Dangerous Dogs: Deeds Not Breeds

Dangerous Dogs: Deeds Not Breeds

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Maria Bowles uses her own experiences of dogs to argue that it’s humans who have the power to avoid dangerous dog attacks. 

The ongoing argument regarding “dangerous dogs” seems never ending. With every new “attack” comes a media frenzy regarding the vicious animals and their negligent owners, which of course can be related to every single dog belonging to that breed, because with dogs, there is no such thing as individuality… I disagree.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a crazy woman who believes that her dog(s) speak to her, nor do I dress my dog in ridiculous outfits, or even believe that he is essentially a human being in canine form. That is, admittedly, insane. However, I wholeheartedly disagree with the generalisation and stereotypical classification of dog breeds.

For one dog to attack a human being is of course a devastating and unacceptable event. However, it is wrong to then assume that every dog belonging to that breed will act the same; that this “vicious” response is part of a dogs’ nature.

There are some dangerous dogs that aren’t allowed to be owned as pets within the UK, unless the owner has express permission from a court. These dogs then have to be muzzled and kept on a lead at all times when in public. This is perhaps fair enough; in my opinion all dogs should be kept on leads whenever in a public space, because you can never truly predict a dog’s reactions and behaviours, although I am aware that to many dog owners this is a hugely controversial idea.

Image Credits: Dominic Lipinski/PA
Image Credits: Dominic Lipinski/PA

However, society lacks a general education on these laws, and instead has created mental images of what “dangerous dogs” look like. For example, place a huge Labrador next to an English Bull Terrier, and everyone will assume that the Labrador is friendly and great with kids, whereas the English Bull Terrier is some form of guard dog, living in a home with no children, despite the fact that neither of these breeds are termed “dangerous”.

This, I know from personal experience, as my family have owned 2 English Bull Terriers, the first of which was the most loving, attentive dog I have ever come across (which admittedly all dog owners will undoubtedly say about their beloved pet), and was perfect with children. My little sister, as a small and very annoying 3 year old, used to ride Gypsy (the dog’s name, long story) as if she was a horse. She (the dog, not my sister, although sometimes I get the two confused) put up with this incessantly irritating behaviour in a far more patient manner than I ever could have. Despite this wonderful experience with our pet, many passers-by would look at Gypsy and give us a wide berth, looking down their noses and muttering some nonsense about a muzzle.

In my opinion, it is not down to the ‘label’ of the dog to determine its behaviour and whether it is dangerous. Essentially, the responsibility lies with the owner.

This is reflected in the law, as currently the maximum punishment for an owner of a dog who attacks a human being is a two year prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine. At present, the government are debating extending this to five years; if the attack results in a fatality, the sentence could be fourteen years. This, I feel, is far more appropriate than condemning an entire breed of dogs, which is comparable to condemning all teenagers after any crime committed by a single teenager – now this occurrence would enrage the whole of society, so why is it acceptable to condemn breeds of dogs?

I strongly believe that owners have a great responsibility to: a) ensure that their breed of dog is actually legally allowed in the country; b) if there is any doubt over how a dog will react to people, keep it on a lead at all times; and c) introduce people to the dog in a gentle manner when in the house. My third point is important in the sense that some dogs are incredibly protective over their family, and the worst situation to be in is one where a dog feels threatened.

These points are all especially essential when adopting a rescue dog. This is where my second English Bull Terrier comes in – Spike (we weren’t allowed to rename him, to my utter horror) was previously owned by a man who went to prison for fraud. He was raised as a guard dog, and only by one man. He then was put in a rescue centre for a year and a half, before my dad decided to adopt him without any of the rest of our family really knowing.

It was a bit of a shock, especially as Spike was not what we were used to after Gypsy, who had only ever been raised by us. At first, he was very protective of us, and would be instantly suspicious of anyone who walked through our front door, especially men. He is petrified of the vacuum cleaner, and is so scared of abandonment still that for the first 2 months he’d whine and wait by the door until we got back.

The first time my mum and I tried to leave the house with him there, it took 20 minutes. He stood in front of the door and wouldn’t move until I took my boots off and lured him away with a biscuit, leading to a rather comical dash for the door whilst he chewed his biscuits and my mum whipped my boots out with her, and I hopped on the front doorstep trying not to get my feet wet.

Of course, situations like these are more difficult because you really can’t predict what a dog will do, therefore making the responsibility of the owner so much more emphasised. We’d never let an unknown man into the house without making sure Spike was completely calm and on one of our laps, and having prepared said man on how to deal with the situation. Yes, it makes things somewhat awkward at times, but Spike is so lovable it’s difficult to care about little things like having friends over.

My main argument, amongst the anecdotes, is that the public should be made more aware of the correct treatment of dogs. Would you go up to a dog who wasn’t on a lead and attempt to pet it? My guess is probably not. So why do it whilst the dog is on a lead, in a situation in which the dog will naturally feel more vulnerable.

I am not dismissing the awful attacks on humans and those who have died as a result, these are serious issues; but, as the popular slogan goes: “deeds not breeds” – it is unjust to punish a whole breed when only one has caused a problem. The behaviour is unlikely caused by the inherent “nature” of the breed, but rather a combination of factors such as upbringing, relationships, the situation at that moment in time, any abusive history… I could go on. Equally the fault must be shared with the humans involved. All that’s needed is a little more common sense on the part of the owner, and anyone who feels the need to affectionately stroke a dog. I personally wouldn’t walk up to a stranger, start stroking them and scratching behind their ears, talking to their friend who observes with a watchful eye about how I had one very similar once, or how “he’s so CUTE” – so I wouldn’t do it to a dog.

Maria Bowles

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