Last weekend I attended Ian Dunbar’s dog training conference in Poland, and the founder of Association of Professional Dog Trainers agreed on the interview about the situation in Lithuania regarding breed specific legislation (BSL).
Animal Rights Protection Organization Lithuania is seeking to eliminate BSL, which is now valid in Lithuania. What positions regarding BSL have governments in other countries?
Firstly, I think some kind of laws are needed in societies living with dogs. Dogs rarely are, but can be dangerous, thus regulation is needed. However, BSLs are stupid, and they are the equivalent of racism. But most importantly – they don’t work. This is what governments and municipalities all over the world is beginning to understand.
Supporters of BSL says some dogs where bred for fighting, moreover, these breeds are often chosen by people who are characterized by a certain behavior.
Yes, there are breeds, like pitbuls, which were bred for dog fights. However, anybody, who understands anything about dog fights – and I’ve seen a lot of videos from them – can say that a dog will be instantly disqualified if he bites a human who is in the ring during a fight, and dog’s career will be finished. So a thought that a fighting dog can be dangerous for a man is completely unreasonable.
You can say that some breeds were bred to kill people. Breeds of giant mastiffs, who were kept without food for two weeks and then went in front of the fighting army, they just ate soldiers of rival armies. Who’s ancestors are they? They’re ancestors of all big mastiff type dogs: great danes, Brazilian mastiffs, all hunting dogs and all dogs with sharp stops (transitions from foreheads to muzzles), so all retrievers and spaniels. This is absurd, because many of these dogs are recognized as loyal companions.
And pitbuls have not always been in the spotlight. It started with German shepherds, who have been a most hated dog breed for a long time. Then there were dobermans, pitbuls, rottweilers, now it’s akitas and chow-chows. So similar reputation has been assigned to different breeds over time. Reputation is formed by media which likes to write about dog aggression. However, these cases are interesting for media because they are rare. Dogs kill 25 people each year in USA and this number is stable for a number of years. But parents kill 2000 kids each year – this is common, it’s not interesting, and not worth writing about. Slippers, balloons, pigs and horses also kill more people than dogs. So media creates reputation for breeds, and then wrong people want dogs of these breeds. What’s a wrong man? It is a person who wants his dog to be bad, but he doesn’t put efforts to socialize and train the dog. In this case we have the worst possible scenario.
If you ask me what is the best breed to communicate with children in hospitals, my second choice would be pitbul. There is no other breed which is so easy to socialize to tolerate everything kids do: poking, pulling, riding a dog. But pitbul is too small, so he can hurt a kid when jumps.
So my first choice would be a rottweiler. Many people would like to eliminate both of these breeds. But my experience – which is 45 years of work with dogs – says that dogs of these breeds are easiest to train to be impact resistant. They are very elastic, fast to recover, and very easy to socialize. In contrast, some other breeds are hard to socialize, like shepherds. They were bread to distrust anybody – human or animal – who comes near sheep. We bred them this way for hundreds of years, so proper socialization of a shepherd takes much more time.
What are the alternatives for BSLs?
My advice for such a small and beautiful country like Lithuania – do something that will change the world. I don’t think anything will change until one country will adopt a legislation which says anybody who wants a dog has to pass the exam. Dog owners to-be have to learn that all dogs pee, eliminate, chew, bark, jump, are hyperactive, growl and bite. So they have to be ready for this.
Secondly, we need to prevent potential disasters. It’s very easy to create a program to raise reliable companions. Dogs have to be touched by humans in a very young age, until they are 8 weeks old – so in a kennel. Here is a simple rule – if you breed dogs, at least 100 people have to interact with puppies before dogs go to new home. These 100 people have to sign a special form to confirm they have been in contact with puppies. Let these people be mostly man and children, which are in the highest risk to become bite victims in future.
It’s not uncommon that a 8 week old dog (in age when the most important socialization period ends) has seen 2 people – a breeder and her girlfriend. It’s a breeder’s crime, because a new owner has no chance with this dog, especially if it is a breed which is hard to socialize.
Then it’s a new owner’s turn: another 100 people have to interact with a dog until dog is 12 weeks old. After this you have a dog which has been touched by, stroked, and fed by 200 people. This dog will love humans.
So, one country will have to set an example and create a simple law, and other countries will follow. But it has to be a small country, like Lithuania. Or a communist country, which can create new laws fast and the society obeys them. With this kind of law life of dogs will be better, too, because unsocialized dogs are very unfortunate – they are scared of people, but are forced to interact with them every day.
Besides, dogs can be valued as dangerous only when they harm people. You are not arrested just because you are from Lithuania and have long hair, are you? So why do we do that for dogs? However, you would be arrested, if you violate a law. Same with dogs. So I think a law of dangerous dogs is needed. A dangerous dog is a dog who has hurt a human. We have to evaluate harm a dog made objectively. I suggest a 1-6 points scale. When a dog gets 4, he should be never walked in public places, but you can live with this dog at home. 5 or 6 means almost deadly or fatal end – this dog should be euthanized. But it’s only several dogs a year, others just need training and socialization to reduce their reactivity and fears.