Judging a dog’s potential for aggression by their appearance is wrong

In the UK certain dog breeds are automatically considered aggressive and dangerous under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. This is a dangerous way to assess dog aggression as many individual dogs of these outlawed breeds are unaggressive. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has been forced to euthanise 15 dogs this year because they were deemed to be from banned breeds based on their appearance as assessed by the police. Can we rely on the police? We can’t and we can’t rely on the flawed law either. Putting down well behaved dogs in shelters is harmful to the workers. It can actually cause mental health issues. This needs to be considered.

Some say pitbulls are sweet natured
Some say pitbulls are sweet natured. Image in the public domain.
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Michael Webb, head of policy and public affairs at Battersea said that the current methods don’t work and are not supported by science. He added that “Breed is incredibly ambiguous”. He says that you can’t brand all dogs including puppies from a certain breed as inherently aggressive. It is the same with cats. To brand a cat breed as having a certain character can be misleading.

Michael Webb said: “If the police decide that a dog contravenes the act, which is a decision made solely on its physical appearance, we have no choice but to put the animal to sleep. This is irrespective of the experience of our staff, who are extremely well trained, in dealing with that dog”. He added that it is ‘extremely distressing’ for the Battersea staff to kill perfectly fit and good dogs suitable for rehoming. The Battersea staff know which dogs have good characters and yet they have to kill these dogs under the law and as per the police assessment.

The media often creates labels on certain dogs as dangerous or loving, but more often than not it all has to do with how the dog is trained. – Acoma Animal Clinic

Experts in this field are calling on the government to reconsider the law in this area and the way dog breed is determined. It seems astonishing to me that the police are allowed to assess if a dog belongs to an outlawed dog breed by appearance. Nobody in their right mind would allow that.

This is a double whammy of human folly: the legislation is wrong, and the assessment based on the flawed legislation is also wrong.

Dr Sam Gaines, an RSPCA expert on dog welfare believes that it is clear that the existing arrangement are not working. He said that “legislation that targets certain types of dogs is fundamentally flawed and lulls the public into a false sense of security that some dogs are dangerous and others are safe”.

Webb said that “We would like a proper review of how this law operates because we are confident that would lead to a conclusion the government couldn’t hide from, that recognises breed-specific legislation has failed in its job to protect the public”.

Nathan Winograd expresses his views in the OPINION newspaper:

Nathan Winograd's views of branding dogs of a certain appearance as aggressive
Nathan Winograd’s views of branding dogs of a certain appearance as aggressive.

Liz Truss, the former, short-live Prime Minister, more of less disbanded the animal welfare agenda commenced under Boris Johnson’s government. And the current government is pressed to prioritise economic issues which means these requests to reassess will probably go unheeded for a long time.

You know the phrase: You can’t judge a book by its cover. This applies here. There are many factors in creating an inherently aggressive dog including socialisation, poor training, and bad experiences due to poor caregiving. Selective breeding is one factor but the not the only one and breeders of the outlawed dogs don’t always selectively breed for aggression. Not all pit bulls are aggressive. Battersea would confirm that.

The problem for pit bulls is that going back into the history of the breed they were bred for blood sports including bullbaiting. This appears to have created a legacy as some individuals may be predisposed to aggression through their inherited genetics. Genetics are influential in aggression towards human strangers a 2009 study confirmed. This is why the breed is listed in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 in which the pit bull terrier is listed as a dog ‘bred for fighting’ (‘any dog of the type known as the pit bull terrier’).

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