Pit Bulls and Rottweilers: the Black Cats of the 21st Century
Breed specific dangerous-dog laws are as nonsensical as the practice of rounding up and killing black cats because they cause bad luck: this may make some people feel better – at least the ones who believe in witchcraft – but there is no basis for it in science, logic, or ethically-based behavior. It is the inexorable, and unimpeachable, pursuit of our species to ensure the safety of our families, our neighbors, and ourselves. This pursuit can lead us to important safety measures like car seat belts and air bags. Unfortunately, our need to feel safe often leads us to do things which may help some feel better, simply because we attach action to our fear, but which do nothing to actually help – remember nuclear bomb attack drills, in which we were instructed to hide under our desks? Dangerous dog legislation which pre-judges and penalizes individual animals based on breed is even worse than the absurd nuclear attack drills; at least the harm of the drills was only psychological.
Working in the pet animal industry is sometimes challenging because there is so little agreement, even among supposed experts, on how to address pet-dog related issues. What do we do about the over-population of dogs in our country? How do we ensure our society’s dogs’ health and safety, without interfering with the individual owners’ rights of privacy? How should service dogs be legislated and trained? Different organizations and experts have differing opinions about how to deal with most dog-related concerns, but on one topic we all agree: breed-specific legislation regarding dangerous dogs is of no value; not only are they of no help in preventing dog bites, the legislation and enforcement of these Draconian and ineffectual statutes take important resources away from the programs and laws that can actually help.
Organizations recognizing and acknowledging the utter lack of evidence indicating that breed-specific laws are effective or justifiable include the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the Pet Professional Guild, the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, the ASPCA, the Center for Disease Control, the National Canine Research Council, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Kennel Club.
It is easy to identify what won’t help avoid dog bites or attacks – but perhaps more important to acknowledge, and act upon, the actual science of dog bites. The same science that shows breed-specific legislation to be of no value, also suggests what kinds of laws and education might actually help.
- According to the Center for Disease Control, tethered or chained dogs are more than three times likely to bite than un-tethered dogs. Further, the American Veterinary Medical Association gives specific direction on the practice of tethering dogs at all: “Never tether or chain your dog, because this can contribute to aggressive behavior.” The statistics on tethering and chaining do not, by the way, include dogs that were chained but escaped and then attacked. To prevent dog attacks by way of legislation, pass laws about where, when, and for how long dogs may be tethered. Where such laws already exist, they should be enforced.
- British academic journal Applied Animal Behavior Science found that Dogs trained with the use of aversives are twice as likely to be aggressive to strangers, and three times as likely to be aggressive to family members. Equipment and techniques specifically mentioned in the study include using choke chains, prong collars, yelling, squirt bottles, and shock collars (including “invisible fences”). To prevent dog attacks by way of legislation, join Quebec, Wales, and New Zealand: pass laws banning prong and shock collars, and educate the public on the dangers of using aversive methods for training.
- According to the CDC, 92% of fatal dog attacks were perpetrated by male dogs, and of these, 95% were intact (not neutered). To prevent severe dog attacks, license breeders, institute a graduated dog-licensing system, and enforce licensing laws.
Statistically, the most dangerous dog, regardless of breed, is an intact male, which:
-is, or was, trained using aversives,
– is tethered or chained, or which spends significant time being tethered or chained,
– alone with a child under 12,
– weighs over 40 pounds (though fatalities have occurred in recent years from Dachshunds, Corgis, and other smaller dogs, the most severe attacks are usually dogs over 40 pounds)
– did not attend any kind of puppy socialization class (from statistics gathered by the The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association)
– dogs who do not sleep in the family home , sometimes called “outdoor dogs”. (JAVMA, again)
– has been mistreated by its current owner, and/or mistreated by a former owner. (JAVMA)
Banning pit bulls, or Rottweilers, to prevent dog attacks is like rounding up black cats to prevent the plague. Or believing the earth is flat because we don’t fall off. Or declining to accept that our planetary system is heliocentric. Even a little investigation into these topics quickly demonstrate the error in such thinking. Ultimately, dogs don’t hurt humans (or each other) because of their breed, or their size, or gender, or because they are alone with a child, or for any other single reason. It is when multiple factors contribute to form a dangerous and unpredictable situation that disaster occurs. When we are all ready to get serious about dog bite prevention in general, and serious dog attacks in particular, we will abandon the nonsensical laws (and inevitable debates) about breed, and put our resources into education and legislation regarding the proper care and training of all dogs.