Category Archives: Breeds

“Dangerous dogs” – what’s to be done?

What should we do about “dangerous dogs”?

So many views; so many entrenched ideas about there being no “bad dogs” only “bad” owners. That no dog is born “bad”. I’m not going to go down the route of defining what “bad” is supposed to mean, though although perhaps the naïve people who believe it, should take off their rose-tinted specs. IME working with clients, and with my own dogs, its far from black and white.

But what can we do to stop dogs killing and biting people?

Ban certain breeds?

It’s been tried. It hasn’t done a great job. Dog bites haven’t been reduced. The government are saying the legislation did work because no pitbulls are associated with any of the recent deaths. But anyone who knows anything about dogs knows the owners just went on to find another type of dog they could turn into aggessive status dogs. No, the legislation hasn’t worked Suella Braverman. Moreover, it has been failing the lovely, nice, safe pet dogs that just happen to look like a banned breed. They have been seized, often highly aggressively, isolated, and even destroyed because it’s just too difficult to keep the dog under the rules imposed on them.

Defining what constitutes a breed is fraught with difficulties. Not all dogs within any breed are the same either, even if it is likely certain traits are more likely to be found in that breed. That’s the point of selective breeding for a type, or breed. Breed dogs for traits that contribute to aggressive behaviour, and yes, you are more likely to see the consequences of that just as you can breed for traits which make it more likely the pups will be sociable and friendly. There is no single “aggressive” gene than can be identified. Aggression is a complicated topic. Just removing some dogs from the gene pool won’t stop dogs behaving like dogs. Any dog can bite if they feel under threat or are stressed or frightened. That some dogs are physiologically more able to do more harm when they behave aggressively is perhaps the only rationale behind a breed ban that makes any sort of sense. Bull breeds usually have bigger, stronger jaws than a terrier, or a collie. They can do real damage when they do decide to bite in a way a Pomeranian or a cockerpoo physically cannot.

So, what about the owner?

Plenty of dogs ARE messed up and are unsafe. It’s not always the fault of the owner. When people take on a pup, or an adult rescue dog, that dog will have already had experiences and an environment to add to their genetic make-up. Even an 8 week old pup isn’t a ‘blank slate’ as some people like to believe. Plenty of owners end up with a dog that they love and care for that has had things happen to it, triggering all sorts of unwanted behaviour – perhaps including aggressive behaviour. Of course, there will also be plenty of unpleasant people who get a dog that intimidates and reflects a particular lifestyle. If there is legislation surely it ought to find a way focus on those individuals?

Some dogs are going to be much more vulnerable to bad things messing them up because of their genes and early rearing. Often because they were bred and reared by backyard breeders whose ethical outlook (and empathy for dogs and fellow human beings) is so very different to other breeders.

Some dogs are going to be more vulnerable to adverse events happening in their lives for all sorts of reasons. Whether it be by accident or design – some just can’t deal with them without damaging them in some way. Its why how we breed, train and bring up our dogs matters so much. Uncaring breeders, abusive trainers, owners who simply don’t know or understand enough to realise what their dogs need can all bring out traits which might never see the light of day in other circumstances.

But even the most experienced owner and trainer can find themselves with a dog that throws a curved ball at them by some quirk in a dog’s make-up, or just because the problems they present are simply not possible to fix.  

Chance can throw a spanner in the works too. It might be an attack by another dog, or the dog becomes frightened by unexpected events. However well or safely we manage our dogs; however well we set them up to be resilient and sociable, ‘stuff’ can happen to wreck things.

Then it becomes the owner’s responsibility if they fail to make good decisions about training, management or control of those dogs once they realise they have a problem. It’s the owner’s job to aim to mitigate against that becoming a disaster.

So, shouldn’t the focus of any legislation need to be on the people involved? The breeders, the owners, and the trainers. Banning “breeds”, without any clear idea about what the “breed” is, hasn’t reduced dog attacks. The people who want their dogs to be dangerous (or don’t care) just moved on to different dogs. And that’s what they’ll do again.

What can we do? I really don’t know. License owners after they’ve taken some sort of test? Educate everyone who has anything to do with dogs about the importance of responsible breeding and rearing? Focus on breeding sociable dogs? Get shot of abusive trainers? That would probably reduce the more ‘accidental’ domestic aggression problems we trainers and behaviourists would need to deal with.

But understanding the mindset of people who breed and intentionally choose to own “status” dogs, who want them to be aggressive, and have no desire to have dogs as sociable, friendly companions is way beyond my ken. Maybe banning is the only practical way to pause them, before they find another breed to exploit, and dogs to abuse (which they will do), but in the meantime there will be dreadful consequences for so many nice, lovely people and their (genuinely) nice, lovely dogs. A lot of dog lovers, especially those who own a dog that, by sheer bad luck, physically resembles an American bullie, are likely to be paying for the government’s refusal to understand its not just about the dogs.

What’s in a name? Breeds and breeders and buying puppies

I am not a ‘purist’ about breeds and breed standards. I am not a particular fan of the Kennel Club either. But one thing they do try to do (more or less effectively depending on your viewpoint) is to regulate breeding practices, educate breeders and standardise breed standards. I have been an open show judge (3 different breeds) and when I judged I judged to those breed standards.  If I were to breed a “pure breed” I’d breed to them as well. I’d do the health checks the KC demand. Why? Because puppy buyers should know they are buying a pup with the very best chance of predicting how it might turn out. Not just in what it looks like, but its temperament and its health. That it goes wrong sometimes is not entirely the Kennel Club’s fault as some would have us believe. Dog breeding is not an exact science.

The trouble is so many puppy buyers believe the KC is about some kind of elite clique, producing overpriced, unhealthy pups, only breeding them so they can win at Crufts. So who wants to bother with KC breeds for a family pet dog?

Well, here is why.

When you go online to find a puppy to buy you will see HUNDREDS of adverts with piccies of cute puppies. That they are highly unlikely to be the actual puppy the seller is selling is the first untruth you’ll meet. It’ll be the first of many. The description. Puppy farmers know what they have to say to sell puppies. So they make things up. Some ‘breeds’ sell better and attract higher prices. So long as it looks roughly like it and the parents might even be those breeds is all that matters. “Reared in the home”, bred from “much loved family pets” are 2 winning lies they will include in their adverts. If you haven’t SEEN that for yourself, on more than one occasion, and met the breeder in their own home (some ripoff merchants go as far as to borrow and rent ‘homes’ to fool buyers) then don’t believe it. That lovely person you have spoken to on the phone, or exchanged emails with, cuddling puppies when you come to collect yours, does not care ONE JOT about the welfare of those puppies, or who buys them. They just want the money.

But what does it really matter if they lie or not? It’s a puppy. You’ll love and care for it so why does it matter? Indeed, you might feel you have rescued it from a terrible start in life.

Here’s more reasons to care. Apart from just being ripped off, paying a lot of money for something other than what you believe you have bought, and putting money onto the pockets of people who abuse animals, it is more likely to be physically ill. The poor puppy’s welfare aside, it could cost you a lot of money within days. It could have serious (and dangerous and/or expensive) behaviour problems as it matures if the dam has been under stress and the litter has been reared in a shed isolated from people.

Here’s where the KC bit might help. If a puppy is sold as specific breed and it does not look like one according to the KC breed standard, or is a colour the KC doesn’t recognise, there’s a good chance the breeder or seller is lying to you. Yes, lying. These unscrupulous puppy sellers lie. A lot. If they are lying about that, then what else are they lying about? All the above perhaps.   The KC also plays other roles but the real giveaway that you may well be dealing with a puppy dealer, back yard breeder or puppy farmer is that they call their puppy a certain breed when it clearly isn’t one to anyone in the know.

Of course the seller might be genuine, and lovely, and just not care overmuch about breed standards and happy to simply breed healthy happy family pets that just aren’t very typical specimens. Those breeders exist and they will welcome caring puppy buyers. Sometimes they breed crossbreeds. There are excellent breeders who breed crossbreeds. Hurrah for all of them. We need them. But unless you get to KNOW that person in advance of the litter even being born perhaps, and know they are honest and caring and do love the pups they bring into the world, then walk away. Go to a rescue shelter, or find a breeder who cares, doesn’t abuse dogs,  and doesn’t lie about what they are selling.