The last thing vets want is for humans to be hurt by companion animals. The general public agrees as evidenced by the outrage expressed each time news of animals hurting people hits the media. And if the offending animal is identified as a Rottweiler, German Shepherd Dog, Doberman Pinscher, Pitbull, or other breed erroneously considered inherently dangerous, then look out! The push to restrict these breeds, and others, ignites anew.
Meanwhile, most veterinarians sit back and shake their heads. Here we go again.
And we are not alone. Below is a list of just a few of the national organizations that do not support breed-specific restrictions.
- American Bar Association
- American Veterinary Medical Association
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
- American Kennel Club
- Centers for Disease Control
- Department of Justice
- Humane Society of the United States
The need to identify and appropriately deal with individual animals proven to be dangerous is something that is hard to argue against. Taking that and transforming it into complete bans on specific breeds just doesn’t make sense.
Some will argue that “statistically” speaking, some breeds bite more than others. It’s probably true, but, the problem with that assumption is the data itself.
Not all dog bites are reported.
Actually, most probably are not. Veterinary medicine professionals, who are in the unique position to interact with a wide variety of breeds on a daily basis, know this. Shoot, we contribute to the “unreported”.
Right or wrong, most vets don’t have the time, nor the desire, to file a report every time they get nailed by a patient. But we do have the benefit of professional judgement and understanding of circumstance to consider when making that decision. That combined with our education in animal behavior is what leads us to choose not to, or to, report a bite.
Though lacking the professional background, much of the general public does the same thing. They consider the circumstances and their opinion of the severity of the offense and, for better or worse, often choose to not report. The result: unreliable statistics.
Breed identification is primarily subjective.
It’s not only the lack of bite reports that mess up the statistics. Dogs are not always correctly identified in regard to breed, and this messes up the stats too. Exactly who is the breed authority anyway? Who decides what is an official dog breed and what is not?
I’d say the American Kennel Club is probably the closest thing to “breed authority” that exists. But guess what, “pitbulls” are not even recognized by the American Kennel Club a legitimate breed at all. Really. So how can a breed be restricted if it doesn’t exist?
The reality is that many dogs are the mixed result of breeds including Boxers, Bull Terriers, Bulldogs, Labradors and many others generally considered not to be dangerous. Owners of these dogs are better off identifying their pets as the mixed breeds they are, rather than designating them as an unofficial breed that ignites fear and debate. Veterinarians have an opportunity to impact the fate of these dogs and their owners by educating to this reality.
In veterinary practice, I personally took a “show me the papers” approach to would-be pitbulls and other “scary” breeds. As part of obtaining a thorough patient history I learned where the dog originally came from, asked about its parents, and ultimately asked if it was registered. When that answer was no, which it nearly always was, I took the opportunity to educate the owner on the history, and current reality, of the would-be breed. As a result, my practice saw far more Boxer-cross, Bull Terrier-cross and general Mixed Breed dogs than it did pitbulls.
Bites and Breeds aside, it really comes down to training.
At the end of the day, dogs are animals. They respond to training, for better or worse. Trained to be aggressive they can learn to be so. Trained to be obedient, they can learn that too. Not trained at all, they are left completely to their own instincts, and many animals have instincts to hunt and survive.
Owners can be and should also be trained. And by trained, I mean educated. As DVMs we have a unique opportunity to provide this education in a neutral setting where owners are (hopefully) more likely to follow our advice. We can help combat breed-specific restrictions by helping people become better pet owners. Here’s how:
- Educate owners on breed traits and personalities
- Help owners pick the right pet for their family and situation
- Discourage “tough dog” attitudes
- Encourage obedience training
- Encourage compliance with leash laws
- Educate owners when their dog shows signs of being a dangerous dog
Human safety must always come first. Dangerous dogs, independent of breed, should never be tolerated.