Why Banning Dog Breeds Doesn’t Work

Updated November 29, 2020

Thanks to my big mouth I was in trouble from the outset. As a litter of five 10kg puppies were brought in by the scruffs of their necks, all I had to do was shut up.

“Whoa, please don’t do that, it hurts.”

So I was probably already in the bad books when the owner, with an unreadable smile, asked me: “What breed do you think these puppies are?”

“Pit Bull Terriers” I said.

All hell broke loose for the next two hours like I have never seen before. Police were involved.

Before I explain why, let me say one important thing that may shock you. It’s not that I don’t like Pit Bulls. I have known a lot of them and I think they are fine dogs if raised properly. These were lovely puppies too.

Pit Bulls, like many breeds such as my Jack Russell Terrier, are probably more prone to aggression towards other dogs. That’s a common and preventable problem. Apart from that, with good owners, they are just great.

The problem I see with Pit Bulls is that the wrong sort of people are attracted to them. People who encourage and value the sort of dog behaviour that as a society we are trying to eliminate. People who are unlikely to train using appropriate methods.

Take this owner for example. At one point he asked me what dogs I had and I told him about my two terriers. “I’ll bet they’re desexed, just like their owner”. Yep- we all withstood two hours of this sort of thing. To people like this it’s useless to point out the proven link between entire male dogs and injuries to children.

So what happened? I walked into a trap. Unknown to me, he had spent a good deal of time at the front desk getting a new breed name entered on our system. He knew they were Pit Bulls, and knew I did too. But he was intent on creating an elaborate fiction about their identity.

Why? Because breeding and selling Pit Bulls is illegal.

Here’s how it goes:

  • Horrific dog attack is reported in the media
  • Media identify the dog as a Pit Bull (usually it’s not, by the way)
  • Politicians promise to do ‘something’ about it
  • Specific legislation is created targeting the breed (usually without expert advice)

It’s nice in theory: by banning the breeding or sale of a certain breed it should slowly disappear by natural attrition. In the meantime to keep the public safe, heavy penalties apply if the breed is not restrained, identified and desexed. But…

There are major problems with this sort of Breed Specific Legislation:

1. It’s so easy to get around.

Take this owner for example. He’s well known to the police but they can’t easily get him for breeding Pit Bulls. There is no proven way to identify a Pit Bull, and most DNA dog breed tests either don’t include it in their profiles or say it isn’t a legal proof.

All there is is my opinion against someone else’s. If I’m called to court to state that they are Pit Bulls, another expert will be easily found with a different view.

2. It’s not the dog, it’s the person

Yes, breeds do vary in their potential danger to people and dogs. Read my top 20 dogs for children here. However, the big differences in aggression come from not who they are but how these dogs are raised.

In this case, even if his Pit Bulls are removed, he’ll just find another dog of the same general type and raise it the same.

3. It doesn’t protect children

Breed specific legislation is designed to make the public feel safe. However, most dog bites don’t happen on the street or in the park, they happen at home. And serious dog bites happen a lot more to children.

What about the future?

There’s hope with the new Dog and Cat Miscellaneous Amendment Bill. It must be only months away. The requirement for compulsory breeder registration could act as a barrier, especially as the Dog & Cat Management Board has the right to refuse registration on any grounds it sees fit.

The only workable solution is to target the person, not the dog.

We can only hope that dramas like this don’t happen in the future. Just imagine where those puppies end up! Sadly it’s not just the puppies; the nurse, vet student and other clients at the time all copped their share of abuse. I am truly sorry to have started it.

Featured image by Wimbows (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

One Reply to “Why Banning Dog Breeds Doesn’t Work”

  1. Wholeheartedly agree. If I see a badly behaved dog, I presume the owner hasn’t put the time into training it, not that there is something wrong with with the animal, regardless of breed.

    The most gentle, loving dog I’ve known was a Doberman. She might have looked like she was fierce, but she had the soul of a Golden Retriever. I once saw her guard a litter of kittens: when one escaped and took a tumble from the veranda of an old Queenslander, she trotted down the stairs, retrieved the AWOL kitten, licked her over, deposited her back with her siblings, and took up a position right next to their box.

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