational programs, especially with respect to training, behavioural studies, canine communication and body language, and information on preventing dog bites. Essentially ANY healthy pup can be raised to be a Safe Dog, if the owner follows some basic guidelines. (An overview of suggested guidelines resides here.)

-A strong focus on
owner responsibility, and PREVENTION of bites and aggression.

- Proper containment for ALL dogs. There is no reason for anyone to be bitten or mauled by a loose and unattended dog, because loose and unattended dogs should not exist!

-NEUTERING of males (consider the fact that intact males account for the vast majority of dog bites) and spaying of females (who are of high value to intact males, and can provide a catalyst for aggression). Significant fees for intact dogs would be a strong incentive to spay or neuter, in addition to the side benefit of preventing unwanted accidental litters by non-breeding-quality dogs.

-Proof of basic handling skills and general competance to own a dog, perhaps in the form of a Dog License that requires demonstration of knowledge & ability.

-Careful screening by breeders, to prevent dogs from falling into the hands of people unable or unwilling to raise them properly.

Raising the bar for ownership is FAR more desirable than attempting to make dogs "idiot-proof". We owe it to dogs to do each and every one of them justice, and provide the excellent quality of life that creates safe and happy canines.

Considering BSL as a solution is short-sighted, and misguided at best. Lawmakers have a responsibility to make laws based upon logic, fairness, and common sense, rather than emotional reactions to propaganda and/or the occasional gory photo.We have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by demanding that owners take responsibility--in advance!--for their dogs' behaviour, and by enforcing the current dog-ownership laws already on the books.

There are no "Dangerous Breeds". There are, however, breeds that are higher maintenance than the average Golden retriever--who require more effort or responsibility from their owners, in order to be good canine citizens. Come over HERE to read more about "high maintenance" dogs .

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