And when I say Pit Bull I include Staffordshire Bull Terriers etc.
And when I say bejeezus, I mean shit-balls.
Traveling in our camper van often necessitates walking Juno in unfamiliar environments. On a few occasions we have come across unsupervised or unleashed dogs out in public spaces.
Most of the time this has been no problems. And Juno is always super keen to make new friends. We also often stay in dog friendly holiday parks, and we have NEVER had any problems with aggressive dogs.
But sometimes we have come across what I will call fighting dog breeds such as Pit Bulls. At such moments my adrenals immediately squirt 10,000mg of get-the-frick-out-of-here fear into my head and my bowel. Mostly into my bowel.
You see, I am a dog person.
Yet I just DO NOT feel comfortable around these breeds. Pit Bulls were originally bred as fighting dogs in the early 1800’s. They are still the most common type of dog used in illegal dog-fight gambling in the US.
Now, I know plenty of people who have Pit Bull dogs and wax lyrical about how great they are with kids and how they would only just about lick you to death. Some people totally love these breeds and coddle and shmuddle them.
Sorry, but my bowel still wants to leave the vicinity.
I just don’t trust nor do I particularly like these sorts of dogs.
Am I justified in these feelings? Turns out I am not.
In Australia, the RSPCA defines a dangerous dog as any dog that attacks to a person or other animal causing physical injury or death (or is an imminent threat of doing so).
It also categorises dogs as potentially menacing. Those that repeatedly exhibit threatening behaviour (such as rushing at or chasing a person without provocation).
And there are legislated guidelines and controls that can be implemented on dogs that have been identified as dangerous or menacing.
The RSPCA does not support legislation against specific dog breeds. Now, Australia does have breed-specific legislation that controls the importation and ownership of some breeds of dogs.
However, the current evidence is that any dog irrespective of breed or size could potentially be dangerous. There are no bad breeds. Just bad dogs. Or perhaps…bad owners.
One Swedish study in 2005 tested 31 dog breeds for temperamental characteristics.
For each trait here are the top 10 breeds (of those 31) in descending order. The results are often surprising:
Aggressiveness: Belgian Malinois, American Staffordshire Terrier, Parson Russell terrier, Great Swiss Mountain Dog, Australian Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Dalmatian, Giant Schnauzer, Rottweiler, Rhodesian Ridgeback
Playfulness: Belgian Malinois, Flat-coated retriever, German shepherd, Rottweiler, Border collie, Labrador retriever, Giant schnauzer, Dobermann pinscher, Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, Parson Russell terrier
Curiosity/Fearlessness: Labrador retriever, Parson Russell terrier, Flat-coated retriever, Belgian Malinois, American Staffordshire terrier, Rottweiler, Great Swiss Mountain Dog, German shepherd, Irish soft-coated wheaten terrier, boxer
Sociability: Flat-coated retriever, boxer, Labrador retriever, American Staffordshire terrier, golden retriever, border collie, Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, rottweiler, Australian kelpie, giant schnauzer
Instead of focusing on giving a specific breed the bad rap, the RSPCA’s management strategy is inclusive:
- Registration and microchipping of all dogs.
- Control of unrestrained and free-roaming animals.
- Provisions for the control of menacing dogs.
- Desexing of non-breeding dogs.
- Education of the public, and particularly children, in dog behaviour and bite prevention.
- Training of owners and dogs.
- Socialisation with people and other animals.
Overseas, Britain was one of the first countries to enact a Dangerous Dogs Act.
It prohibited specific dog breeds including the pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Fila Brasileiro and Dogo Argentino, as well as making it an offence for any owner to allow their dog to be dangerously out of control.
Despite this, there has actually been a 6% year-on-year increase in hospital reported dog injuries since the acts implementation in 1991.
There has also been 21 human fatalities from dog attacks involving breeds not on the prohibited list over this time.
On the topic of fatalities, a 2013 study, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association examined the causes of 256 dog bite fatalities in the USA. Instead of breed, it found the most common denominators included:
- Absence of an able-bodied person to intervene
- Incidental or no familiar relationship of victims with dogs
- Owner failure to neuter dogs
- Compromised ability of victims to interact appropriately with dogs
- Dogs kept isolated from regular positive human interactions
- Owners’ prior mismanagement of dogs
- Owners’ history of abuse or neglect of dogs
Sadly there have also been many reported cases in the UK of family ‘rescue’ dogs being destroyed after being misidentified as belonging to a prohibited breed (there are no DNA tests to identify a breed as Pit Bull) even when there is no history of aggressive behaviour from the dog.
Here in Australia a Parliamentary Inquiry in Victoria reviewed the effectiveness of its own breed specific legislation specifically targeting Pit Bulls that had been in place since 2001 and found it was not working: “…there is insufficient and sometimes contradictory evidence on whether Pit Bulls (however identified) pose a greater risk to public safety than other breeds.”
Writing for the RIOTACT, Tammy Ven Dange, CEO of the RSPCA in Canberra writes:
Nationally, we are aware of 34 dog attacks that resulted in death since 1979. Of those, only three of those dogs were described as a Pit Bull or a Pit Bull cross …. Furthermore, multiple international studies in the UK and in other places have determined that there is inconclusive evidence that specific breeds like Pit Bulls are genetically or statistically more likely to attack.
My own experiences.
So the evidence shows that my fear of Pit Bulls is totally irrational and breed prejudiced.
But by means of some sort of explanation or justification of those feelings I can say this:
After working as an emergency department nurse for 35 years, almost ALL ( and I think I remember one dog being a German Shepherd) serious dog related injuries (and there were many) that I helped cared for were pit bull or Staffordshire terrier type dogs.
Now this is just anecdotal evidence, but it is my lived experience.
Then there was the time I was out walking Juno when a Pit Bull that was tied to a post (with rope) whilst his owner was using a public phone, suddenly broke free and charged towards us barking aggressively. Luckily, he was some distance away and had to cross a busy main road (he was almost killed doing so) giving me time to scoop Juno up.
I held Juno above my head whilst Pit dog jumped all over me, snapping and snarling, and trying to get to him. He didn’t bite me, but only because he was so focused on Juno.
The owner, full of piss and vinegar, loped over, kicked him away (theres your problem) and grabbing him by his chain link collar dragged him in a long, loud, swearing scuffle back up the street.
Juno was shaken but fine. My bowels were not in good shape.
So despite the evidence, I still struggle with my own fear and unease around Pit Bulls and other such breeds. And they in turn probably pick up on that fear pretty quickly and respond to it instinctively.
Why can’t we just sniff each other butts and get along?
- What is the RSPCA’s position on breed-specific legislation? – RSPCA Australia knowledgebase [Internet]. Kb.rspca.org.au. 2018 [cited 8 July 2018]. Available from: http://kb.rspca.org.au/what-is-the-rspcas-position-on-breed-specific-legislation_497.html
- Breed Specific Legislation and Dog Bites [Internet]. Snopes.com. 2018 [cited 8 July 2018]. Available from: https://www.snopes.com/news/2016/10/25/bsl-and-dog-bites/
- Breed blame-game: banning Pit Bulls won’t work [Internet]. The Conversation. 2018 [cited 8 July 2018]. Available from: https://theconversation.com/breed-blame-game-banning-pit-bulls-wont-work-3036
- The Dangerous Dogs Act 25 years on [Internet]. BBC News. 2018 [cited 8 July 2018]. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-devon-37037799
- Dange T. Why banning dog breeds doesn’t work | The RiotACT [Internet]. The RiotACT. 2018 [cited 8 July 2018]. Available from: https://the-riotact.com/why-banning-dog-breeds-doesnt-work/221457/comment-page-1