Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Death Row Dogs

There was a lot of hot air on the dog fora in the lead-up to last night's BBC1 documentary on dangerous dogs... with the anticipation that the film would take the tabloid route re Pit Bulls.

"Death Row Dogs" was much-trailed as featuring the family of 4-yr-old John-Paul Massey who was killed by his uncle's Pit Bull in November 2009. Yesterday morning, the boy's mum, Angela McGlynn, appeared on breakfast TV calling for all Pit Bulls (and types) to be muzzled at all times, in and out of the home.

The fear in the dog community - which as a whole argues that the Dangerous Dogs Act needs to be re-written to punish the "deed not the breed" - was that dogs would once again be demonised in this film. Fueling this were reports that a contribution by "dog-lawyer" Trevor Cooper (who defends Pit Bulls in court) had been dropped by the programme.

Lots, then, put two and two together and came up with "Another Sensationalised, Biased BBC Film!"

But as soon as I saw who had edited the film, I knew it wouldn't be anything of the sort. I have known Paul Dosaj for some years (indeed, I have to thank him for introducing my partner, Jon, to me 15 years ago). Paul is a multi-award-winning editor who never takes the obvious route  and always delivers careful, thought-provoking films.

And, in truth, it turned out to be a truly beautifully-made, non-judgemental film that featured a lot of victims, two-legged and four, and only one real baddie - the law.  The dangerous dogs police unit was headed by an officer who clearly loves dogs and was good at reading their body language. It was a tribute to both him and the dogs that he was able to approach most in full police garb without any fear of being attacked. (But then as he said, 9 out of 10 were not people aggressive.) "He's just scared" he said at one point as one dog twisted and turned on a grab pole. Others would have seen it differently.

The film didn't need Trevor Cooper speaking up for the dogs. The film-makers did it for him while also allowing a nuanced insight into John-Paul Massey's families. I thought his grandmother Helen Foulkes,, who was with the boy when the attack happened, spoke particularly well.

The saddest moment in the film came when we saw a beautiful young dog being put to sleep for just looking a dangerous dog, the innocent victim of a law in urgent need of reform. The dog, heavily sedated from a massive dose of barbituares, was placed on the floor with the camera in front of him looking right into the dog's open eyes as the lethal injection was administered.  You saw the light leave him. It was profoundly moving.

If you're in the UK, you can catch the film on BBC iPlayer for the next seven days.


  1. I hope the new law is clear on what constitutes a dangerous dog, otherwise owner's are left none the wiser. For example, if my dog was playing and knocked somebody over, would this constitute a dangerous dog?

    One of the problems is that many parents do not teach their children not to stroke strange dogs. They lump all of the responsibility for their child's safety onto the dog owner and then blame the dog owner entirely when their child gets bitten. I was at a fun dog show and a young girl of about 7 came up to my dogs, bent down and petted them. She never asked me first if she could. Her mum was sitting next to us and never said a word! This lead me to think that she had never been taught not to stroke strange dogs without first asking permission.

    A show breeder told me about a mother with her child at Crufts, who sat next to a Saluki on the dog's show bench and let her child pet it!

  2. I think the law is very unclear. I was heartbroken having watched that lovely, non dangerous dog being put to sleep.
    I was bitten - quite badly by a labrador when I was 8 years old. We had a dog (dachund) at the time so I was used to dogs but it was entirely my fault. I put my face right in the dogs face and he went for me. I had stitches etc and was traumatised for a while but it didn't put me off dogs again because it was my fault. I don't know what happened to that dog and I truly hope it wasn't put to sleep. I have always owned and love dogs - in my opinion they are fantastic - straight-forward animals. They need love and good care that's it. I think that people should be vetted before being allowed to own ANY animal to ensure they are fit and able to give it the care it needs.
    But the law on dangerous dogs is very unclear and what is being done at the heart of the problem? ie. the starting point of the breeding and purchasing in this country? I don't know how the police in the film aired on 24th Jan can do that job - put to sleep an animal who is healthy and loving. Very, very upsetting! I looked on the internet afterwards and there seem to be images of dog fighting on U-tube - should this be available for all to see??!! I think there is a huge debate about the law but I think it's the root cause - purchasing and breeding of dangerous (not certain "types" of dogs) that seems to need more input.

  3. I believe that pit dogs are the victims of both nature and nurture.

    I've never owned pit bulls but many of the mare wonderful dogs. That being said there are several who do attack for little to no reason. And instead of dealing with the problem in a logical manner both sides of the debate take the problem to extremes. One side wants to ban the dog which I don't agree with and the other side wants to pretend that nature has nothing to do with the problem and that anyone can own these dogs with little to no problem. Neither of these statements are true.

    In short, Patrick Burns (aka Terriermen) has some really amazing posts about pit bulls that I agree with. For anyone who wants to get an unbiased film on pit dogs I would read his posts about them.

    1. My question is if it is nature,how are so many fighting dogs rehabilitated and adopted to homes with children? Or bait dogs are rehabilitated and learn to love dogs again and humans by again being placed in homes? No dog is perfect nor is no dog inherently bad.

  4. Belonging to a predominantly American forum, i know of many members who own Pitbulls. All these dogs are big, goofy, extremely affectionate family members and their owners praise them to the heavens. Surely this speaks volumes to those who insist that all Pitbulls and their types are inherently aggressive and uncontrollable? It's just a shame that in our culture, these dogs and their types are seen as status symbols, or as an extension of someones ego. The problem lies in the type of people owning these dogs, not the dogs themselves. The over breeding of these type of dogs needs to be controlled somehow, but how, i don't know. Do responsible Staffie and bull breed breeders have age limits on people who want to buy their pups? For example, if i was breeding such dogs i'd not sell to anyone under 25. But alas, it's the BYB of these dogs that is the problem.

    I only saw bits and pieces of the documentary. Couldn't watch it all as it was far to upsetting.


    1. All pitbulls have a charming side, & there are very many instances where a loving goofy fun pit has mauled or killed its owner. Charm is not an indicator.

  5. Annie Macfarlane25 January 2012 at 15:16

    What new law Fran? As far as I am aware there are no new laws in the pipeline and this destruction of innocent dogs will continue based purely on looks. I didn't enter into the debate about what the film would cover; I'd rather wait and then comment. Understandably bull breed lovers are outraged at this knee jerk reaction brought in by a government in turmoil many years ago. Banning breeds solves nothing. By making a breed "illegal" they just make it the "must have" accessory for those that don't give a toss about the law. I truly was heartbroken watching this programme. Heartbroken at the conditions those dogs had to live in and heartbroken that perfectly sweet, happy little dogs who have done nothing wrong, other than fit a profile of what a supposed "pit bull type" is are killed because of it. I wonder just how many pedigree dogs would measure up to the profile.

  6. To Louise:

    Many pit bulls are good dogs, there's no doubt about it. The problem is that many people in America, where I live to, continue to claim it's the owner not the dog. There is some truth in this but there's also the truth that pit bulls are one of the few if only breed type that has been bred to tolerate high levels of pain and kill, making it very hard to stop them from attacking if they are provoked or if their genetic code prompts them to attack, often for little to no reason.

    The truth of the pit bull lies in the middle, and too many people are unwilling to see that. Pit type dogs are still bred for aggression towards animals and people in at least some populations. Others are pumped without any regard to temperament, and few I think are honestly screened to the highest potential by the breeder. The only distinct breeds that come close are the Bull Terrier and Staffordshire.

    I think that pit bulls shouldn't be banned, but they should be regulated. They are fun dogs, but are also powerful and few people really have the lifestyle or time to properly maintain a pit type dogs without dumping it at a shelter once it becomes mature or a problem arises that they cannot handle. Responsibility lies more with the breeders and people who advocate the breed type.

    I go to too many sites where they are pimped as a dog for almost anyone and that is not true. And too many sites water down the cons while exaggerating the pros. This not only attracts people who are inherently irresponsible, but novice dogs owners who honestly put the dogs and the people the dog encounter in a dangerous position because pit type dogs require so much more reinforcement and a knowledgeable hand than many other breed types.

    Terriers are independent dogs and pits were also bred to complete most tasks without direction from a master. With this in mind, it may take more and generally seems to take more to instruct and maintain a pit bull as well as keep them well exercised and healthy compared to other breeds.

    Breeders should also do thorough checks of who these dogs are going to or at the very least, make the owner has dog experience, a stable job, and a secure yard. I also believe that no one under 18 should handle or own a pit bull without supervision.

    These little things could do so much more to help pit bulls and prevent tragic attacks.

    I'm all for supporting pit bulls. But we must be truthful to ourselves and the people we hand our dogs out to.

    - Casey.

    1. "The truth of the pit bull lies in the middle, and too many people are unwilling to see that. Pit type dogs are still bred for aggression towards animals and people in at least some populations. Others are pumped without any regard to temperament, and few I think are honestly screened to the highest potential by the breeder. The only distinct breeds that come close are the Bull Terrier and Staffordshire."

      I kind of, almost agree with you. What you've said is true, but equally applies to other terriers, including Jack Russells (one of the most likely dogs to bite), and dogs of other breeds like dachshunds.

      Border collies are often bred indiscriminately with regards to temperament, as are cocker spaniels, and the Irish statistics bear that out, as those dogs are responsible for most bites. Labradors have topped the list in some other studies.
      The pit bull gets it because it's common, a status dog, and often untrained. Any other breed in the same situation would have the same higher rates of bites, and this does indeed happen in countries or areas where pit bulls aren't the most common dog.

      The point about blaming the breed isn't that people want to see pit bulls in inexperienced hands, but that characterising particular breeds as dangerous, and others as safe, can lead to a false sense of security. How often do you see people pulling kids away from a nonchalant bully-type dog but allowing children to try and befriend a clearly uncomfortable terrier or golden retriever?

      The focus should be on decreasing those factors shown to increase the risk of a bite(like leaving kids unsupervised with dogs, not training dogs etc) rather than encouraging the less effective emphasis on breed.

  7. To Annie:

    When it comes to pedigreed dogs that would measure to the pit type profile. Those, in my opinion, would be the Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Terrier, American Bulldog (both american and scott types), and a few other mixes. All of these dogs were or are bred for fighting and all of them are cross between or are the offspring from bull and terrier types or what we would call the APBT.

    - Casey.

  8. I think my other comment was hidden because of some inappropriate statements, maybe? If so I apologize.

    In short, pit type dogs should not be banned. But breeders need to do more screening to ensure they are producing dogs with better temperaments and placing them in dog experienced and financially stable homes. So that the dogs will be well trained and lower the chances of being abused, neglected, or exploited.

    Muzzles might be overkill but strong collars and leads designed for powerful dogs should be a must, keeps the dog and people safe.

    And I think there should be some sort of mandatory training that the dogs goes through as well as spay and neuter if that dog is not being used for breeding. There are so many dying pits in shelters though, why would anyone want to breed more at this point, unless it's clear they're trying to improve temperament?

    - Casey.

  9. I was rather disappointed by this programme. As far as it went , it was quite well made and there was nothing in it that one could really say was factually wrong. But the message was what we all know already, that the dangerous dogs legislation was badly written and isnt working. The programme showed us dogs who didnt appear to have behavioural problems being put down because they were "pitbull type", and another dog who had bitten somebody but was returned by the court to his owner because he wasnt from a prohibited breed or type.Well, we knew that already, didnt we?
    The programme showed policemen struggling to work within the existing law, even though they know it it is bad law
    What the programme didnt address was how to define a dangerous dog, or what makes a dangerous dog. Is a dog dangerous because of its genes and breeding, or because of poor socialisation , training and environement. And the programme didnt have any discussion of what should be in new legislation. Is enough already known about what causes dogs to be dangerous, or whether some breeds really are more dangerous than others , regardless of how they are raised and trained? How can new legislation be drafted , if we dont yet have the answers to questions about what makes a dog dangerous?
    And the programme looked at a few cases anecdotally, but told us nothing about the scale of the problem. A couple of minutes googling websites with dogs advertised for sale reveals hundreds of "American Bulldogs" and "American Bulldogs x Dogue de Bordeaux/Mastiff/Akita/Chow/GSD/ and anything else with a reputation for aggro"
    On just one website I found 354 litters of American Bulldogs and their crosses listed for sale
    And there are lots more of these websites selling dogs

  10. Annie Macfarlane25 January 2012 at 18:49

    when we talk about a pit bull can we say what goes into a dog to actually make a pit bull? Some dogs that I have seen are cross SBT/Labrador...and they look like pit bull type. Perhaps it should be something stronger than a measuring tape and 58 characteristics to make a dog a pit bull! It just seems that any dog could fall within those guidelines. The little dog that died was 2cm off being square so, effectively, he wasn't square and he certainly didn't look dangerous at that point in his life. Perhaps living in those conditions for another 6 months would have turned him though. I felt the documentary did a lot for the plight of these dogs. It also gave us an insight into the chaos that some people call lives! Very sad all round and very thought provoking documentary..very well made.

  11. I watched this program several times and although it does give the plight of the dogs both good and bad, highlights the loop holes in the law as it stands at the moment I also feel that it let the police down badly. Mob handed, poor social skills in the manner that they dealt with people and the animals concerned, it really does nothing for their reputation with the general public, we expect more from those representing us not outright thuggery. Personally I would be horrified if they came into my home in that manner and would not be surprised if ANY pet would act out of character under those circumstances.

    Heartbreaking watching the dog at the end it should not have happened easy to see that the dog was trusting of his carers and that in itself is a dreadful shame and our failure.

    The sad fact is that cross breeds for which ownership is being encouraged by bodies such as the RSPCA, PDSA (who now fail to treat a vast majority of pedigree dogs despite their owners qualifying circumstances) etc who are selling them on their health benefits and those helping raise and maintain popularity of 'fashionable' pedigree crosses are doing us no favours and these dogs can be unpredictable in temperament with an unknown breed history. At least with a pedigree there is a basic outline of what to expect, the good the bad and the ugly is there for all to see with support from breed clubs if not from the breeders themselves.

    Sad that the blood tests now available for cross breeds to help identify their make up are not available to 'pitbull' types as this is not a breed that would at least save some who do not deserve to be PTS for the lack of a decent owner.

    1. But since the hype of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, more crossbreeds have become available. people were frightened off from buying pedigrees as they were supposedly "falling apart". Not blaming Jemima entirely but she must take some of the blame.

  12. It's the unbridled racism that bothers me. The stats DO bear out that Pit Bull types are responsible *per dog* for far more serious attacks and deaths than any other breed. This must be dealt with by breeding this trait out.

    HOWEVER, the stats also bear out that in the USA black men *per man* are far more likely to shoot you than white men. Black men are far more likely to be shot BY another black man than by a white men. Nevertheless, in absolute terms the chance of being shot by any one black man or any one white man are exceptionally low, because the vast majority of black men and white men do not go around shooting each other. This is why we don't go around capturing and administering lethal injections to our favourite doctors/lawyers/teachers/presidents simply because they happen to have inherited more than the average melanin in their skin.

    We KNOW this!!! We are very practiced with this concept!! So it's frightening that such ham-fisted idiocy and cruelty is at play in the making of these laws. Don't law makers, of all people, get the best education in racism and good judgement?

    1. When one is talking BREEDS of dogs let's leave your human racism out of it. Pits are selected for certain traits, such as fast attack, thick strong necks & in our time guardyness aka human aggressiveness. Bred for that. Your racism belongs in another discussion, bub.

  13. Casey . you are full of it.. as for other statements like" How to identify a "dangerous dog'.. you can do this.. EVERY DOG is a dangerous dog.. or NO dog is a dangerous dog until it does something to prove it is dangerous
    anon 1:27 there is NO SUCH BREED as a PIT BULL.. and that goes for Terrierman too.

    regulation of "pit bulls? and those who own them.. why stop there?

    1. Annie Macfarlane26 January 2012 at 12:20

      Bestuvall, why do you always have to be so rude? Why can't you enter into a discussion without flying off the handle or shouting at people who make comments? You don't seem to grasp what people are trying to say here. We're saying that the law is an ass and is failing these dogs terribly....but we're also saying that society is in some way failing the people that were featured who own them. Why is this happening? Why does this "type" of dog attract owners like this? Is it because it is illegal? Is it for another reason? There is no doubt that any dog in the wrong hands can become dangerous - but sadly you cannot legislate for responsible owners. This film broke my heart as an animal lover. I don't want to see perfectly happy dogs that show no sign of aggression and, indeed, trusted the people who were caring for them, die because they look a particular way. What is the answer? Your comments are always full of aggression and give nothing to the discussion. I don't understand why you keep visiting the blog if you disagree vehemently with everything that everybody says. You're better to just go somewhere that is to your clearly this isn't! As somebody who is passionate about bull breeds I would have expected more from you. An insight into the breeds; why they have such a bad name; if they do stand up to their reputation etc., Once more you have only added insults and aggression to a discussion based around real feelings of people who truly care about animals. We know that every dog is not a dangerous dog...and we feel that the law is letting them down badly. Do you think its OK for people who clearly have no idea of animal welfare to own a dog, let alone a bull breed? I'm afraid this comment has identified what little knowledge you have and, indeed, proved you are nothing more than a troll. Don't feed the trolls.

  14. Watched this last night - to be honest I'm not sure what the programme makers wanted to get across here - on the one hand they were playing the 'devil dog' card i.e the opening shot of a snarling Pit Bull type ( just like the photo Jemima has used to illustrate this topic ) and later on the commentator saying: " the police went to investigate an aggressive dog being kept in a back garden " - yet what did we see ? - not some snarling beast but a poor half starved, freezing cold and terrified animal - the constant reference to the lad that was killed by his uncle's dog including long sections of his grieving family and filmed footage of his funeral were juxtiposed with images of Pit Bull types - what were we meant to infer from that ? - that they were also likely to kill babies too ? - I saw no aggressive dogs in that film - I saw terrified, abused and in some cases completely shut down dogs who paid the ultimate price simply because they looked 'wrong' - in fact the common denominator throughout the film was NOT the type of dogs involved but the feckless half wits who owned them - now that 's the REAL messsage that the programme should have focused on -

    1. Annie Macfarlane26 January 2012 at 12:30

      I absolutely agree Bijou. Its very sad that a dog has to lose its life because (1) it looks a certain way and (2) because somebody who is incapable of looking after it acquired it as a puppy.

      This film really broke my heart. There needs to be drastic changes in the save the dogs from these people...not the other way around.

      The other thing that wasn't mentioned was the fact that the dog who killed the little boy was owned by somebody who had recently left to go to the army. He had mated it with a bitch - that also lived in the house - who was pregnant with 11 puppies. The dog had already killed another dog that had lived in the house previously. And they had no idea this was a dangerous dog? Rubbish! I feel terribly sorry that a little boy lost his life when he should have been protected by his paents and his grandparents...but they knew that the dog had already killed...killed! It's all very well talking about all dogs being muzzled in public...but where do their responsibilities lie? It is up to them to keep a child safe. Talking about evil being in the house...yes it was....and you knew that when you left your boy! People have to take responsibility for their actions. This dog was a ticking time bomb...the other dogs I saw were neglected, timid and terrified. Let down by the owners who said they cared for the dogs. In their own way they did...but that's not the real way to care for a dog. I could never sit in my home with 2 day old faeces on the floor and not clean it up. This film identified that some areas of society are chaotic. Perhaps there needs to be more effort into trying to understand why that has happened. Dogs in that situation have a higher chance of becoming aggressive due to lack of socialisation etc., - but lets not forget about the children involved too...and the adults that live terrible lives.... Nobody should be living like that...where is the support? If there had been support perhaps they could learn how to care for a dog properly...and care for their children properly. It is so very sad.

    2. Excellent post bijou- totally agree "Ban the ARSEHOLES-not the breed, so sad to see such young dogs losing their lives tru it seems the fault of the more socalled intelligent species!!!

  15. A well written review.


  16. Anon, If you had effective legislation on the buying, use and ownership of guns in the US, you wouldnt have the amount of murders and gun related crime that you do.But some guns are more dangerous than others , so you would expect to have tighter controls on a high velocity rifle than an airgun. Nothing to do with the colour of the owners of the gun. Similarly if we had better legislation on the acquisition, breeding and control of potentially dangerous dogs, with tighter controls on some types of dogs than others, there would be fewer children killed or injured by dogs. A powerful aggressive dog is a potentially dangerous weapon, just like a high velocity rifle - for the safety of society, there needs to be regulation who gets to own one, use one and how it is kept safely. One doesnt want to see them in the hands of criminals, psychopaths, and people who dont have the facilities to keep them safe. A gun has to be kept in a gun cabinet in a safe place,and used in a place where it is safe to use it, and young people need to be educated in the safe use of guns, a potentially aggressive dog needs a secure place to live and be exercised, and to be in the hands of responsible people who know how to handle and train them

    1. There is a big difference between guns and dogs though.

      Guns need specialist equipment to make. I couldn't make a gun outside of a system of control very easily.

      To 'make' a dog, you need only two things, a male and a female.

      Its easy to legislate for breeding, but much harder to enforce the controls you put in place. Get someone unscrupulous and they can breed outside the system , (under the counter if you like) and then sell to the folks who you are trying to prevent from owning dogs.

      As for the 'pit bulls' can anyone actually give a definition of what actually constitutes a pit bull? They are not (to my knowledge) recognised by the KC, and therefore to a degree are simply a cross breed. On that basis, should we legislate against cross breeding? But that would fly in the face of what has previously been suggetsed here and elsewhere that occasionally we should look to cross breed to introduce outside genes into our pedigree stock.

      It really is a difficult set of circumstance.

  17. non-judgemental film that featured a lot of victims, two-legged and four, and only one real baddie - the law. I tend to not agree JH with this part of your post.
    The dog that was PTS was taken from an owner who indeed had already been charged with cruelty to a previous dog and was banned from keeping animals. That dogs fate was due to the 2 legged "victim" Indeed if her past was not what it was and the fact the dog was being kept in terrible conditions then she probably would have had the dog back.
    Also the owner who got the dog back did imo not seem interested at all in the return of his dog.
    This country is needing to concentrate on the incompetent owners first and foremost
    Agree with Bijou all I saw was poor neglected dogs and low IQ owners

  18. The owner was clearly mentally ill. The film allowed us (well me at least and am sure others) to feel a little sympathy for her and the others owners rather than be purely condemnatory. I liked that about it. She couldn't look after herself, let alone the dog and I felt she did love it in her own way. It looked well-fed, certainly, and it wasn't sick.

    That ties in with something I wanted to say to Dalriach in response to her post. First, remember that this film was really for those who may previously have had little insight into the issue and so it would be unlikely to meet the wishes of those in the dog world. Second, it was a classic observational documentary - not current affairs; not polemic nor investigation. It simply immersed itself in that world and told as it found. That said, it got a primetime audience (2.2 million I found out yesterday - very high for that slot) so a lot of people watched it and it's message that the law was an ass was pretty loud and clear.

    But it didn't challenge directly those it recorded and it didn't try to find answers. In my opinion, we don't see enough films like this on television.

    I expect that will have the anti-PDE lot choking on their croissants this morning. Please note it doesn't mean I want every documentary to be like it... ;-)


  19. I take your point. This was a purely observational, non judgmental film, and as a genre that has some merit. Sometimes this kind of film can have a powerful effect that becomes a catalyst for change. One thinks of a film like "Cathy Come Home" (who will ever forget the scene where Cathy's children were taken from her?) which became the catalyst for policy about housing homeless families in the UK.But Iwouldnt it be better to see more rational discussion and research about dangerously aggressive dogs, and what produces them. I can see a lot of emotional and polarised reactions to this film, but not much in the way of rational thinking about the framing of better and more effective legislation. We all know we want new legislation and practice, but what do you want it to be? And has there been enough research on the behaviour of dangerously aggressive dogs, and why some people want to own them?
    Emotional and polarised reactions , that ALL pitbulls are either devil dogs and killers, or ALL pitbulls are goodnatured dogs no more likely to bite than any other breed, that its all the owners fault, or all to do with the breed of dog, are not helpful in the framing of new legislation

  20. Sorry, "Cathy Come Home" wasnt the right analogy, I realised as soon as I had posted the last comment. It was a very realistic Ken Loach drama and not a documentary

  21. Well, here is a slightly tongue in cheek idea for Daz . suppose that instead of pitbulls being a banned breed in the UK, they were were accepted as a breed for registration by the KC , and we had classes for pitbulls at dog shows, what would happen then? Thinking about what has happened to most other breeds, they would then be bred primarily for appearance , as defined by a breed standard, and as breeders would want to have a nice docile dog that isnt going to cause any problems at a show or in pet homes, any aggressive drive would get bred out in a few generations
    Of course some pitbull enthusiasts might think the KC registered and approved dogs were not true pitbulls :))

  22. Personally I thought the film deliberately misleading and to some extent, very much judgemental against this one type of dog allowed the viewer to have the impression that the little boy was killed by a previously stable family pet no point did it give the information that this was a dog that had previously killed before ( albeit another dog) ...and at no time did it say that his family KNEW this before they allowed the dog to be in the same room as the little boy ..... and at no point did the film mention that the dog's owner was investigated by the police previously for deliberately breeding Pit bulls...( in fact a pregnant bitch was killed just days after John Paul's killing ) ...If I was being cynical I would say it was clear to see why the producer left this important information out - it's far more sensational to imply that ANY dog of this type might 'suddenly turn' and rip children apart !!

    Shame on them for reinforcing the stereotypical 'Devil Dog' image and thus making the Staffy/Pitbull/Mastiff types even MORE desirable to the low life who feel the need to use a dog as a subsitute for a real pair of gonads !

  23. A critique of the programme by Roger Mugford

    Not how I saw the programme, but interesting to read a different view

  24. Annie Macfarlane26 January 2012 at 17:23

    Actually I do agree with some of Dr Mugford's observations in relation to the way some of the dogs were handled. In this respect, however, the police can only go on the information they are given and if a dog is said to be vicious they do have to take precautions to protect themselves...against any dog..bull breed/pit bull or demented cocker spaniel. I did see kindness in the police officer and felt that the younger of the two was very understanding of their plight! It's all very well criticising officers doing their job but we failed to see just how many dogs they had to tackle on a daily basis that lived up to the report made by the general public.

    That aside, I think a general course on reading the body language would have made a couple of those seizures less traumatic for the dogs involved. That's OK for me to say sitting in my lounge watching the TV; if you're not in the situation then you don't know the reality.

    Bijou, I agree that this section could have highlighted the previous behaviour of the dog - and its owners. We were certainly given the impression that the lady offered her pet dog a crisp and he just attacked for no reason. She then said that he was jealous....and this was the reason he killed the boy! With so much being left out...I agree that the viewers did not know the whole story - and I believe there will be a whole lot more to it than even we know now!

    I really do think that with the modern scientific advances available to the police forces would be an easy task to change this law to (1) identify what actually "makes" a dog a "pit bull" and (2) DNA profile to see if it actually is a pit bull. There are so many areas that need addressing. This would be bad enough but the fact that dogs are being killed needlessly due to the ill-thought out law, implemented in knee-jerk fashion following media pressure over 20 years ago just beggars belief!

  25. Mugford is right on target.. I did not see the whole film but just reading the statements above.. words like "horrific" etc are right out of the tabloid playbook.. not to mention the exaggerated picture of the dog snarling. "stemming the growing menace'? really?? these are dogs.. not machines.. not guns.. not weapons.. not anything but dogs.. using words like "horrific and menace" only go straight to the heart of this senseational bunch of crap and killing the dog on TV only justifies this to many people who say ..Good.. kill them all.. after all they are "horrific " and a "menace" and they kill children this article says it is is so it must be true.. HOGWASH..
    Birds of the senastionalism genre stick together..if that photo is "non-judgemntal" and the trailer "non judgemental" then I would hate to see "judgemental"..oh wait i already have.. called the DDA and other such junk science and law.

  26. Roger Mugford should spend some time in South London to see what pitbulls are capable of, then perhaps he would understand why police dog handlers need to be prepared.
    Why should these young officers risk their own lives?
    All I saw in that balanced programme were police who cared about dogs but had to catch them and take them away from people who obviously didn't want to give them up. It's an emotional situation and the quicker they do it the better and they do not want to harm the dog or get bitten themselves. I've been out on such a raid myself, so I know. All the officers I went with were dog lovers.
    There was a police officer in Plumstead who was trying to arrest a suspect when the man's two pitbulls attacked him. Unfortunately for the PC, he didn't have a dog catching implement. He was pinned to the ground and savaged. His colleague came to his rescue and the poor man was rushed to hospital with 14 severe bite wounds.
    Now is that what Mugford wants to happen?
    How dare he say those officers in the programme should be disciplined!
    All you dog experts must recognise the potential danger of this breed. It is nonsense to say it is just like any other dog. This "blame the deed, not the breed" propaganda is doing so much harm. Talk to ordinary people and dog walkers in South London - we all know which dogs are causing the problems but most people are afraid to speak out now. Shame on the charities for propagating this nonsense and for trying to rehome the littermates of dogs that have been deliberately bred to fight.
    Talk to the ranger on Wimbledon Common who was riding his horse when a pitbull leapt at its throat, or the little girl on a riding school pony who fell off when a Staff leapt at her pony's throat (the pony bolted with the dog hanging from its neck). Talk to the OAP in Tooting whose dachsund puppy was killed instantly by a pitbull type dog, ditto another OAP on Putney, whose sheltie was killed on a walk in front of her by the same type of dog.
    The list of attacks is endless, but I won't go on. Only this week an 83-year-old man has died after being attacked by such a dog. How many more people and animals need to die or be severaly mauled before all these dog experts see sense?
    Common sense is needed and it seems we ordinary people know that the situation is but are being silenced by angry defenders of Staff or pitbull-type dogs.
    J Lewis

  27. I thought the documentary was well-balanced, honest, not at all biased. By talking about the death of that little boy, it did not hide the fact that these dogs maul and kill more people (and other dogs) than all other types and breeds of dogs put together. It showed the devastating consequences this purely consumerist choice has when the fashion dogs suddenly do what they were bred for centuries to do -- maul or kill without warning. At the same time, it showed an accurate portrait of what kind of person is attracted to these pit-bull or Staffie type dogs -- and the sad emptiness of their lives. Finally, it gave an accurate picture of the miserable conditions most of these pit / Staffie type dogs live in.

    As usual, the BBC did an excellent job. Sometimes it's best to look at who gets angry at you to know you're on the right track...

    The Staffie fans *always* come out enraged whenever anyone so much as simply names the facts about this type of dog, so it's not surprising they're doing it here too. What they need to realise is that it's not the law responsible for the death of pit-bull type dogs any more -- it's their own disobedience of the law, their narcissistic insistence on their consumer choice for this particular fashion item. They aren't particularly dog (or animal) lovers, since they don't much care about the many, many ordinary dogs and other animals savaged and killed by Staffies (pit-bulls by another name) every year. They don't even care about the Staffie itself, about the millions killed yearly after being dumped as unwanted at shelters by people who supposedly 'love' the breed. It's a strange mind-set, hard to understand.

    As for Mugford, Redesdale and their ilk, I think they are dangerous crackpots. You'd expect people with academic training to coolly look at the biological and genetic facts, the real statistics, perhaps also the sociological background -- and only then form an opinion. It seems these two (and others) have chosen to histrionically jump on a passing bandwagon, one based only on false sentiment and various fictions, and fuelled (and funded) mostly by organisations that make loads of money on selling these breeds.

    An awful lot of us out here are getting sick and tired of watching these 'Staffies' suddenly attack -- not 'bite' bur attack upon life and death -- our own, normal dogs. We are getting sick and tired of hearing the people responsible for this call themselves 'dog lovers'. We are sick of the charities defending 'right' to own a dog that was bred exclusively for the purpose of killing other dogs.

    Thank you BBC!

  28. @Annie: 'it would be an easy task to change this law to (1) identify what actually "makes" a dog a "pit bull" and (2) DNA profile to see if it actually is a pit bull. '

    1) The law did initially follow the scientific (not breed-club / kennel-club) definition of what makes a pit-bull type dog. Unfortunately, legislators then gave in to kennel-club pressure to exclude a number of biological pit bulls from the DDA, just because the kennel clubs had given these fighting breed dogs innocent-sounding (but genetically fictional) papers back in the 1930s, then again in the 1970s.

    2) The phenomenon 'impulsive aggression' has been identified and clearly described and defined. We know pretty exactly what brain problems (anatomical and chemical) are behind the phenomenon. We've even identified at least several of the genes involved in and crucial to impulsive aggression. The trait has appeared in a very few dog breeds as an unwanted mutation; in others, mostly the fighting and baiting breeds / types, it has been intensively selected for for centuries.

    Genetic profiling would make it possible to identify any dogs, including the pit bulls / Staffies, that carry this genetic problem. You could have a dog with the physical conformation of a fighting / baiting type dog, but without the behaviour disorder -- heaven, wouldntcha think?

    Unfortunately, the pit-bull / Staffie lobby is fighting tooth and nail to prevent any kind of genetic profiling or testing of both breeds and individual dogs. Apparently they don't want high-risk breeds identified, nor even high-risk individual dogs. It does make you wonder what their motivation really is -- and what they know about their preferred type of dog that they don't want the rest of us to know.

    As for Mugford and a number of other academically trained people who are speaking out on this whole question, I find it rather disappointing that they are basing their statements purely on sentiment and emotion -- rather than on keeping up on the scientific lit, real statistics, such things, and coming to some kind of unemotional, reality-guided conclusion.

    Finally, I find it sad in the extreme that so-called dog lovers are only speaking about whether pits can be proven to be dangerous to humans. Heartbreaking that so-called dog (or animal) lovers aren't as distressed and sick as I am of watching these pit / Staffie type dogs savage other animals. Comments like 'that pit had killed before (albeit a dog)' if some other dog's life counts for zero if only the pit can be saved. Even if these pit-type dogs weren't mauling and killing humans more than all other breeds and types of dogs put together, even if they were 'only' doing this to other dogs, it somehow doesn't compute with me that a 'dog lover' would want to keep them among us.

  29. With over two hundred breeds listed on the Kennel Club website, why do people want a breed of dog that has this reputation. I actually think the DDA doesn't go far enough and even more breeds should be banned. Dogs are family pets and should be a source of great enjoyment for the whole family. It is beyond my comprehension as to why parents especially, but really anyone would want to allow an animal designed for killing to roam freely around their home.

    I love dogs and don't enjoy the thought of any dog being put to sleep, but maybe it's time some of the breeds and types have had their day and should no longer be available within this country.

    Maybe a hammer to break a nut, or ruining the fun for the masses because of a few, but that's life and a child's life is worth more than a breed of dog.

  30. Anon Feb 13 --
    I go to Wimbledon Common with my dog everyday. Staffies are a common site there, and I've never had a problem with any of them.

    However, my dog (not a Staffy) was attacked there once. By a Jack Russell. Spend some time around these dogs yourselves -- it sounds like you're basing your comments on news articles and hearsay -- and you might find they're quite docile dogs with good and bad in the mix like every other breed. It sounds like you're in the London area. Volunteer at Battersea, who are forced to pick up the pieces of what society does to these dogs, yet still have the opinion that the breed isn't the problem. Volunteer there for several months, and then make an informed post based on more than media hype and fantastical stories.

  31. Kate -

    I like pit type dogs, but let's be serious. What are you more likely to be mauled by? A small dog or a large dog? What type of large dog is more likely to cause the most damage, a herding, protection, or fighting dog?

    The problem isn't simple nips and bites, or fights that sound ferocious but cause little to no harm. The problem is the mauling, dislocation, amputation, and murders caused by dogs and unfortunately pit and guard type dogs cause the most damage in those respects.

    Sputnik has a good point. Why are so many breeders against genetic testing for aggression when it could very easily cull out the genetically bad dogs and make a far safer pool of dogs to be good family pets? The only person who would be against this is someone who soaked up propaganda from advocacy sources who people who benefit from breeding ferocious dogs. Both sects of society which cause more harm by denying the truth and actions of some of their stock or pets than the people who try and protect themselves against them.

  32. dogs cannot murder.. murder is a human crime.. animals cannot "murder each other or humans". nor can people murder animals.
    Sputnik I challenge you to bring that study here that show "implusive aggression " in canines...

  33. Breed bans treat all handlers the same in that they say, for example, no one is capable of correctly training and handling a pit bull or a tosa. That is manifestly wrong and there are many good and experienced people who would never allow a dog of any breed to be a problem to others.
    By the same token some elements of the deed not breed lobby insist that we must treat all dogs the same. That flies in the face of logic. It’s patently obvious that a big powerful dog with a fighting or strong guarding instinct represents a greater potential danger than a small toy breed. Those who insist on denying this fact seem to me to be deliberately obtuse.
    I feel we need a new approach that acknowledges there are differences in the skills and abilities of handlers and also accepts that there are differences in the potential danger posed by the various types of dog. In short, although it’s a phrase forever associated with the hugely unpopular health and safety industry, we need to conduct risk assessments.
    With motor vehicles we make insurance compulsory. Insurance companies conduct rough and ready risk assessments of drivers and their vehicles and set premiums accordingly. It’s far from perfect but, by and large, it keeps young inexperienced drivers out of the fastest most powerful cars.
    I believe it could do something similar in the world of dogs. Compulsory insurance isn’t ideal but it is the only cost effective way of starting to make those much needed risk assessments. It gives the opportunity for group discounts for training clubs and individual discounts for experienced handlers. It also offers us a chance to be proactive on these matters rather than waiting for the “deed” before we take action. Uninsured dogs can be removed from the streets as uninsured cars can be taken off the road.
    If we continue to insist on all dogs being treated as equal more and more councils etc will take us at our word and simply ban all dogs.


  34. I disagree, Anon. My butch bulldog's ear was nearly torn off by the JRT. I had him under control, and he obediently desisted from fighting to protect himself. The owner of this less-likely-to-harm JRT, however, couldn't be asked. Fortunately I was able to remove him from my dog's ear but still had to make the trip to the out-of-hours vet. How many times do you think similar scenarios have resulted in larger dogs taking the blame for incidents where the less-likely-to-harm smaller breed was the instigator and its owner had no idea how to control them? I'm guessing plenty more than you'll ever find stats about and certainly fewer than you'll ever hear about from the media. Not everyone's dog will obediently stop defending itself just because its owner wished it, and, were my dog to have continued to defend himself, that JRT might not have walked away. What do you think you'd read about in the papers the next day were the dog, instead of a bulldog, a Staffy, and the media were to have gotten hold of the story? I'm guessing it would have been a trash piece.

    My cousin was attacked and killed by two Great Danes when he was 6 years old. No one is calling for Danes to be banned, and neither should they be because these two dogs were products of owners who chose to use them as guard dogs. That's not a fault of the breed; the fault lies with the human. But, if the same people who use Staffies as status symbols chose instead to use Danes...well, we wouldn't be discussing Staffies or pits at all. And "Death Row Dogs" would have been about dangerous Danes.

  35. Have "aggression" genes truly been identified? If so, then that's fantastic, and it sounds like a good basis to attempt to breed out any inherent aggressive tendencies. However, before we do genetic testing on this basis and condemn breeds to death based on the presence of mutant genes, we should be confident of the science first. What we know right now is that the current BSL is condemning pups to death based on dimensions and dogs that don't meet the same criteria but already confiscated for biting being returned to owners anyway.

    Given that the hype surrounding "dangerous breeds" tends to be based on trends, I'm sceptical that any mutant gene towards aggression would be concentrated heavily in pit breeds. Thirty years ago people were fretting over danger posed by breeds that are today not the focus of attention. I believe, and you can call me "obtuse" if you like, there's a correlation between how dangerous a dog is and current trends. Rotties are seemingly out of fashion, but give it another twenty odd years. Maybe that mutant gene will rear its ugly head again.

  36. Kate -

    Read my words again. What I had said was "What are you more likely to be mauled by?" Name one person this year in the UK or America who was killed by a jack russell. You can't. I can however name more than 20 people that were killed by pit bulls in America alone. By this ratio, you are 20x more likely do die from a pit bull then you are a jack russell. This is not counting the hundreds or dogs that are killed by pit bulls in America each year. Or the hundreds of people who are seriously maimed by them. No other breed type causes this amount of damage by a close comparison like pit type dogs.

    Again, you're putting words or concepts into my mouth that I never asserted, Kate. When it comes to dog attacks both the dog and human are to blame in my opinion. The owner is the one who should know how to control or muzzle their dog and the dog is often the victim of its genetic programing. Which again, is why it's more common to have fighting and protection dogs cause more substantial damage compared to a herding or lap dog. In case you don't know, jack russels aren't lap dogs. They do have the potential to cause more harm than most dogs their size and it's not surprising seeing how they were bred to kill vermin. A good article that is honest about the nature and nurture of both russells and pit bulls can be found on Terrierman's blog. I would suggest reading his posts about pit bulls and jack russels to get a real unbiased truth about the potential of both dog breeds and types.

    Also, no offense to the death of your brother, from a logical standpoint how often has a great dane killed someone in the past year, what about the past month? Great Danes are a somewhat popular breed of dog and they were once bred for baiting, similar to the ancestor of the pit bull. But because of different breeding practices great danes are less likely to cause harm.

    You also asked for proof of genetics being the cause of aggression. An in-depth study and experiment, that is well documented mind you and ongoing, was done in the 50's with silver foxes and rats. I would suggest reading the article here. Although you can find it, it's linked in the article, the National Geographic issue it has appeared in.

  37. You mentioned that your cousin was killed by Great Danes, what year was this and what was their name? To the best of my knowledge, all identifiable dog fatalities are reported to some sort of registry that keeps track of this sort of thing.

    I googled "UK 6 year old killed by great danes" and came up with nothing.

  38. Anonymous (Feb 20 04:03)- you're arguing against a point Kate didn't make. You provided evidence of genetics being the cause of aggression, she asked for evidence that aggressive genes have been identified (not whether they exist), and that aggressive genes are concentrated in pit bulls. Not the same thing. There is currently no genetic tests which can be done to determine how likely a dog is to bite someone or otherwise show aggression. There's research being done, but it's in the early stages.

    There are more pit bulls (or pit bull breeds and pit bull type dogs) than there are great danes, so you have to adjust for that before making comparisons between them. It's like saying that cobra venom's less dangerous than paracetamol, because more people are killed by paracetamol every year in the UK.

    Identification of pit bulls is a problem. In areas with legislation against pit bulls, there have been cases where pure-bred labradors were identified as 'pit bulls'. Heck, people identify boxers as 'pit bulls'. Add a dog bite into the mix and you can be sure that at least some of those dogs were mixes or something else entirely. Pit bull mix makes the best story, and ultimately that is the priority for a lot of journalists.

    And actually, where herding dogs are more common they bite more people and do more damage than pit bulls. I've seen a few people with permanent scars from herding dogs. I've never seen one from a pit bull. Statistically, in Ireland, collies cause most of the attacks (closely followed by a few other popular breeds).

    It's all determined by what's common, what's poorly-bred, the conditions of the attack, and the care of the dog etc.

    Sure, pit bulls are high drive and can be prone to aggression towards other animals. So are lots of breeds of dogs. But there's little actual evidence for the hypothesis that pit bull types are generally more prone to attack humans than other dogs, independent of those other factors, or that their bites are more serious than those of other similar-sized dogs. Currently it's dalmatians and lhasa apsos that hold that second honour.

    The American temperament test society's president says he's tested about 500 pit bulls, " And of the number I've tested I have disqualified one pit bull because of aggressive tendencies. They have done extremely well. They have a good temperament."

    While your ideas are interesting, you're putting the cart before the horse. Show there's a genetic or breed-related predisposition to aggression which has a sizeable effect (independent of the confounding factors of conditions the dog is kept in etc, and cultural and identification factors) and then that pit bulls are more likely to have this predisposition than other breeds, and then you'll have the basis of your argument.

  39. It's not so hard to calculate the risk. See:

    Society is allowed to say it doesn't want this level of risk. Once the risk is clear, we don't have to first prove anything else to a small group of fanatical, mostly irrational consumers. It's kinda like letting gun lovers make us defensive because they aren't allowed to own Kalashnikovs.

    Those with access to scientific sites might find the following articles interesting:


    1. @Sputnik,

      It is true that there is a genetic component to aggression in dogs and it is possible to breed away from dogs that carry this trait. In fighting breed dogs, I’m all for it. I would be very interested in any links you can provide to the work on identifying the gene you mention.

      However, there are also many other factors involved in aggression, which means simply using a genetic test to identify aggressive dogs and cull them outright or eliminate them from breeding programmes won’t work to solve the problem because many of the other influences on aggression involve human behaviour and social problems.

      “… a dog’s tendency to bite depends on at least 5 interacting factors: heredity, early experience, later socialization and training, health (medical and behavioral), and victim behavior.’

      There are many, many properly conducted studies on aggression, dog bites and BSL because they involve a serious and expensive public health issue. Even when studies find that Pit Bulls account for a relatively high number of attacks, they almost invariably say it is impossible to draw such a conclusion because of the problems with how such statistics can be skewed. For instance, there is a fundamental flaw in the study you provided a link to: ‘Mortality, Mauling, and Maiming by Vicious Dogs’. In Table 2 the researchers calculate the relative risk of fatal attack by dog using AKC registration statistics. They lump the following dogs together: Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The problem is that the AKC does not register Pit Bull Terriers, so the authors of the study have included these dogs in one statistic (number of dogs involved in fatal attacks) but not in the group used to calculate the risk (number of dogs registered with the AKC).

      One study, ‘Breed differences in canine aggression’, did indicate that Pit Bulls have a significantly high rate of severe aggression towards other dogs (something that should surprise no-one given the breed’s original purpose and something that anyone who takes on one of these dogs should be aware of and prepared to manage). They displayed a below average rate of aggression toward humans. Here’s the abstract:

      Bear in mind that dog-directed aggression and human-directed aggression are apples and oranges. Some breeds and individual dogs display both but most display only one or the other.

      I’ve ordered the Spanish study you provided the link to (thank you for that) and will be interested to read it as the studies I have read found that BSL does not reduce bite rates or that any reduction in rates can be attributed to other factors. Here’s the abstract for a study done by the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary on statistics before and after the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991:

      Here’s the abstract for a similar Spanish study:

      An article in The Canadian Veterinary Journal points out that while there was a decline in bite statistics in Winnipeg after the introduction of BSL, they also note that the city simultaneously implemented a public education and advertising campaign to promote responsible dog ownership and public awareness about dog bites, making it impossible to relate the drop in bite incidents to either measure.

      I can’t find an abstract; here are the publication details:
      Breed specific legislation: considerations for evaluating its effectiveness and recommendations for alternatives.
      Rebecca A. Ledger, Jane S. Orihel, Nancy Clarke, Sarah Murphy, Mitja Sedlbauer
      Can Vet J. 2005 August; 46(8): 735–743.

    2. Continued...

      The City of Calgary is held up internationally as a model for its successful reduction in the number of aggressive dog incidents. They do not have any form of breed specific legislation. The do have:

      • dangerous dog laws,
      • an aggressive (sorry – couldn’t think of a better word!) public education programme,
      • enforced licensing with a high rate of compliance
      • heavy fines (which are collected) for non-compliance and irresponsible owner-behaviour, and
      • unlike municipalities that have introduced BSL, statistics to prove the effectiveness of their approach:

      Note that the reduction in the number of incidents is happening at the same time that the city’s population is increasing. Note also the amount of time this reduction has taken, 25 years, and therein lies the problem. People want a quick, easy solution to what we all agree is a problem and there isn’t one. The problem is a human one; the solution requires targeting ill-informed and reckless owners and educating the public, both of which take time.

      Pitties have their issues and the All-They-Need-Is-Love Brigade do them no favours. I’ve heard a lot of garbage on both sides of the argument. I’m not against BSL because I think Pitties are just misunderstood dogs that really are ideal family pets for anyone. I don’t, though I do like them. I am against BSL because it is unworkable and does not address the real problem and thus does not lead to an increase in public safety. While it is true that some breeds are potentially higher risk because of their size and breed characteristics, there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ dog. They all have a set of very sharp teeth and any dog, including a small dog, has the potential to use its teeth to inflict a lot of damage if the circumstances are right (or maybe I should say wrong). Demonising one breed and attempting to ban it does not increase public safety; it just creates a lot of dead dogs.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  40. Sputnik: Again, those sources are not accounting for the well-known inability of most people to accurately determine breed of dog, and the reporting bias which will inevitably occur after a serious injury.

    A better idea would be to look at dogs whose breed is known, and then work out how many of them have bitten or show signs of aggressive behaviours. Studies have been done using those methods. Or you could do the same as the 'vicious dogs' study but verify the breed.

    That editorial is poorly-researched, to say the least. It's amazing that Ingrid Newkirk reccomends euthanizing dogs? Anyone who'd read PETA's position statement on euthanasia wouldn't be surprised. They euthanise the majority of animals under their care. Since they're the only major animal advocacy group advocating for mass euthanasia of pit bulls, that suggests it's less a pit bull thing and more a result of PETA's attitudes towards euthanasia for sheltered companion animals in general.

    Then there's the bit on how herding dogs are providing guiding bites, which is how they rank high in the statistics. Most research on dog bites adds the caveat that the majority of bites go unreported. Chances are light nips won't be recorded. Setting that aside, that's baseless assertion being treated as fact which suggests that the author isn't competent to assess risk or isn't dealing with the facts honestly.

    That injury prevention programme sounds great! It includes regulations on large dogs, and dogs with a history of aggression, both of which are definitely correlated with bite risk. Ban those with a criminal record or who are psychologically unfit from owning large dogs that bite, require those dogs to be muzzled in public, and you will definitely see bites go down.

    Am I convinced that it wouldn't achieve the same thing just by going by size, aggression history, and perhaps improving it by adding other risk factors (for example unneutered males, untrained dogs etc)? No. Breed-specific legislation has had little effect in some other areas, some effect in others, in some places the numbers have got worse. No large-scale review done, but if you saw a drug with those response rates you wouldn't be recommending it.

    I'm not a pit bull owner, never have been, probably never will be, I don't particularly care about pit bulls (more or less than other dogs). If there was a verified increased aggression towards humans (with other risk factors controlled for properly to make sure it's not an artefact), then I'd be happy for a breeding ban and dangerous dogs act. But the evidence out there is far from convincing.

    There are a number of factors out there that are better supported by the evidence. Would you argue for heavy restrictions on ownership of large, male intact dogs because of the clear risk?

    Focusing on breed is distracting and at best likely to be inefficient and misleading. That's my issue with all this.

    Side note: it would be interesting to see, if you took bites from all dogs and classified them by severity, what would happen if you took any popular large-breed dog and compared it to the overall. Considering that several small breeds of dogs consistently come up in bite statistics (like dachshunds and jack russels), I'd expect that comparison to show that xyz big dog breed bites are more serious than normal bites. It's not the only explanation, or even the most obvious one, but it's simple enough.

  41. Jemima,

    My comment had two parts but only the second has been posted. Did the first part get lost?


  42. You say that most people can't identify popular dog breeds. I call rubbish on that account. For the most part because most dog breeds do have such distinct looks that the only breeds that would be confused are those of close genetic relation or function. I can identify most dog breeds, can you?

    As for PETA, I don't agree with them when it comes to the "detriment" that humans cause pets. A lot of people love pets, and a lot of people do abuse them, but regardless of where that animal is, wild or capacity, suffering in the wild would be more constant than the chances of being in a loving home or rescued.

    I skimmed some of Boarder Collie's site and he has a part that mentions that pit bulls pass the ATTS. What he doesn't mention is that the purpose of the test, rules, and pass rate are based on so much junk science and flexible variables that to use that as a clear source of breed temperament is false. Especially when you consider that the breed with the highest fail rate, the Skye Terrier, hasn't killed or mauled anyone to any known record. but the breed with one of the highest passing scores, has the highest rate of such. The program would benefit from tests that actually benefit the dog's genetic and temperamental welfare and acknowledging that they are not best used as a real source for temperament.

    I love pit bulls, but I wont lie about them either. Many are great dogs but many more, compared to other breeds and breed types, are dangerous with more frequent fatal notes. If people really loved pit bulls and the welfare of this much maligned type they would not excuse this behavior, bur rather nullify, discourage, and void it through highly self controlled and regulated breeding and ownership. The doberman and rottie breeders have managed to self correct their dog's temperaments through good breeding and realistic viewpoints. Why wont other pit bull advocates?

  43. Like I said, I don't care much about pit bulls. I care about dog bites. All this talk of breed is merely a distraction from the real issues.

    Identification of dog breeds: 'most people' not 'most people really interested in dogs', who, let's face it, are more likely to be reading this blog than ordinary people. Just go walk a westie and see how many dog owners compliment your scottie's temperament (or your nice 'chihuahua'/jack russel, or 'labrador'/boxer): it's not something that most people know or need to. That's before you take into account the huge variation in dogs bred for the pet market, and mixed-breed dogs.

    I am whole-heartedly with you on PETA.

    I agree with some of the criticism of that blog post of the ATTS (note how it mentions even testers not knowing appropriate breed characteristics), but the conspiracy theory about pit bulls being selected for the test? The reading into what the owners are saying, which seems much more about the author's interpretation than what was actually said? Then there's the conflation of confidence and aggression, and implying timidity is less dangerous than confidence. Any vet will tell you, fear can and does cause aggression. A dog failing a temperament test for timidity is a feature, not a bug.

    Your point about the skye terrier is interesting. Considering small dog bites are underreported, and consistently the data show you're most likely to be bitten by large, popular-breed dogs, you wouldn't expect to see any deaths from a small, endangered dog breed. Deaths from small dogs are very very rare, because they're small (though there have been deaths from dogs like westies or yorkies). It's completely consistent with the known risk factors for bites, and particularly fatal bites. So why did you bring it up, when it's irrelevant to what both of us are arguing, and consistent with both of our arguments?

    It could indeed be that "many more, compared to other breeds and breed types, are dangerous with more frequent fatal notes" but the evidence is mixed. There is no good well-controlled evidence I've found for this point, and no-one here has put forward any yet. If the aggregation of evidence shows that pit bulls have a significantly higher bite risk to humans than other dogs, and this is independent of and has a greater effect than other factors, I'll change my opinion happily. But currently it doesn't show that.

    The focus on pit bulls is useless, because you can see in the statistics that regulation based on breed does nothing, or at best has a very mixed effect. We know exactly the kind of dogs most likely to bite and do serious damage, the kinds of situations that dogs bite in, and we should be trying to modify those factors, not ones like breed with less evidence behind them.

    If no-one ever bred a pit bull again I wouldn't care: I don't love them, I don't hate them, I don't particularly give a damn about them. I'm not a pit bull advocate any more than I'm a shale advocate. My beef is with bad science and distraction from measures that could actually have an effect.

    It's not harmless to allow this myth of dangerous and safe breeds, or notions that breed matters much more than factors like training/size etc for bite risk, to be propogated. It's not harmless to call for regulation based on inadequate evidence.

  44. Every 'pitbull type' could be wiped clean from the face of the earth it would change nothing. The next breed of dog would be chosen by the idiots who refuse to put the effort into raising them properly. Then the circus would continue.

    I find it amusing people can use the certain few dogs who attack as proof they are vicious breeds yet the thousands who don't are proof of nothing? Any dog can be well raised and any dog can be badly raised. Normally by the same people who raise their children badly. I wish we could ban them.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with just about everything you say except this:

      ‘Any dog can be well raised and any dog can be badly raised.’

      This is true in itself but the implication is that the real problem is how a dog is raised. It is the ‘All They Need is Love’ argument and it is false. It ignores the genetic component of canine behaviour, which is there. Pit Bulls have been selected for aggressive behaviour towards other dogs and a large proportion of them still exhibit this behaviour, regardless of how well they are raised.

      Proper raising and management can mitigate and control a problem. That is not the same as making it go away. The severe aggression that many Pit Bulls display towards other dogs is a real issue and the level of diligent management needed to keep such dogs without them being a danger to other animals is well beyond what most pet owners are willing or able to take on. If you take on a Pit Bull, you have to assume it is one of those with aggressive tendencies because you won’t know if they have the tendency until it happens – and you can’t ever let it happen because the results can be horrific. This means you have to be in control mode all the time for the dog’s entire life and this is not how Pet People want to live with their dogs.

      Like all breed enthusiasts, Pittie People often (not always) suffer from breed blindness, but in their case it is with regard to temperament, not health. Pit Bulls are often very nice dogs, but to tell prospective owners that all they have to do is raise the dog well and they won’t have problems with genetically hardwired behaviour is misleading, irresponsible and unfair to both the humans and the dogs involved.

    2. It seems to me that entirely the wrong lesson has been learned from the "pit bull terrier issue". Like the Staff in this country (and remember that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and American Pit Bull Terrier are likely the same "breed"), the APBT once had the reputation of being one of the most people-friendly of dogs, and probably the least effective guard dog possible. The way that dog fights were conducted, the social class of the people involved, and ultimately, the importance of money in the practice, both in betting and in the sale of dogs, meant that fighting dogs that attacked people rather than the opponent were a liability to be culled, not an asset to be bred from.
      The lesson of the Pit Bull is that a breed of dog can be as easily destroyed by selective breeding as it can be improved. The APBT in c.1980 was the culmination of hundreds of years of breeding for a purpose, albeit an unpleasant one. Ten years later, its use as an attack dog by drug dealers in the USA, the attendant publicity, and its resulting popularity as a macho accessory, had engendered indiscriminate breeding that had changed the character of some dogs for the worse.
      Unfortunately, the spotlight of the Dangerous Dogs Act just compounded the problem, by making the APBT the dog of choice for certain sections of UK society, so we are still having this discussion 20 years on.

    3. Staffordshire Bull Terrier is not the same as the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Pit Bull Terrier is not the same breed. The staffordshire bull existed long before the pit bull, and the pit bull in its development had several other uncertainties ....... the americam pit bull terrier is registered by ukc and adba (which were created before that of the FCI), the American Staffordshire Terrier is the FCI-affiliated AKC-registered pit bull terrier (americam pit bull terrier), which does not accept the name americam pit bull terrier because of the frog (even though there are amstaff with combat titles)

  45. Pit bulls definitely have a natural nurturing side and my pit bull is closest to my baby then he is to me and I have had him for almost 6 years now. It's the way you raise the pit bull that makes the violent or even have violent tendencies.