iPad & Katy Perry: The Wonders of Internet Search Terms

One of my favourite things about blogging with WordPress is the Site Stats page they provide.  It tells me how many clicks were made on my blog each and every day, and on what pages.  It also tells me what other websites bring traffic, and how much, to my blog (Facebook, Twitter, other blogs, etc.), and also what external links people click while reading my blog.  There are lots of ways you can analyse your readership, whether by week, month, post, or what have you.

And while I do find these statistics endlessly interesting, I think my absolute favourite part of this service provided by WordPress is the Search Engine Terms function that tells me which phrases, when entered into a search engine, direct people to my blog.

I find the results in this category highly entertaining, very informative, and also an interesting reflection of what people are looking for on the internet.  And I don’t know if maybe it’s against some top secret Blogger Code to disclose these sorts of things, but I’m going to go ahead and share some of the interesting things I’ve discovered so far, in my short few months of experience.

For example, the search terms function has taught me that writing about Jake Gyllenhaal that one time was probably the best move I could’ve made for attracting unsuspecting blog guests.  It seems almost daily people are searching for “dogs of Jake Gyllenhaal”, “Jake Gyllenhaal, dog lover”, “Jake Gyllenhaal dogs”, “good pictures of Jake Gyllenhall” or some similar variation, and it is this very subject that has brought the most aimless surfers to my blog – much to their dismay, I’m assuming.

The next most popular is my article on bloat, which pleases me.  When I was looking for information on gastric torsion myself, I was frustrated with what I did and did not find, and, not to toot my own horn too much, I do believe I’ve put together a pretty good resource for inquiring dog owners.  So that’s good.  On the other hand, the people who searched for “xray sex” and “bloatness of tummy during period” and wound up at the Soapbox were probably more than just a little disappointed.

And then there are the miscellaneous, diverse search terms that cause me endless wonder and curiosity, and really provide quite the emotional rollercoaster.

“ban flexi leash”:  This one came up yesterday, and my immediate thought was ‘hooray!’  Someone agrees with my distain for these stupid things!  Then I thought, what if the searcher is actually worried about a possible ban because they love their flexi-leash too much?  Ick.

“back alley bitches”:  Ha! I’m guessing this isn’t actually intended to be dog related.  Sucker.

“learn how to talk like a Torontonian”:  Ummm… I think you pronounce it “Tranno”.

“chow chow Winnipeg Kijiji”:  My knee-jerk reaction here was frustration about people looking for dogs on Kijiji.

“outlawing puppy sales in stores”:  Yes, please!  Happily, quite a few similar search terms on this very subject have directed people in my direction.

“can I return opened dog food at petland”:  The person who wrote this and I would never be friends.

“backyardsoapbox”:  Geez.  Get it right.

“how to report possible puppy mill Calgary Alberta”:  I really, really hope this person found the information they needed (call Animal & Bylaw Control!) and reported their suspicions.

“steamy men and women”:  This lonely person was definitely let down.

“train him”:  Referring to a dog… ?

“dogs with guns”:  This one actually comes up a lot and is a little alarming.  Is someone out there arming a canine militia?  Should we be concerned?

“how to surrender my dog Richmond bc”: And this one just plain broke my heart.

Darn. Not in the Top 10… yet.

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Is My Blog Copyrighted?

If even fleeting, the issue of copyright can strike the mind of many of us who post our thoughts, opinions, work, research and information online.  Who can use it or share it?  And to what extent?  What rights extend to my intellectual property?

Well, first I’ll do away with the issue of plagiarism, which is simply someone taking something you’ve written and posting it as their own.  It’s wrong ethically and legally, and while hard to pursue online, you can often seek retribution simply by having the plagiarized content removed (forcefully or not).  Anyone with post-secondary research experience should have had the fears of plagiarism planted deep, and there are many ways to prevent the suggestion that someone else’s idea is your own by making reference to quotes and proper citations, or hyperlinking back to the original material.

But copyright does not just mean taking credit for someone else’s work; it also relates to unauthorized use and reproduction.  Hence those copyright warnings at the beginning of DVDs – we do not have permission to duplicate the movies fully.  Such is the case with published books.  You can’t go purchase the latest best seller and take it to Staples to photocopy the whole thing and distribute it to friends (I have doubts photocopying would be significantly cheaper, but you couldn’t scan it either).  This process impacts the financial gain the writer/publisher receives from the publication, and they could reasonably seek recovery in the form of costs from you for this action.  Fair enough – you’re stealing.

On the other hand, you are allowed to copy excerpts and quotes from publications without having to pay for them as long as you’re using it for reasons considered “fair use”.  Fair use qualifications include commentary, criticism, parody, research, news and education.

So what about my blog?  I’m not a published author; do I have these rights?

I sure do.  According to this super helpful website, everything is copyrighted essentially as soon as it’s written.  Canada, the United States, and many other countries follow the Berne Copyright Convention, giving authors and artists immediate protection for their work, my blog included.  WordPress and other hosts offer an option to include a copyright notice on posts and pages, which will serve as a helpful reminder to anyone tempted, but isn’t strictly necessary.  The only way you’re not covered is if you specifically denote your work to be public domain.  And just because something is online does not mean it’s public domain.

Personally, plagiarism, yes, would bother me; I put the work in and I want credit for it.  If you find a way to capitalize on something I’ve written, kudos, but I want the benefit, and I’m not inclined to share.  And credit is easy to give.  You can even recopy a whole post of mine if you like, as long as you link back here or give my blog credit (though I do know many bloggers strictly opposed to complete entry recreations whether or not they get credit, so make sure you check for a policy before reposting an entire work of someone else).  To give credit to an original author is a simple request – and an obligation.  Heck, you can take a post of mine, break it down, criticize it extensively, and I’m happy as long as my words remain my own.  I’ve even got one post where I’m asking you to copy the whole thing and sign your name to the bottom, and please feel free to do so.  Thankfully, I’ve not yet experienced a need to be concerned about plagiarism, which either means people are generally very respectful and diligent, or perhaps that I need to up the ante in quality (mimicking is the sincerest form of flattery as they say).

What About Facebook?

Before I started the Soapbox, I used Facebook Notes to post my entries.  Do I own that or does Facebook?

Well, Facebook Terms of Use seem to be ever-changing these days, with increasing privacy concerns and copyright concerns (especially about photos, it seems).

The first order of business, and self-protection due diligence, is privacy.  If you don’t want everyone to access your information or ideas, observe how you share them.  Check your personal settings and consider where you’re posting: public groups, applications, a friend’s page, a public figure’s page, etc.  If you don’t want just anyone to access something you’ve got to say or share, you yourself are the first step of appropriately managing your own affairs.

As I read the current Facebook policies, it seems that our ideas and work remain our own and there is a system in place for Facebook to maintain that.  If you feel a third party has infringed on your copyright, there is a complaint process in place, and it does not seem that Facebook automatically takes ownership of anything you post there.

But what happens if I were to devise the most clever status update ever, and everyone copies it, but I want all the credit?  Well, tough.

First of all, get a life.

And secondly, at the time of writing, the Facebook policies specifically state (and as a user, you’ve consented even to these policies if you didn’t bother to read them) that “You understand that information might be reshared or copied by other users”.

Furthermore: “Information set to ‘everyone’ [such as in a public group or celebrity profile] is publicly available information, just like your name, profile picture, and connections.  Such information may, for example, be accessed by everyone on the Internet (including people not logged into Facebook), be indexed by third party search engines, and be imported, exported, distributed, and redistributed by us and others without privacy limitations. Such information may also be associated with you, including your name and profile picture, even outside of Facebook, such as on public search engines and when you visit other sites on the internet.  The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to ‘everyone.’ You can review and change the default settings in your privacy settings. If you delete ‘everyone’ content that you posted on Facebook, we will remove it from your Facebook profile, but have no control over its use outside of Facebook.”

So there you have it.  I could take your hilarious status update, post it as my own or even post it on Twitter without giving credit and that’s just something you’ve consented to by my being able to view it and copy it in the first place.  This is how the 24 hour news cycle is able to quote posts on pages, profiles, and groups – and even Twitter.  What this has to say about the quality of journalism there is another issue altogether.  And if you are given credit by name, then you really have no complaint, as the plagiarism aspect is removed and you really have no copyright.

And this is why I started the blog.  My copyright here is much more secure than my Facebook Notes, with the added benefit of expanded readership without having to add hundreds of thousands of Facebook friends.  Thankfully, my Facebook Notes only really included topics like canine bloat, which is really information I’d like to get out there as much as possible, with credit and acknowledgement being a fringe benefit.

And Twitter?

Good question.

Luckily, the re-tweet option generally means you will receive credit for your tweets.

The Twitter Terms of Service state that your content is your own responsibility (you own it, but the consequences of it are also yours).  But while your tweets are always yours, by using Twitter you’re also giving Twitter a non-exclusive right to copy, reproduce, and distribute them.

While an argument may be out there that the 140 character limit of Twitter excludes tweets from the length and creativity requirements for copyright, the Twitter policies acknowledge that tweets are intellectual property of the user, and they do have a complaint process in place for anyone suspecting plagiarism.  However, I think unauthorized use is a non-existent complaint considering the nature of Twitter itself and the re-tweet function.  You would spend more in legal fees arguing that than would be worthwhile.

So there you have it: social media copyright as I understand it.  The bottom line is often to remember that there are real people behind those screen names, so real life standards apply to online actions.  No, I don’t have an LL.B. behind my name, so don’t quote me if you’ve got a serious legal issue.  That’s not a copyright concern; I’m just clarifying my lack of liability (look what our litigious society has come to).

Dog Owning 101

Dog Ownership 101: The Basics
The things I wish all dog owners knew, or knew to consider.

1.  What type of dog is best for you?

Granted, it might be too late, but this is something that should be given huge consideration for someone getting a (or another) dog.

Becoming a dog owner is not just adding a cute, furry addition to your daily routine; dogs are a commitment of your time and money, and becoming a good dog owner requires a life-style change.  Different breeds have different needs and will provide you with different challenges, and you have to be very honest about what will be best for both you and your dog.  Sure, Australian Shepherds are darn cute, but do you actually have 2-3 hours per day (every day, for the next 12-15 years) to dedicate to providing your dog with the physical and mental stimulation it needs?

Make a frank assessment of your lifestyle and what kind of companion you’re looking for.  In addition to how cute the dog is, consider energy levels, size, type of coat (shedding), etc.  Great Danes make very cute puppies, but shelters and rescue organizations frequently see them surrendered once they are full grown and the previous owner decided they couldn’t handle a dog that size.  But with a little foresight, these and similar situations are entirely preventable.  Do your research; know what you’re getting yourself into.

2.  Where to get your dog from?

I am not going to go into detail, and I honestly don’t think I should have to in any event, because information concerning the horrors of puppy mills abound.  Everyone considering a puppy should do their best to ensure their money is not funding these organizations.  Yes, puppies sold in pet stores are often from puppy mills.  Stay away.

Also beware of the notorious “backyard breeder”.  These are breeders who are trying to turn a profit, and who treat the dogs akin to livestock.  They do not pay attention to breeding lines, hereditary diseases, or cases of inbreeding, and often have one female giving birth to multiple litters per year.  Watch out.

And if you are seeking a dog from a breeder, do your homework and ask lots of questions.  A good breeder will ask you lots of questions, too.  Make a visit to see the puppies and any other dogs they may have in advance and check out the living conditions.  If you’re not comfortable, don’t support them.

If you want to rescue a dog, research is again very important – both into your potential new dog, and into the organization itself.  Have a lengthy conversation with the people at the organization who have spent the most time with the dog you have in mind, since they should be able to give you good insights about your chosen dog.  And remember, when adopting a rescue – whether adult or puppy – you may be also adopting a variety of potential mental or physical problems (also possible when getting a dog from a breeder, too, of course), so ensure you are prepared (mentally, physically, financially) to deal with what may arise.

3.  Exercise!

First, lets be clear on what I mean by “exercise”:  I mean a proper WALK.  I do not mean running around the backyard, playing fetch, or going to an off-leash park.  I mean walking with your dog heeled next to you.  The other aforementioned activities are play-time perks you dog can certainly enjoy after his or her daily walk.

A proper dog walk is important for several reasons.  Some are:

a)  Physical exercise.  Obviously.  Many pet dogs are overweight, and lack of physical exercise is half the problem (being over-fed would be the other).  Our dogs need exercise to build muscle and be physically fit, just like we do.  At minimum, your dog needs an hour walk per day.  Every day.  For his or her entire life.  This is a responsibility you agreed to when you decided to get a dog.

b)  Release of pent-up energy.  In addition to the physical health benefits of walking, there are mental benefits as well.  Dogs that have pent-up energy from lack of physical and mental stimulation tend to take it out at home, and chewing and digging are great indicators of this – they’re just trying to keep themselves busy.  A daily walk will help alleviate boredom and keeps them mentally and physically engaged.

c)  Bonding.  An hour or more of walking per day is a great opportunity to build a bond with your dog.  With them heeled next to you, they have to pay attention to you when you turn, stop, and change pace.  Their attention is focused on you, and they look to you for leadership.  This can actually improve other aspects of your relationship with your dog, such as their obedience to commands and rules and your other expectations of them.

d)  Socialization.  Getting your dog out daily to see, and possibly meet, people and other dogs along the way is a great way to ensure they’re polite when greeting new people and other dogs.  Getting out regularly to new locations and on different routes also helps them to be relaxed and confident in all sorts of situations.  Our dogs are our companions, so the more places we can take them with us, the better.

e)  Gives your dog a job.  While dogs are believed to have been domesticated since as early as 10,000 BCE, dogs have only been urban, household pets for the last 100 years or so, a trend that developed as a status symbol, together with the modern kennel club institutions.  All breeds of dogs were engineered for one type of job or another: herding, hunting, drafting, tracking, guarding, etc.  And yes, even Fido, as he sleeps on your couch, has instincts associated with his intended “job”.  So even if you’re not able to take your dog to herding trials or tracking classes, at the very least his or her job can be to walk nicely next to you for an hour or two per day.  It’s not asking a lot, and they are receiving a much more luxurious lifestyle than the working dog of centuries past as it is.

4.  Training

All I am simply going to say here is: train your dog! I am going to try to remain uncontroversial here and avoid commenting on the different schools of thought, but the importance of training your dog in general is huge.  All dog owners represent the whole dog owning community when they’re out in public (which should be daily, if you’re exercising your dog regularly), so just as it’s important to pick up after them, it’s also important to ensure you don’t have a crazy furry monster at the end of your leash.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that there’s probably not one style of training that will work for every single dog and every single owner, so it’s important to look into local training organizations and pick one you agree with and think will work for both you and your dog.  And once you’ve picked it, for the love of Zeus, try it!  Give it 100% for the duration of the class.  Do what your trainer tells you, and if you don’t see drastic results immediately, be patient and consistent and practice at home.  While one method probably won’t work for everyone, no method will work unless you actually give it an honest effort.  Because, yes, what they say is true and it’s more like people training anyway.

I’d also like to take this moment to say that training isn’t a one-time fix for anything.  Just because you signed up for a 6 week course, doesn’t mean you can throw it all out after the class is over and will have the perfect dog for life.  Training, and maintaining rules and boundaries, continues throughout the lifetime of your dog, and is just another responsibility you accepted upon getting a dog.

5.  Diet

If you can purchase your dog’s food at the grocery store, simply put, you’re probably feeding them garbage.  Information on the perils of feeding cheap, poor-quality dog food can easily be found once one looks for it, so I invite you to do so.  There have been lots of pet food recalls in the recent years among those “grocery store brands”, and as a responsible dog owner, it’s up to you to educate yourself on what exactly is in that kibble and what it means for your dog.

A dog fed a proper, healthy diet has fewer medical issues, a healthier body weight, and a longer life-span.  Look into raw diets or quality dried foods that aren’t full of grains and unnecessary ingredients.  Your dog will like them better and be healthier for it.

And that’s it: the very basics of dog ownership as I see it.  While there is really a lot more to it than that, these are the big-picture concerns, which, if addressed, would lead to more fulfilled dogs and happier owners alike.

Perfecting “Go Pee”

Setting Pace at the Dog Run:
How to Give Fido a Designated Backyard Bathroom Location

Saving your lawn and teaching your dogs to do their “business” in a particular location is extremely easy – in theory.  But as we all know, if there is any sort of grey area or inconsistency, our dogs usually can find it and will exploit it.  Here’s how you can start the process and deal with potential struggles.

First, I recommend beginning in the spring/summer to encourage your own dedication to the process, since no one really wants to accompany their dog for every bathroom break in -20°C weather.  It will also provide many months of habit-forming before snow covers your yard.

Next, pick a bathroom command for your dog.  This command will refer to all bathroom activities.  It will also help to ensure all family members are using the same command and helping with the training.  The process will take a few weeks of dedication and consistency from everyone, but once the habit is learned your lawn is always safe.

And, of course, once you have your designated bathroom location decided upon and set up, make sure you clean all of the dog waste out of the rest of the backyard before starting the training process.  Give your lawn a thorough soaking, focusing on the areas your dog used to go to the bathroom, in order to eliminate the scent from those areas.  It is also recommended to place some of your dog’s waste in the dog run area so the scent is there.  Scent is what triggers a dog to release his or her bladder or bowels, and can be very helpful in the training process (remembering that dogs can only learn through instinct and repetition – and here we will use both).

Once you are ready to begin (and barring any particular medical issues your dog may have which could affect success), the training is a simple matter of accompanying your dog to the designated location – on leash – for every bathroom break for the next two weeks.  There are no exceptions; consistency is important.

Keeping Fido on leash at first is key so he doesn’t wander from the dog run and so you don’t have to catch him and bring him back.  Instead, you will simply walk your dog out to the dog run, give the bathroom command, and wait.  A standard six foot leash is plenty to provide your dog with personal space while ensuring he or she doesn’t stray to the grass.

Like initial house training, once Fido has completed the task perfectly, a little praise (such as a nice, slow chest rub or some go-play time in the yard) can be helpful.

Of course, because we’re trying to teach something new, this means Fido should not get unsupervised play time in the yard during these initial weeks lest do his business elsewhere while no one is watching.  In the event Fido does sneak away and leave his mark outside of the designated dog run area, don’t punish him for it.  Instead, your two weeks starts over and you now know you need to keep a better watch.

Once you’ve completed two weeks of consistent bathroom breaks in the designated area, you can lose the leash and move on to unaccompanied – but still supervised – bathroom breaks.  You will still need to monitor Fido in the backyard, and if you see him begin to wander to or sniff around an unauthorized location (by now you should be very familiar with your dog’s pre-bathroom routine), try a simple verbal interruption such as “hey!” to get his attention.  This alone could be enough to make him aware that he’s in the wrong spot.  If that’s not enough, personally bring him over to the dog run, give him his bathroom command, and wait nearby to make sure he uses it.  If you find yourself repeating this process, you may have to try another week of on-leash bathroom breaks before the habit sticks.

However, if Fido successfully and consistently uses his dog run, and you’ve got confidence that he’s learned this new habit, you can begin to slowly decreased your supervision; for example, from nearby in the yard, to on the deck, to at the doorway, to monitoring from inside, to no supervision at all.  At the final stage, you’ve got to trust that Fido is using his dog run 100% of the time without any help from you.  You can also begin to let your dog have his usual free time in the backyard, but remember to supervise him at first to ensure he keeps on track.  For those who have a dog who is prone to marking his territory, extra supervision will be required to ensure he’s not marking all over the yard, which can spread the scent and slowly lead to him using the whole yard as a bathroom area once again.

Of course, as simple as this sounds, dogs always seem to find the loopholes, and you may face challenges.

Some dogs may not readily take to the idea of going to the bathroom on gravel – or another surface – instead of grass.  As a result, to avoid using the dog run, you may find that your dog “holds it” until it’s time for the daily walk.  There are a couple of ways to get around this while still ensuring your dog gets his necessary exercise regime.

Knowing your dog’s typical bathroom routine can help.  If your dog usually goes to the bathroom near the beginning of the walk, you can try walking around the block and then returning to the dog run for a bathroom break.  Repeat as necessary.  If your dog usually goes to the bathroom near the middle or end of the walk, try breaking the daily one hour walk into two half-hour walks, finishing each with a supervised stop at the dog run.  Don’t forget to use your bathroom command.  If you’ve got to use these techniques, ensure your dog is only spending time in the yard during on-leash bathroom breaks.

If this still doesn’t work, try spacing out your walks (but maintain your typical feeding schedules).  For example, if you walk your dog from 7:00-8:00am on Tuesday, and then again at 9:00pm on Wednesday, your dog has still received an hour long walk each day, but now there is 37 hours between them – odds are your dog is going to need to go to the bathroom at least once during that time.  You just need to make sure you provide ample on-leash bathroom opportunities in the dog run during those 37 hours.

Of course, in the event your dog does do his business during the walk, don’t worry about it and certainly don’t punish him.  We don’t want to train our dogs into thinking there’s only one place in the entire world where they can go to the bathroom – just one specific place within in the confines of the yard.

If you’re worried about your dog opting to go to the bathroom inside the house in favour of the dog run, make sure he/she is supervised while in the house (perhaps by keeping him/her on hands-free/umbilical) and in a crate when unsupervised.

As your dog becomes comfortable and consistent with using his or her assigned bathroom area, ensure that the dog run is cleaned regularly, so your dog never thinks to look for a different, cleaner spot.  While scent is important to encourage dogs to use a specific bathroom area, an area that is too messy will discourage them from using it altogether.  It is also important to thoroughly rinse off the dog run once or twice per year to help control excessive odours.

Finally, as winter comes, ensure your dog still uses the same location even once it is snow-covered.  This will save you from having to re-train him or her every spring.

And of course, once you’ve trained your dog once, you can easily use the same process again to train him or her to go in another new location in the event you’re moving, going out of town, or simply relocating the dog run.

Happy training!

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To Ban the Breed?

To Ban the Breed?
Pit bull ownership: just another topic too controversial for the dinner table

Simply put, Ontario’s pit bull ban isn’t working.[i] Results of a recent (2010) survey reveal no significant drop in the number of dog bite incidents in Ontario since the provincial government passed breed specific legislation in 2005.[ii]

Similarly, studies in Great Britain and Spain have shown that their respective bans have had similar results (read: none). Further, the Spanish study found that the dog breeds most responsible for bites, both before and after implementing the bans, were by breeds not even covered by them.[iii] Of course, both of these jurisdictions are carrying on with their bans in place. 

The Toronto Humane Society’s spokesperson, Ian McConachie, sums it up when he says “dogs are not born violent… they are made that way by irresponsible owners who train them to be that way or neglect them and they develop behavioural problems. […] If we want to reduce the number of dog bites we have to address the root cause of the problem: those irresponsible owners who do not appropriately care for their animals”.[iv] 

So the question is what do we do now? Clearly there is a problem, and the misguided breed ban seems to be a failed solution. But where did this trend come from and why? What can really be done about these blood-thirsty unruly dogs and what apparently is becoming an epidemic? 

First, let face facts. As Clever Canines Behaviourist and Trainer Tracie Nielson teaches her clients, all dogs bite. There. It’s been said. Or perhaps more specifically, all dogs can and will bite given certain circumstances. Yes, even your kind-hearted Golden Retriever. So the cat (dog?) is out of the bag. When dogs and people interact, it can sometimes end in someone being injured. Now what? 

Well, in an attempt to curb the number of times a small child is met with the pointy end of 42 teeth, our benevolent public officials have taken it upon themselves to do what they do best: legislate. 

Like Dogs, Dog-Related Legislation Comes in Many Shapes and Sizes 

There are a number of different types of breed specific legislation, and canine-related laws span the globe. The most strict form is an outright breed ban where, under no circumstances, is one allowed to posses a dog of a particular breed. This is the type of ban present in Ontario. No one is allowed to own, breed, purchase, or import a pit bull. This legislation was grandfathered in to allow folks who already had pit bulls (or ones that were to be born within 9 months of the legislation coming into effect) to keep their pets, provided they spay/neuter them, only use a leash 1.8 metres long or less,[v] and muzzle them in public. In the event the dog is proved to have bitten or attacked anyone, or “posed a menace”, they are to be immediately euthanized. 

The City of Winnipeg is the only other place in Canada presently with breed specific legislation. Theirs dates back to 1990 and bans owning “Pit Bull dogs”, which are defined as “(i) Pit Bull Terrier; or (ii) Staffordshire Bull Terrier; or (iii) American Staffordshire Terrier; or (iv) American Pit Bull Terrier; or (v) Any dog which has the appearance and physical characteristics predominantly conforming to the standards for any of the above breeds, as established by the Canadian Kennel Club…”.[vi] 

In the alternative to breed bans, related legislation can also involve mandatory spaying/neutering, mandatory registration or licensing as a “dangerous dog” or similar status, breed specific insurance requirements, or size/weight restricts. For example, in Fairfield, Iowa, all dogs upwards of 100lbs are banned.[vii] These bans can apply to individual dogs with a history of aggression or to breeds as a whole. 

A group called the Responsible Dog Owners of the Western States compiled a list of all dog breeds for which there is some sort of ban or restriction somewhere in the United States, finding that there are 75 different restricted breeds the US, from the Airedale Terrier right down to the Wolf Spitz. I will give special mention to the following included breeds: Blue Heeler, English Springer Spaniel, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Komondor, Labrador Retriever, Newfoundland, Pug, and Samoyed. 

Breed bans and restrictions are certainly not a North American phenomenon, either. Twelve countries in total have some sort of ban against pit bulls (pit bulls being the most common – and sometimes only – target of these types of bans). 

In Germany, ownership of pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, or bull terriers is banned and punishable by fines and a maximum of two years in prison. Great Britain authored its Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991,[viii] banning pit bull terriers, Japanese Tosas, Argentine Dogos, and Fila Brasilieros. The Ukraine has a Dangerous Breed List naming over 80 breeds, including several varieties of Bull Terriers, Bulldogs, Livestock Guardian dogs, Boxers, Briars, Labrador Retrievers, Welsh Terriers, German Shepherd Dogs and their mixes. The Ukrainian resolution also includes compliance requirements such as mandatory insurance and micro-chipping, restricted leash length, and muzzling dogs in public places, and further allows adapting municipal laws to enforce even more restrictions. In Ecuador, ownership of pit bull-types and Rottweilers is banned, and Venezuela has legislation pending for 2014 to enforce a ban on “pit bull-type” dogs. 

Why the Ban? 

In the United States, because state and local jurisdictions are afforded broad police powers, including protecting the public’s safety and welfare, lawmakers have not had trouble finding that breed specific legislation is rationally related to the issue of public safety from allegedly dangerous breeds of dogs.[ix] 

The reasoning behind these breed bans is easy to figure out: when dogs and humans mix, sometimes someone winds up wounded. In the United States, approximately 800,000 people per year[x] seek medical attention due to a dog bite.[xi]  Breed specific bans are an attempt to pin-point the repeat offenders, or the most dangerous dogs in the eyes of the public, and protect us from these menaces.  The bans usually come about as a reaction to a highly-publicised fatal dog attack. 

But one could argue – and I do – that such bans are misguided, have over-simplified the situation, and neglect a number of important realities. Not to mention they don’t seem to actually be preventing dog bites and other injuries. 

Problems & Criticisms 

1. While we appreciate Big Brother looking out for our safety and well-being, based on the numbers of dog attacks, you’re about 20 times more likely to get struck by lightening than you are to be attacked by a pit bull.[xii] Just sayin’. 

2. As we’ve heard, all dogs bite. Not just pit bulls. And we can now see that the pit bull bans in Ontario and elsewhere have done nothing to reduce the number of reported dog bites over time. Simple bites aside, many attacks – and even fatalities – can be attributed to dogs whose breeds are not widely addressed by bans, and to ban one or two specific breeds and their mixes does nothing more than enforce an incorrect breed stereotype and encourage “breed profiling”. Most pit bull owners will be happy to attest that their dog is loyal, loving,[xiii] gentle, trainable, and a good working dog. In ban-free areas, pit bulls have been successful police and rescue dogs, as well as general service dogs. 

3. We largely have the media to thank for public concerns about pit bull ownership. It is not hyperbole to suggest that one is more likely to hear of a pit bull attack on the news than, say, a poodle attack. And no, that does not mean that poodles never attack. It just means that it takes some extra searching to find the story of the Daschund who killed the elderly woman,[xiv] or the Jack Russell Terrier responsible for the death of a six week old infant.[xv]  Of course, prominent in the story about the Jack Russell was the fact that the family owned a second dog – a pit bull. That the pit bull was not part of the attack was not mentioned. 

An American report on media bias by the National Canine Research Council[xvi] compared the type of media coverage given for dog attacks that occurred during a four day period in August 2007. On day one, a Labrador mix attacked an elderly man, sending him to the hospital. News stories of his attack appeared in one article in the local paper. On day two, a mixed breed dog fatally injured a child. The local paper ran two stories. On day three, another mixed breed dog attacked a child, sending him to the hospital. One article ran in the local paper. On day four, two pit bulls broke off their chains and attacked a woman trying to protect her small dog. She was hospitalized and her dog was uninjured. Nevertheless, this attack was reported in more than 230 articles in national and international newspapers, on the major cable news networks, and was reported in far more detail than the incidents of the first three days. 

It is not a stretch to see how such news coverage influences calls for breed bans from the frightened public and its legislators. 

4. The statistics often cited to justify a breed ban and as “proof” that pit bulls (and other breeds) are truly heartless killers are dubious at best.[xvii] 

One particular example I will note is the frequently referenced study by Merritt Clifton,[xviii] which pin points pit bulls as the most frequent offenders of dog bites and serious attacks. This study has several key problems. First, Clifton leaves attacks involving dogs whose breed was uncertain out of his study completely. Second, he starts with biased breed definition; why does he classify a dog as a “Pit bull/Lab mix” or a “Pit bull/Sheltie mix”, rather than Lab/Pit bull or a Sheltie/Pit bull? It appears that whenever one of the stereotypically “dangerous” breeds is in the mix (e.g. pit bull, Rottweiler, Akita), that breed is listed first and the bite or attack is accredited to the first breed and not the latter. This can definitely swing the results, and for Clifton to then tell us that pit bulls and their mixes are responsible for 74% of serious dog bites and attacks has to be taken with a grain of salt. Not to mention Clifton got his data pool solely from press reports and not hospital records or animal services, which, as noted above, is highly problematic, allowing media bias to influence his results. 

Statistics on dog-related fatalities are more readily available than just simple dog bite incidents, and in Canada between 1990 and 2007 there were 28 human fatalities attributed to dog attacks.[xix] While some dogs responsible are listed as an unknown breed or generally as a mix, not one death is specifically attributed to a pit bull. 

In addition, as the National Canine Research Centre reports, the majority of dog-bite statistics are misleading since they include a number of animal exposures such as nips from excited puppies, scratches from a dog’s nail or tooth, individuals who are bit helping an injured dog, or bites by police K9 professional dogs while on duty.[xx]  All incidents are tallied up under one heading, and the specific circumstances of each bite are not accounted for. 

5. Have we learned nothing from Michael Vick? Pit bulls have their unfortunate involvement in illegal dog fighting partly to thank for the reputation of the breed as a whole. This, of course, is not at the behest of the dogs themselves, but due to the irresponsible, cruel, and morally reprehensible folks who buy, breed, or “train” these dogs to be aggressive specifically for the purpose of fighting. Until more is done to prevent these activities and punish the participants, we simply need to remember that the population of pit bulls and other dogs used for this awful purpose is not an appropriate representation of all pit bulls. To think otherwise would actually be judging a book by its cover, as they say.[xxi] Cesar Millan[xxii] himself is a big advocate of avoiding breed stereotypes; dogs are dogs. 

6. Although breed bans are well-intentioned, they inherently assume breed is the most significant factor in dog bites and related incidents, when several other criteria should be taken into consideration when looking at the issue. 

For instance, it should be noted that most (77%) of dog bites and attacks involve the dog’s owner or a friend, and over half of the bites occur on the dog owner’s property. Children are the most frequent victims of dog attacks, and of the 28 Canadian fatalities mentioned above, 24 of them (or 85.7%) were children under the age of 12.[xxiii] 

The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published a study from Oregon which analyzed the number of overall dog bites was and found lower income neighbourhoods produced more biting dogs of all breeds, and fewer dogs that were neutered, which is considered to be another biting risk factor.[xxiv] 

Further, in Canada, instances of dog attacks are disproportionately higher when involving multiple dogs and dogs in rural areas.[xxv] (This is not the case in the US.) 

7. Once a ban is in place, problems with enforcement become an issue. Who determines whether a dog is one of the banned or regulated breeds, and what is the procedure for that determination? In North Salt Lake, Utah, the city manager has sole authority to make those decisions. In other places it is animal control officers or even the mayor; no special training in breed identification is required. Some places have implemented breed bans without any input from a veterinarian, which would presumably be expert to consult regarding identification of a dog’s breed). Ideally, I suppose, the advance of DNA analysis for dogs is becoming more available to remedy the current methods of “canine profiling” and arbitrary enforcement. But because, in the US at least, the government has the burden of proving that a suspect dog is one of the breeds banned,[xxvi] cities will have to seriously weigh whether or not they will pay the high cost of DNA tests or simply give up trying to enforce the ban.[xxvii] 

8. Of course, the common – and largely unsuccessful – objection to these and related breed bans has been that the legislation itself is unconstitutionally broad or vague, and the terms used (such as “pit bull” or “wolf-hybrid”) are poorly defined if at all. 

It was on these grounds in Cochrane v. Ontario (Attorney General)[xxviii] that one Ms. Cochrane sued to attempt to prevent enforcement of the Ontario ban. She also argued that allowing the Crown to introduce a veterinarian’s certificate certifying that the dog is a pit bull as evidence violates the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. In the end, the Court of Appeal[xxix] found that her “over-breadth” claim failed since the legislature had acted on a “reasonable apprehension of harm”, and disagreed that the definition of “pit bull” in the Act was insufficiently precise. The court restored the original wording of “pit bull terrier” in the ban on the basis that, when read in the context of “a more comprehensive definition”, the phrasing “pit bull terrier” was sufficiently precise. The Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear further appeal and the thus ban is currently upheld in its original form.9. And finally, why are we banning dogs when it’s the owners we need to be addressing? Dogs do not bite without warning and rarely behave in an unpredictable manner. Dogs actually send very clear signals. As responsible owners (and ideally our dog’s Alpha figure), it is our duty to take steps to educate ourselves and learn to understand those signals. Dogs rarely bite without warning you first, and just because a human does not recognize that warning does not mean a ban on their existence is the only or best solution. A large number of dog bites and attacks could have easily been prevented with proper education. 

Further, dogs that have been labelled as “aggressive” or “dangerously insecure” often have mistreatment by owners to blame for their dispositions. In fact, National Canine Research Council reports that 84% of US dog attacks that took place in 2006 involved owners who abused or neglected their dogs, or failed to properly contain them.[xxx] Instead of legislating dogs by breed, we should be focusing on dog owners by competence. 

So What Now? 

Simple: better legislation. Or more specifically, better, owner-focused legislation that has nothing to do with dog breeds. 

Firstly, we can look at better enforcement of the dog ownership legislation currently in place. For example, the City of Calgary readily admits its animal by-laws are enforced on a complaint-only basis, when better enforcement of leash/dogs-at-large laws with adequate penalties for violators could help to curb the instances of dogs roaming loose or out of control. Calgary’s current animal by-laws limit leash length (2 metres/6 feet) and prohibit unsupervised tethering of dogs, which would be a step in the right direction if these laws were adequately upheld. 

There should be improvements to the laws that hold dog owners financially accountable for failure to adhere to animal control laws in place, and also hold them civilly and criminally liable for unjustified injuries or damage caused by their dogs. 

Instead of a breed ban, enact non-discriminatory dangerous dog legislation in its place.  Take, for example, the Michigan dog bite statute which specifies that “[i]f a dog bites a person, without provocation while the person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner of the dog, the owner of the dog shall be liable for any damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness”.[xxxi]  A law like this or similar targets the behaviour and the owner, rather than the breed of the offending dog. 

Dog owners that have been found guilty of violating animal laws should be adequately punished and monitored in the future. This is an area that will need improvement, as Ontario’s Dog Owners’ Liability Act does not prevent a person from owning another dog after an incident. 

There should be harsher punishments for individuals found guilty of abusing or neglecting their pets, and they should be prohibited from owning future pets and be monitored. Currently in Canada, animal cruelty – other than upon cattle – is a “summary conviction” offence, and not a more serious “indictable” offence, meaning the accused is only “liable to a fine of not more than two thousand dollars or to imprisonment for six months or to both”.[xxxii] Oddly enough, the penalty for uttering a threat to kill, poison or injure an animal that is the property of any person, is greater than actually being cruel to the animal, as it can be proceeded with as a indictable offence with attendant liability to imprisonment for a term of up to 24 months. 

We also need to address the existence of puppy mills, where dogs are being interbred and poorly cared for (both physically and socially). Cross-breeding within generations can create unhealthy and unstable dogs that are potentially very dangerous and prone to life-long behaviour issues regardless the amount of training and socialisation. Dogs removed from their parents too young (so they are still “cute” for the pet store window display) frequently arrive poorly socialised and may require extra training, care, and attention. 

In the US, where the population of abused, neglected, and rescue dogs is a serious problem, laws that mandate the sterilization of shelter animals and make low-cost sterilization services widely available are appropriate. 

And of course, proper training and socialisation for all dogs should be encouraged and promoted. While these services do not come cheap, perhaps discounted obedience for low income families could be offered by municipalities.[xxxiii] Or perhaps government tax breaks to a certain extent for pet owners is an option. Owner and community education when it comes to dog ownership and interaction is the best and most immediate solution to the problem. 

Once a ban is in place, by no means is it permanent. Legislation can be amended and reversed.  In April 2007, Italy revoked its dangerous breeds list and replaced it with laws holding owners more responsible for their pets’ actions.[xxxiv] In 2008 the Netherlands also revoked their fifteen-year ban on pit bulls, acknowledging that the ban was unsuccessful.[xxxv] Cincinnati also lifted their ban on pit bulls after finding the ban expensive to enforce ($160,000/year) and after a number of losses in court, including one instance where an owner sued after the seizure of American Bulldogs that were mistakenly identified as “pit bull mixes”.[xxxvi] 

In the Meantime… 

Until dog-related legislation makes rational sense and is properly enforced, there are some common sense steps the rest of us can take to avoid been a dog bite statistic and fuel for breed ban advocates. 

For Dog Owners: 

1. Train your dog! It’s very simple and is the best preventative measure. And this applies to owners of dogs of all breeds. Just because your Chihuahua is not big enough to bite deeper than the leg of someone’s pants, and can be picked up when he’s being a jerk, doesn’t mean he isn’t a dominant little bastard in need of some serious obedience training. According to animal behaviourist, Stanley Coren, Ph.D., when dogs are given a basic course in obedience training they are 89% less likely to be involved in a dog bite incident.[xxxvii] 

2. In relation to the above, avoid treat-training if you can. Now, I realise that suggestion opens up a whole different can of worms, but think of it this way: dogs who are constantly seeking food will be more likely to nip should someone’s small child still have the remains of his lunch on his face or hands. And then if his mother happens to report your otherwise friendly dog to animal services…. Well, the main point here is make sure you do not create a dog that is food-obsessed.[xxxviii] 

3. Be in control of all interactions between other people and your dog, or other dogs and your dog. Just because someone says “he’s so cute” or “I love dogs” does not mean they are automatically qualified to pet your dog. If your dog is too excited, or if the person makes you uncertain of how the greeting will go, it is okay – and recommended – that you simply not allow them to meet your dog and move on. If/when someone asks to pet your dog, it is okay to say no; they are not public property. 

4. Don’t leave your dog alone with children unattended. Ever. 

5. Don’t leave your dog tethered and unattended, whether it be outside of 7/11, in your yard, or in the box of your truck. You never know who will attempt to approach her or if she could possibly escape. 

6. Throw out your flexi-leash. You cannot control your dog (or keep them safe) when they’re 20 feet away. And it’s probably against the law anyway. 

7. Take steps to properly socialise your dog with other dogs and other people. A good training regiment will include this.[xxxix] 

8. If your dog does bite a person or another dog – no matter how serious – seek professional help to ensure it does not happen again.[xl] 

9. If you’re going to rescue a dog (through a shelter, rescue organization, or privately through adoption), do your research. Make sure you know what you’re getting into and you’re ready and willing to meet the challenges of the commitment you are about to make. Be prepared – financially and emotionally – to deal with any behaviour or health problems you may discover. 

10. If you’re going to get any dog, do your research; make sure you’re not supporting a puppy mill. 

11. Ensure your dog is properly exercised. Always. Interactions involving over-excited dogs with pent-up energy can often go south – quickly. 

12. Educate yourself about the laws and by-laws that affect you and your pet. If you see something you don’t like, canvass your representative for change. 

13. Be a courteous and responsible dog owner in general. Believe it or not, not everyone likes dogs, and sometimes they’re simply not appropriate to bring along with you. Make sure you always pick up after your dog. Also be sure to register your dog with the proper authorities. Those fees usually go to the maintenance of the municipal shelter and the dogs there, and the up-keep of your local off-leash parks – not to mention registration will ensure he’s returned should he get loose and reported to the local animal services. 

For Everyone Else: 

1. Never ever pet a dog without asking the owner first. Ever. Remember: all dogs have the capacity to bite. 

2. Never approach an unattended dog (even if they’re tethered). 

3. Never leave your children unattended with a dog and always closely monitor child-dog interactions. Note that children are the most frequent victims of dog attacks. Ensure your child remains calm and are not running around or screaming. Excited small children can trigger herding, protecting, correcting, and prey instincts in all breeds of dogs – all of which can lead to nipping, biting, or even attacks. 

4. When greeting a new dog, be calm. Teach your kids this. 

 5. Skip the baby talk: you’re just embarrassing yourself, the dog does not understand you, and it can cause excitement in the dog which can lead to jumping up and mouthing or nipping. 

6. If you’re scared of dogs and one is approaching, remain calm. Don’t scream, run, or stare at them in horror; simply move confidently away from them. If you’re scared of dogs, avoid off-leash parks. 

7. Don’t be afraid to report unruly or dangerous dogs, or dogs you suspect of being abused or neglected to the authorities. The animal by-laws are in place to protect you as well as the animals. 

This article has been reproduced with permission at CanadasGuidetoDogs.com and CleverCanines.ca.


Resources/Citations

[i]  The Toronto Sun, April 28, 2010: http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/04/28/13747081.html
[ii]  Toronto Humane Society: http://www.torontohumanesociety.com/
[iii]  http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2009/jul_aug/pitbull.html
[iv]  The Toronto Sun, April 28, 2010: http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2010/04/28/13747081.html
[v]  I completely agree. No dog ever needs a leash longer than 1.8 metres (approximately 6 feet), regardless of breed.
[vi]  The City of Winnipeg, The Pound By-Law No. 2443/79
[vii]  Read the ban here: http://cityoffairfieldiowa.com/utility/showArticle/?ObjectID=78&find=dog
[viii]  Northern Ireland has the same restrictions under the Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order, 1991
[ix]  Campbell, Dana (July/August 2009). “Pit Bull Bans: The State of Breed–Specific Legislation”. GP-Solo (American Bar Association) 26 (5). http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2009/jul_aug/pitbull.html.
[x]  Consider when reading this that there are approximately 74.8 million dogs in the United States.
[xi]  http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/50238067.html[xii]     Ibid.
[xiii]  At the risk of humanising.
[xiv]  Walsh, Barry (2005-05-18). “Dog mauling victim dies”. Chronicle-Tribune (Marion, IN).
[xv]  “Kentucky Infant Killed by Family Dog” http://www.wbko.com/news/headlines/13946527.html
[xvi]  (2008) Full report available on this website: http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/dog-bites/dog-bites-and-the-media/audience-interest
[xvii]  Always read the fine print.
[xviii]  Link to full text of study here: http://lassiegethelp.blogspot.com/2007/08/dangerous-breeds-dog-bite-statistics.html
[xix]  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2387261/
[xx]  http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/dog-bites/
[xxi]  You’re not supposed to do that.
[xxii]  Yes, the one and only Dog Whisperer. Highly recommended. Start with his book Cesar’s Way
[xxiii]   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2387261/#b12-cvj49pg577
[xxiv]   http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/50238067.html 
[xxv]  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2387261/#b12-cvj49pg577 
[xxvi]  Under Ontario’s ban, it is actually the owner’s burden to prove their dog is not a pit bull. 
[xxvii]  http://www.abanet.org/genpractice/magazine/2009/jul_aug/pitbull.html 
[xxviii]  2007 CanLII 9231 (ON S.C.) 
[xxix]  Cochrane v. Ontario (2008 ONCA 718) 
[xxx]  http://www.aldf.org/article.php?id=1029 
[xxxi]   M.C.L. § 287.351; http://www.animallaw.info/articles/aruslweiss2001.htm#n47 
[xxxii]  Criminal Code, s.787. 
[xxxiii]  One could always argue that low-income people who cannot afford pets should not have them in the first place, but we all know this is nearly impossible to enforce and people are going to do what they’re going to do. It is no coincidence that dog bites in low-income neighbourhoods is disproportionately high, and something should be actively done to remedy the issue. 
[xxxiv]  http://network.bestfriends.org/10615/news.aspx 
[xxxv]  http://www.torontohumanesociety.com/newsandevents/stories/2008/08-08g.asp 
[xxxvi]  http://www.thedogpress.com/SideEffects/side_effects_leg_01.asp 
[xxxvii]  Quote from Dr. Coren, article from Canada.com, September 11, 2009. 
[xxxviii]  Or toy obsessed, for that matter. 
[xxxix]  See: www.clevercanines.ca  – all-encompassing dog training for dogs of any breed, age, or temperament. 
[xl]  Ibid.