Should We Ban The XL Bully?
Should we ban the XL Bully?
It doesn’t seem an unreasonable question right now and Rishi Sunak certainly thinks so.
Afterall, as a breed, they are responsible for 60% of the deaths of humans from dog attacks last year so far this year and the voluntary organisation Bully Watch have collected data, mainly from social media reports, on 351 dog on dog attacks where a bully type dog is the aggressor, representing 43% of the total they are aware of.
But what exactly is an XL bully? Some are tall and lean, others are shorter and squat but they all go by the same name. They do share the typical wide bully head, but so do many other breeds like the Staffie, a nation’s favourite.
But if we want to ban something, we have to define it. Too broad a definition and it will catch dogs entirely unrelated to the breed, too narrow and it will be even easier for those people who really want to own a killer dog, to tweak them a little and evade the law.
And is it fair to condemn them just for their looks? Regardless of their behaviour? Although the XL is definitely over-represented in the death and bite stats, they aren’t all rampaging the streets.
And how do we practically manage a ban? What do we do with the ones that are already here? Instigate a mass cull? And who is going to euthanise them? The vet profession is under enough strain as it is and being commanded to put down thousands of healthy dogs will not help in the slightest.
We could subject them to the control orders that already exist in the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA), and require them to be muzzled and on a lead in public, kept in secure homes and neutered. That could work but is it fair on active, athletic dogs, the majority of whom have not behaved badly, to never let them run free again?
And will a ban have an impact on the bites and deaths? Maybe in the short term but won’t take long for those who desire to own dogs like these to find another breed ruin and bend to their will.
And thus, with a knee jerk ban, we push the can of actually effectively dealing with this issue of out-of-control dogs (of all breeds) and irresponsible owners properly, further down the road.
It is generally considered that the DDA, another hasty and reactionary law, is a failure, mainly because its intended aim of reducing dog bites has failed; with rates continually rising, and faster than the general dog population.
However, it certainly has stopped bites by the breeds banned and, up until recently, the number of deaths from dogs has remained remarkably stable.
The slogan ‘Deed not Breed’ is used by those who oppose the DDA and I have definitely have some sympathy with this statement. We should judge on behaviour and not just on looks but this one breed is clearly doing more dangerous deeds than others and we have to acknowledge that.
Breeds are bred for deeds, that is the whole point of them. We needed dogs for jobs and bred in traits that would mean they would be, reasonably, predictably good at those jobs. Yes, there is always variation, one Border Collie will be better at herding sheep than another, but all will have some of that instinct built in. XL Bullies are a fighting breed. Will all display that? No, but many do.
And it is really important we acknowledge this, which we can do without demonising every single bully type. Much of the public frustration has come from the fact that many of the organisations that oppose a ban simply chant ‘Deed not Breed’ and seem to dismiss their well justified fears. These are large and powerful dogs, so when they do bite, they are inevitably going to do more damage than a Daschund (a top rated breed for dog bites overall) and it is not unreasonable to say so.
However, many factors influence personality and behaviour, in particular the personality of the parents and early experiences of humans and socialising.
So, therefore, it is fair to say that responsible breeding, upbringing and training of the XL bully could counter many of the issues we see. But that relies heavily on the people who own them being motivated to do that and I think that this is one weak link we have in the chain. It is likely that many of the XL bullies who do attack have not had the best upbringing or training and many have likely been subject to cruel handling and even fighting training. Added to that is the fact many have cropped ears, so will have experienced pain and fear at human hands at an extremely early and impressionable age.
Unfortunately, changing this attitude amongst those individuals likely to be difficult. If you chose a dog based on the fact that it is big and scary and you want it to behave in a way that reflects that, you probably aren’t going to train to combat any fear-based aggression or breed traits of chasing, biting and gripping. Quite the opposite in fact.
It is absolutely the breeders and owners of these dogs where the majority of the fault lies, so can we target them?
In the DDA is the ability for the police to act if a dog is ‘dangerously out of control’. Clearly chasing people down on petrol forecourts fits this bill, as seen in the viral video that brought this issue to mainstream and political attention, but just a reasonable concern from a member of the public is enough for law enforcement to act. The dog doesn’t actually have to bite anyone.
And this, in my opinion, is the way to tackle this issue. We need to finally start to use the laws we already have, rather than writing in more. I understand our police force is stretched, and also that any action against pet owners generally triggers a significant backlash against them, but now is the time to act.
We need to get the most reactive dogs off the street before they cause harm by acting on reports about them and we must heavily fine and prosecute their owners as well. We need to ensure the humans who are responsible for these attacks and their dog’s behaviour are properly punished and create real deterrents for anyone considering doing the same. Currently there is very little disincentive for having a killer at the end of the lead.
Also, now we have the attention of the law makers, we can finally enact and enforce some proper legislation around dog breeding and dog breeders. Too many are unlicensed and raising pups in awful environments that will inevitably damage them for life. Which will benefit all breeds, not just the Bully.
But what about the dogs that are reported and removed from owners? Realistically many will lose their lives. Although abused dogs can be rehabilitated, the right resources to do this are slim and once authorities start to act, rescues will be extremely stretched. This is really sad and incredibly unfair but better, in my opinion, than the mass and indiscriminate cull an outright ban is likely to trigger.
This is a problem that has been allowed to go on for too long and it will not be easy to solve. Dogs will lose their lives and it won’t be their fault. There will be a backlash when the authorities start to act and anything less than a ban won’t please those who are set on one.
Turbulent times are ahead but we absolutely must do something.