Is it time for mandatory temperament testing for certain breeds of dogs? Dog attacks on people and the severity of them is on the rise. The most recent incident in Birmingham, where an XL Bully attacked an 11-year-old girl, has prompted calls for that breed to be banned.
But will banning this type of dog (XL Bully is not a recognised breed in the UK) reduce or stop serious dog attacks on people?
Between 1981 and 1991 there were 15 fatal dog attacks on people by Pit Bull type dogs. As a result, they were banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Despite the ban, serious and fatal attacks have continued to increase by different breeds of dog. The ban may have altered the specific breed or type of dog involved but not the frequency. Infact, between 2001 and 2021 there were 69 recorded fatalities because of dog attacks!
Banning a particular breed or type of dog is a justifiable and normal human response to the tragedy of each attack but it ignores the real root cause and contributing factors that precipitate the attacks.
The temperament of a dog is the biggest influencing factor in why an unprovoked dog attacks a human.
The breed or type of dog does not cause an attack but does have a massive influence on the severity of it. Bull breeds are very muscular, strong dogs, with powerful jaws that are genetically designed to do a lot of damage.
As a training provider, specialising in training reactive/aggressive dogs our experience shows that smaller breeds have a higher tendency to extreme reactivity/aggression than larger ones. The only difference is that they are not genetically designed to do as much damage and are more easily physically controlled/restrained by a person.
A dog, whatever breed, or type, with a sound, social and calm temperament will not carry out an unprovoked attack on a person. Obviously, in some breeds or types of dogs, given their genetic heritage, it is harder to find a temperament suitable for general human companionship. This is where the testing of an individual dog’s temperament is critical. Buying a Cockapoo does not guarantee your dog will be a social delight (they are some of the most reactive dogs we train), and nor will a bull breed necessarily be a nightmare.
It is each individual dog’s temperament and genetic character that dictates its behaviour.
There are also contributing factors to temperament. Irresponsible ownership and training.
Dog ownership is a responsibility. The weight of that responsibility is governed by the dog owned. The reality is that some dogs are harder to look after, control and train than others.
As people, we all have different capabilities and ideas of social responsibility. We also live in different environments with varying access to the enrichment some dogs need.
Hard truth, some people should not own any dog, some people should only own a certain type of dog, and some people can safely own most dogs. It is also worth noting that some dogs simply are not safe to be owned by anyone.
There is a collective myth in the wider public that good training can cure a dog of all its ills. This is simply not the case. If a dog has a genetic flaw in its temperament or character, then in most dogs, with good training and responsible committed ownership, this can be minimalised and managed safely. However, dogs associate training or levels of expected behaviour (or lack of) with their ‘owners.’ If they are loose or unsupervised then it is unlikely that apply those boundaries themselves.
So, is it time for us to make some form of temperament testing mandatory for certain dog breeds? Should that testing also include the capability/responsibility assessment of potential owners? Other countries have trialled and made mandatory their own versions of this. What would it look like in this country? How would it be funded or enforced?
We have our own ideas, based on our considerable experience in training a wide variety of reactive/aggressive dog breeds, and will be sharing them with you, in the coming days.
We would love to know what you think, or your ideas are. So please respond in the comments section of our social media platforms.
Article written by Platinum K9 Director our Head Trainer Jon Gardner.
Jon has over 18,000 documented training hours. and has owned and trained dogs all his life. He began his career as a dog handler and trainer in the armed forces, moving on to the prison service.
Jon is Home Office approved and has trained dogs to the highest standard; he is one of the United Kingdoms most well-respected trainers.