Our governments are fantastic at finding individuals in a group who have done undesirable things and blaming the entire group for them. A few weeks ago, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed that the country would ban American XL Bullies- a relatively new dog breed whose exact characteristics are still being defined. The decision follows a sharp increase in dog attacks in the last two years, many of which have been by this particular breed. Yet the measure is not only unethical, it is not going to be ineffective in reducing attacks.
This is because of one main reason: you cannot solve a problem by addressing only its consequences. Dog attacks have become more frequent all over the UK, with about half of lethal attacks being attributed to XL Bullies. While this number is horrifyingly high, it means that all attacks have gone up, not just those perpetrated by XL Bullies. Thus, the question that the Tories should be asking is not whether dog attacks are going up, it is why they are doing so. If the answer is anything other than the breed, this policy will cover up the problem, rather than solve it.
This is not just speculation – we know empirically that banning dog breeds does not work. The country banned the pitbull terrier among others in the 1990s in The Dangerous Dogs Act, yet attacks have continued to increase. The Act also caused hundreds of dogs to be abandoned and put down. Instead of repeating past mistakes, the government has to consider what other elements are at play. There are, in fact, other reasons that dog attacks have increased, and the most important of these is human behavior.
If you look at images of the dogs that have caused attacks, some of them have cropped ears. This is a procedure whereby a dog’s ears are mutilated, usually to make them look fierce or scary. The procedure happens when they are puppies, and it is completely illegal in the UK unless done by a veterinarian for medical purposes. Some of the aggressive dogs having cropped ears mean that they were either bred or imported illegally, or their owners did it. The unlawful and painful nature of the procedure raises concern about the dog’s treatment as a puppy and can be an indication that its aggressive behavior might be a result of human irresponsibility.
In addition, genetic testing on some of the aggressive XL Bullies has revealed the dogs to be severely inbred. This is common when owners search for the purest possible breed and is known to cause aggressive behavior in some animals. It is thus not only the dog’s fault that it is attacking a person- it is the breeder’s. Illegal breeding has increased by 500% in the UK in the last ten years – a fact that the government has never publicly addressed. The probability of this illegal market being directly connected with the increase in attacks is massive. If this problem is not solved, more aggressive breeds are likely to appear, and the government may have even worse problems to deal with in the long run.
Breeders, however, are only partly liable for a dog’s behavior. The rest is up to the owner. XL Bullies can weigh up to 60 kilos of pure muscle. This means that their owners need to be able to control them, both through training and physically. Furthermore, dogs can become aggressive if they do not receive proper training. Animals that were bred for working on farms or for fighting need much more physical exercise and mental stimulation than those bred for show. While the XL Bully’s origins are unclear, chances are it needs to be heavily trained as well.
To own a dog, you should be able to both provide the dog with a happy home and protect the people around you. Instead of banning dogs, the government should improve regulation. Stricter norms on imports of dogs, increased measures against illegal breeding, harsher rules for the adoption of difficult breeds, and better regulation of the industry are all necessary possibilities. Better regulation for adoption would mean only allowing adoption by owners who are ready for the responsibility of the animal. Dogs are not toys, and owning one is a serious commitment.
The logic of it is simple: if it gets to 40 degrees where you live, you should not have a husky. If you cannot train a dog breed properly, do not own it. The UK government cannot possibly solve a problem that has been brewing for a decade with a band-aid. Banning the XL bully will cause heartbroken owners and more long-term problems with dog attacks. They have to be able to learn from their mistakes and solve a problem by its roots. We cannot blame an entire breed of dog for the abusive actions of a few humans. Believing that, is going to cause a huge problem for society, far beyond dog attacks.
Featured image: Rappler