Dear Dog Trainers

It has been over six months since I have been paid to help other people train their dogs.  (Luckily for Moses and Alma, they’re not off the hook, and training continues at home regularly.)

Some photo ops aren't possible without a solid training foundation.

Some photo ops aren’t possible without a solid training foundation.

Working for a dog training company part-time on some evenings and weekends was part of my life for a few years, but like all good things, it had to come to an end.

To be honest, I thought I’d miss training a lot more than I do (I’m good at keeping myself busy). Actually, there are a few things in particular I don’t miss at all.

1.  The first thing I don’t miss is the self-inflicted pressure to have perfect dogs and be a perfect handler. Whether or not it was fair or completely rational, I felt as a trainer my dogs should be beaming examples of perfection. I mean, you wouldn’t necessarily want to take fashion advice from someone in mom-jeans and Crocs, would you? So why would you take training advice from someone who has been unsuccessful themselves? Of course, despite no longer being a trainer, I still have high behaviour expectations for Alma and Moses, but I do admit it’s relieving to no longer be representing an industry or business. If we happen to have an “off” day, I feel much less crappy about it. Similarly, I also care a bit less when I see someone else’s dog behaving like a maniac.

Moses and peers in the 'classroom' - sit-stay practice.

Moses and peers in the ‘classroom’ – sit-stay practice.

2.  I don’t at all miss the requests for free advice from acquaintances and coworkers. Talking about dogs is often an easy icebreaker when you don’t know someone very well, but if it comes out that you happen to train dogs when you’re not at the “real” job, the questions start coming. Initially my know-it-all nature loved this. However, I quickly noticed a frustrating and annoying pattern: no one actually applies the advice. I mean, sure, some people would sign up for a class after a good conversation, but they would be the minority. More often, I’d just get sporadic updates about an unruly dog battling the same challenges without reprieve – efforts to help completely futile. Even the most basic help, like “start by walking your dog daily” would fall on deaf ears. And it’s not like I’m going to give up a whole curriculum to near-strangers, anyway. I’m not about to hand out free access to information others pay good money for. I suppose if those cheap (or lazy) bastards really wanted to fix things, they would just enrol in a program. People definitely listen more closely if they’ve paid for your opinion.

Alma in class - also sit-stay practice

Alma in class – also sit-stay practice

3.  Lastly – and this is the big one – I do not, at all, not even one little bit, miss the politics in dog training.

Politics in the dog training community is ri-goddamn-diculous. It’s like a civil war in the overall dog community; it severs friendships, families, and business relationships.

It doesn’t matter who you’re talking about. The vitriol spewed by either camp at any given time is insane and enough to discourage the involvement of anyone with even a miniscule sense of reason or rationality. You can find more tact in the comments section of YouTube.

anchorman

It is difficult to speak of a middle ground between the two basic sides of positive reinforcement training (R+) and more coercive training (P+) (to over-simplify the distinction).

As is the case in most divisive issues, anyone attempting to create a middle ground and apply best practices from all corners of the quadrant might not successfully build any bridges at all, but instead can find themselves alone, with everyone remaining in uncompromising disagreement. Congratulations! Instead of having just one nemesis, now you have many!

operant conditioning

Which brings me to what I would like to say to ALL dog trainers:

Whether you practice positive reinforcement or coercive training, or a varying mix of the two, everyone needs to disregard egos and emotions and enlist only positive reinforcement (R+) techniques when it comes to dealing with fellow human beings.

A handy decision tree if this seems difficult.

A handy decision tree if this seems difficult.

This means your clients and potential clients. This means other pet-related businesses, from retail stores to rescue organizations. This mean other trainers.

We live in Canada – has no one learned anything from our elections process? Negative campaigns, gossip, and slander, while memorable, don’t actually prompt people to action. Negative campaigns haven’t shown to produce results in the undecided, and can risk alienating people. Positive messaging, however, has been proven to work for everyone.

There are many clichés that apply: negative messaging says more about you than it does about your target; take the high road; you catch more flies with honey; treat others the way you wish to be treated; losing ground follows from throwing mud. You’ve heard them all before. The fact is, rage-inducing or fear-mongering messages do not change minds, and often create avoidance in your intended audience. I don’t know about you, but when that crazy guy on the street corner is ranting about the End of Days, I don’t walk up to him and ask him to tell me more; I shuffle by quickly and avoid making eye contact.

"She said it was better to be kind than to be clever or good looking, I'm not clever or good looking. But I'm kind." - Derek

“She said it was better to be kind than to be clever or good looking, I’m not clever or good looking. But I’m kind.” – Derek

I truly wish more in the dog community would simply lead by example rather than create segregation and alienation.

Speak with your actions – use dogs you’ve worked with to speak to the validity of your training abilities and methods.

Rather than a correction-based trainer calling all R+ trainers “ineffective bribers”, why not just show – with real life examples and evidence – how their methods have successfully helped dogs?  Or rather than purely positive reinforcement trainers calling for the literal imprisonment of other trainers on account of animal abuse, why not just showcase how effective and safe their methods are?

[Aside: I am aware assigning labels in dog training treads in dangerous waters, and it’s essentially impossible to be extreme or absolute in any method. The terms are used here for effective communication. If you’d like a good perspective on the various dog training camps, I recommend reading The Dog Trainer Spectrum, by TheCrossOverTrainer.com.]

It boggles my mind that people think they can speak the way they do about, or to, other human beings when it comes to dog training. It’s often reactionary, emotional, and hostile. I understand that everyone gets that way from time to time; people can speak or act on an impulse when faced with something they strongly disagree with. I get that. I sometimes do that, too.

You just need to give people the benefit of the doubt (I know, how uncharacteristically optimistic and understanding of me). Even I know that sometimes people just don’t know any better or any differently.

For instance, if I see someone with their dog wandering off the sidewalk on a flexi-leash, instead of just thinking ‘my god, what a moron, control your dog!‘, I also try to acknowledge, ‘hey, any dog walk is better than no walk at all.’ Likewise, the training community could replace ‘omg look at that idiot using technique x, collar y, or company z for dog training,’ with ‘well, at least they have the foresight to seek professional help and want to make their dog’s life better.’

½ air, ½ water - technically, the glass is always full

½ air, ½ water – technically, the glass is always full

Sure, complete and total convictions in your methods and practices is admirable, if not a little impossible to execute in every facet of your life (see my post on hypocrisy here). Rigid fundamentalism at its core is, after all, unflinching, close-minded, and ultimately dangerous. A lack of empathy is a near requirement, regardless of what it’s about. Of course it is important that you and your business stand up for your principles and avoid unnecessary compromises, but it’s also crucial to acknowledge that no debate is about absolutes, and often there are indirect and subtle ways to effectively promote your perspective.

It is extremely frustrating that this Training War seeps into the rest of the pet world – affecting retail businesses, groomers, kennels, dog walkers, and rescue organizations. And the effect is damaging.

I never really understood how unwavering these convictions were until a few years ago when we were getting ASLC off the ground and this very thing caused me no end of frustration and befuddlement. We called Company X to ask if they would support the cause and host the petition, and much to my surprise, Company X immediately came back with a firm “No”. No, they would not support ASLC. Not because of the merits of ASLC or its founders – they absolutely did support the ban on a retail sale of dogs and cats and were glad to see us take on the cause. They did not want to get on board because they’d heard a rumour that Company Y was also going to be a supporter. And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, companies X and Y train dogs differently.

This struck me as ludicrous.

"A dog is the most enthusiastic thing on the planet, if you go - do you wanna do this? It goes - definitely, that's my best thing." - Derek

“A dog is the most enthusiastic thing on the planet, if you go – do you wanna do this? It goes – definitely, that’s my best thing.” – Derek

Yes, the companies practiced business differently. But they also both strongly believed that breeding dogs and cats for sale in a pet store was categorically wrong. It did not matter, though, that the ASLC initiative is specifically focussed to one issue and purposely silent on other such matters. Simply because a perceived enemy or competitor also supported the good cause, they could not.

Are the issues connected? Sure, getting a pet and training it are pieces to the same puzzle; however, they are not so directly related that the positions of these training-only companies made any logical sense to me. They both ultimately want to improve the lives of pets, do they not?

Sometimes I wonder if the refusal to work with those who conduct themselves differently is a convenient excuse to avoid things that might be challenging, but then I remember to give the benefit of the doubt and think maybe just sometimes people let their piety get the best of them.

This divisive nature does a lot more harm than good. Emotional decisions are becoming a roadblock to taking action in the best interests of dogs – and of the pet community as a whole. Advocacy messages and rescue efforts are actually being harmed when the community can’t come together as a unified voice to support even simple causes they all actually agree on. Great opportunities for collaboration, promotion, and change are being refused.

How does that look to the public and to politicians when consensus cannot be reached due to unrelated issues?

Perhaps the segregation is the worst/dumbest part. Individuals and organizations decline to interact together on one thing because they disagree another. Well, you’ll never influence or educate anyone if you alienate or shame them.

If you’re trying to convince someone to abandon one training technique, or to see another within some context, you’ll never get anywhere with ridicule or avoidance. The best way to teach others – and to learn from them – is to spend time with people who see things differently than you. Otherwise, you also risk putting yourself in a bubble, and limiting your own knowledge and experience.

Bill-Nye

Bill Nye is a wise dude.

Insults don’t change minds. Leading by example does. Your training results will speak for themselves. Being a kind person who is pleasant to be around also helps a great deal. If you have common ground to converse over – rescue efforts, spay/neuter campaigns – the door opens for a bigger conversation. What happens when communication stalemates? Nothing. Exactly. So where’s the progress?

I know treating each person with respect can be a struggle from time to time – no one is more frustrated with stupidity and ignorance than yours truly – but it really comes down to representing the community in a dignified way.

Besides, I can guarantee average dog owners don’t know about the Training War that wages. Or if they do, they are more confused than ever, as companies now campaign to create suspicion around terms like “balanced”. Most clients aren’t, or don’t know to be, concerned with what philosophies a training company subscribes to as long as they can be helped with teaching their pups to walk nicely, to stop barking and chewing their stuff, and to not use the house as a bathroom – all while using a manner they’re comfortable with (whatever that may be). If they’re happy and get results, you have a client for life.

Not being an asshole definitely helps.

Not being an asshole definitely helps.

In Calgary alone there are dozens of companies offering a variety of training techniques – all competing for the same clients. Yes, competition among businesses makes sense and is ultimately good for the consumer. And as a working professional, you’re probably in it to make money just as much as you are to help dogs and dog owners (maybe more? or less? I don’t know. If I was in it for the money, I was doing it wrong). So, yes, please, go advertise that you’re the top local expert. Demonstrate why you’re better, more effective, and the best value for the price. But you can do all of this while rising above the slander and mudslinging with grace. You can make a strong business case without resorting to insults and without ostracizing others.

And if you’re going to engage in other parts of the pet community – rescue efforts, lobby campaigns – put the politics aside and do it for the animals directly. If your company demonstrates that it gives back without strings attached, you might even attract new clients and make some unexpected connections.

Remember when WWF Canada received flack for partnering with Coca Cola on environmental campaigns?

Coke & WWF

One example of apparent enemies collaborating for the greater good.

But who am I to say? I left the dog training world altogether – and not for any of the reasons described above. Any future role I might have from now on will be as a client, not an employee.

whatido

Monday Mischief 17: Calgary Blue Itself

Public art has once again started controversy in Calgary.

I’d written before about the Peace Bridge, which I like a lot and is growing into a city icon. And now there’s something new stirring up similar opinions about cost and aesthetics.

It’s called Travelling Light, but is better known as the “big blue ring”. So I decided Moses and I should check out what was behind all the ruckus.

Moses and the blue ring

Moses and the blue ring

Now, I’m not entirely certain it’s the best we could’ve got for the price tag, but if you watch this video produced by the city and the creators of the ring, you can really understand how it came to be.

Travelling Light

Travelling Light

But whether or not I like it, I also have trouble getting worked up about it too, and I know there are lots of Calgarians out there with nothing nice to say about the blue ring.

IMG_5950

But regardless of whether I like every installation, I will always support the public art budget and support iconic pieces being placed around the city.

IMG_5937

IMG_5938

Moses - maybe the first dog to sit on the new art

Moses – maybe the first dog to sit on the new art (was a tight fit)

And then, since we’d already driven across the city solely so I could make an Arrested Development pun in my title (c’mon, you’d known all along)…

… I decided it was a good opportunity to check out a park we’ve never been to, and did the day’s walk at Confluence Park.

IMG_5959

IMG_5968

Turned out to be a great place for a walk – very quiet and not very busy – but the constant planes taking off regularly ruined the serenity, since it’s rather close to the airport.

The park has a creek running through it, though, so it automatically gets Moses' seal of approval.

The park has a creek running through it, though, so it automatically gets Moses’ seal of approval.

This post is part of the Mischief Monday blog hop – to see what everyone else has been up to, click herehere, or here.

Monday Mischief

Monday Mischief 16: Two Tails in Two Cities

Okay, so I might be stretching for the Dickens reference.

Like a lot of Calgarians, the Husband has a job that takes him north for various periods of time. This time, to keep him company, he decided to take Alma with him. Because that’s the great thing about having two dogs – we can share!

Alma on a road trip. Get it? Road trip!

Alma on a road trip. Get it? Road trip!

They’ve been away for almost a week, leaving Moses and I here at home with the cats.

Alma & Husband

Alma & Husband

So while Alma is off galavanting northern Alberta, Moses is hanging out with me – where the weather has been warmer and drier.

Neighbourhood walk with Moses

Neighbourhood walk with Moses

The arrangement isn’t so bad, really. Separating Moses and Alma allows us to give the dogs some one-on-one time, which probably isn’t as frequent as it should be under normal circumstances.

Moses

Moses

I don’t know that there’s any particular mischief – beyond the Husband and I competing in fall photographs – to report, but the Newfs how have the province covered, should there be any.

Monday Mischief

This post is part of the Mischief Monday blog hop – to see what everyone else has been up to, click herehere, or here.

I’m a Big Fat Hypocrite

Breaking News, Calgary, AB: I am not the Pope.

I’m not even Catholic!

And as such, I – like every other blogger on the end of a keyboard – am just a person.  A normal, falliable human being who doesn’t always practice what she preaches. (When you were growing up, did you ever have that person who said “Do as I say, not as I do?”)  I don’t take everything too seriously, and sometimes I take things way too seriously.

Sometimes there are things written here on the Soapbox that I rant about as if they should be scripture or written into law – especially when it comes to dog-related issues. And the thing about writing hastily, angrily, absolutely, or passionately about something is that you can get caught in moments of your own hypocrisy.

Jen K: Guilty as charged.

All of us face cognitive dissonance – unless you don’t think you do, in which case, you should probably stop reading now because you’re running late for Unicorn Festivus with Ironman and Princess Peach (I hear Zack Attack is opening for Jesse & The Rippers, so it should be a good time!). Sometimes we remedy this dissonance, and other times we choose to ignore it, which then makes us self-contradictory hypocrites from time to time.

If I’m being honest, there are lots of things I’m a hypocrite about.

I will roll my eyes at someone’s poor taste in television and then go home and watch Survivor. I will have a salad for lunch in the guise of healthy eating and then have popcorn for dinner. As a pedestrian, I hate impatient drivers, but as a driver I’m annoyed by ambivalent pedestrians. I think it’s important to be politically correct, but I love stand-up comedy, which is typically anything but. I will counsel my friends on “cost per wear” when shopping even though my closet contains many items that violate that rule. I will pet Moses when he puts his head on my lap because I think it’s cute, even though I know it’s reinforcing a behaviour many would consider demanding, and would even advise others against similar things.

In fact, there are lots of times I haven’t exactly ‘walked the walk’ in my everyday life based on things I’ve written right here on the Soapbox.

Pull up a chair, because it’s Bad Pet Owner Confession Time. (I know, I know, I said I wasn’t Catholic.)

Emma

Emma

I got Emma from Kijiji. From a backyard breeder.

Yep, you read that right. Many years ago, before I knew any better, I decided we should get a kitten. I impulsively looked on Kijiji, found an ad with adorable pictures, and went right out to pick her up. I didn’t even wait for the Husband to co-sign the decision. It was the exact series of mistakes I’ve written about several times here and caution others against. Aside from being certain in retrospect that Emma was taken away before she was fully weaned, and reinforcing the backyard breeding of the people I brought her from, I’m still happy we have Emma. She’s cute, she gets along with Isaac and the dogs, and we’re happy to have her. Should I have gone to a rescue and adopted one of the multitude of cats looking for homes? Absolutely. And that’s exactly what I’ll do next time.

I’m a dedicated raw feeder… unless you’re talking about snack time.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that we feed all of our pets raw food and that I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I’ve also mentioned several times that Moses’ favourite snack is bread. That dog loves his carbs. Not once has anyone paused for a well-deserved WTF. A focus on species-appropriate and grain-free, and the occassional treat is grain-abundant bread?!  Yep. It’s contradictory and I don’t even pretend to care.

Moses

Moses

I condemn breed-specific bias, while harbouring my own.

I’ve written lengthy diatribes on the injustice of breed-specific legislation and how dogs shouldn’t be assessed based on their breeds, but instead based on their individual behaviours, since judging a dog based on its appearance ignores the real, major factors in a dog’s behaviours.

Meanwhile, I harbour my own appearance-based judgments when it comes to dogs. I’ve written about it before (here) and I’m talking about my own sized-based discrimination. When I’m walking Moses and Alma in my neighbourhood and I see a little dog approaching, I wait expectantly for the little dog to start barking, growling, and pulling on the end of its leash. Sometimes my expectations are met, and sometimes they’re not, but they’re almost always there. I try to mitigate this with the rational acknowledgement that there are lots of well-behaved small dogs out there, but, in the moment, the bias surfaces. I am aware it’s unfair and merely anecdotal, but it still makes me a big hypocrite.

I am an unapologetic stickler for spelling and grammar and yet also a human being.

It causes me physical pain when I (or readers) discover a mistake on the Soapbox after I’ve hit publish. They’re bound to happen, since once you read something a few times, your brain just fills in the gaps for you. I’m famous for missing words outright or leaving incorrect conjugations when I reword a sentence. Once found, I’ll fix them and then wallow in shame for half a day, yet I remain quick to notice and judge others for their mistakes. This makes me both a hypocrite and a jerk.

Alma and Moses at the library

Alma and Moses at the library in downtown Calgary

I break the rules – sometimes even knowingly.

This whole thing was inspired because a someone in the comments – quite rightfully – called me out on my own hypocrisy in yesterday’s Monday Mischief post.

I’ve written before about on-leash by-laws, and I will continue to write that people should obey leash laws, but I regularly post picture of my dogs off-leash in on-leash areas.

Provincial Legislature - Victoria, BC

Provincial Legislature – Victoria, BC

I was called out for doing this at a provincial park, but in reality, all of Calgary, and most of the paved, urbanized world, is on-leash unless specifically otherwise designated. So my bad behaviour actually kind of happens a lot in this respect; I probably should’ve been called out a long time ago.

Go back and look at many of the photos I post here. If you look closely, you may notice leashes tucked behind Moses and Alma in many photos, but you will also definitely notice that I’m not holding them, and that I’m usually way more than 6 feet away from them to get the shot.

And in addition to the photo ops, we break the rules when we’re training – especially when we’re practicing skills like sit-stays, down-stays, heeling while dragging the leash, and long-distance recall. I have gone to off-leash parks to practice this, though very rarely because I usually end up spending most of my time there explaining to other owners that we’re training and I’m not actually some mean ogre who “won’t let” her dogs play.

Instead I’ll practice these skills right in my neighbourhood, in green spaces, or just down the street. Because you can’t have a well-trained dog who can respond in any situation at any distance without practicing that very thing.

But you know what – it’s a matter of accepted risk. And that was what my main point in last year’s off-leash/on-leash rant. I am aware that having the dogs sit in the middle of downtown Calgary – and then backing away – has risks. It is significantly riskier than if they were next to me on a 6 foot leash. And I am absolutely ready to take ownership of any consequences.

Would I practice these skills or give my dogs off-leash privileges if they ran amok, harrassed others, chased wildlife, and didn’t stay close or check in with us? Nope. I also carefully pick and choose the time and place for said rule-breaking, and leash back up when circumstances change.

Sure, this means I break the rules while still writing about how others ought to follow them. That’s not likely to change since I have no interest in assuming liability for the poor judgment of others (my own is enough, thank you).

Does this make me one of those dog owners who breaks the rules and ruins privileges for everyone? Yeah, I guess so. I will reason that Moses and Alma are well-trained and actually good ambassadors for dog behaviour, but most people who break the rules probably think their dogs are just fine, too (I’d like to see their pictures to prove it). Hello, cognitive dissonance.

Like I said, I’m a big fat hypocrite.

Moses, Crosby and Alma off-leash in the heart of downtown

Moses, Crosby and Alma off-leash in the heart of downtown Calgary

Wordless Wednesday 21: Field, BC

A little more local than as of late; these photos were taken in Field, BC (about 2 hours from Calgary).

IMG_5243

IMG_5252

IMG_5259

I was just going to post one photo, but I couldn’t decide on a favourite. Which one would you have picked?

To see the rest of Wordless Wednesday, click here.

More Facts About BSL & Calgary

An upcoming municipal election and a recent headline have reignited calls this week for pit bull bans in both Calgary and Osoyoos, BC.

In Osoyoos, the local newspaper was kind enough to print a letter to the editor that I wrote them while I was there on vacation and came across an inflamatory, factually incorrect editorial avocating a pit bull ban after an incident there. You can read my reply here, but unfortunately I can’t find the original editorial online.

The most recent Calgary incident is interesting because intervening in a fight between two dogs caused a child to get bit (not seriously – thankfully everyone is okay). The media, both CTV and CBC articles, have made it very clear that the dog that bit the child was a pit bull (“pit bull” is said 5 times in about 150 words in the linked article). The details of what caused the child to be bit – the preceding dog fight – are not discussed, including the breed of the other dog, which dog instigated the fight, or the fact that the owners of both dogs clearly did not have control of their animals. Yes, it was an off-leash space, but control is still required by Calgary by-law.

Update:  660 News has printed this clarification that the child was not bit by the dog at all and injuries were sustained from falling from the carrier. I doubt this clarification will receive the widespread publication the original “pit bull” headlines got – that is, if all news organizations make the correction.

In Calgary, dog bites accounts are rising. That is true. That’s bound to happen as a population increases, but it does seem to have grown disporportionately since 2009.  Still, our city – and our responsible pet ownership model – still boasts the lowest bite-per-population ratio in North America, so we’re doing something right.

This adorable pup is Chewy, currently adoptable through Pit Bulls For Life rescue. See: http://pitbullsforlife.com/adoptables/

This adorable pup is Chewy, currently adoptable through Pit Bulls For Life rescue. See: http://pitbullsforlife.com/category/dogs/for-adoption/

BSL Doesn’t Work And Often Gets Repealed

First, it should be noted that breed-specific legislation (BSL) is widely acknowledged as ineffective. It hasn’t been found to reduce dog bites or attacks and it often doesn’t even address breeds of dogs responsible for the most bites or attacks.

Ontario has a pit bull ban, and while dog bites have decreased in Toronto since 2005 when the ban was introduced, there has actually no decline in dog bites in that province, at the cost of “countless” dogs being destroyed. And it’s important to remember correlation does not equal causation.  After all, dog bites in Calgary also decreased from 2005 to 2008, and there has never been BSL here.

Update: A comment below has drawn my attention to this article showing that Toronto has several different statistics on the issue, others showing no decline in dog attacks, together with stats from other Ontario cities – London and Ottawa – also showing no decline in incidents.

Winnipeg, Manitoba also has a pit bull ban, and a new study “inconclusively” suggests a corrlation.  Dog bites there have also not decreased over time, but the study suggests serious attacks only show a decline when compared to another Manitoba city that does not have BSL.

What could this mean for Calgary? Not much. It should be noted that Winnipeg is a smaller city (660,000 to 1.1 million) with fewer dogs and 44% more dog bites – 289 in 2012 to Calgary’s 201.  The two cities tackle pet issues very differently, including Winnipeg’s BSL and limiting the number of pets in a household.  Yet our statistics remain better.  Calgary’s dog licensing rates are upwards of 90%, while Winnipeg is sitting at 40%. If 35% of Canadian households have a dog, that’s 385,000 dogs in Calgary to Winnipeg’s 231,000 – working out to mean you are still twice as likely to get bit by a dog in Winnipeg than in Calgary.

Despite the cautious suggestion that BSL may have impacted Winnipeg slightly, that remains the exception to the rule; countless other governments have witnessed Ontario-like results (read: none).  The UK has seen dog bite statistics increase by 66% while BSL has been in place.

Not to mention the extreme difficulty and expense in enforcing this sort of legislation, when pit bulls aren’t even a recognized or registered breed (and what about mixed breed dogs?) – it’s hard to ban something that’s not well defined. From a strictly pragmatic stance, the cost of the legislation is not worth the outcome, since the only real outcomes are the mass seizure, impounding, and euthanization of these dogs, and litigation costs of the BSL – all on the tax payer’s dollar.

As fast as governments introduce the legislation, other governments are repealing it. Some examples of places that have repealed their BSL after acknowledging it didn’t work:

  • Edmonton, Alberta in March 2012 (click here for report)
  • The Netherlands in 2008, after 25 years and no results
  • Italy, in 2009, after 6 years and attempting to ban 90 breeds of dog
  • Germany, in 2002
  • Connecticut, USA, June 2013
  • Ohio, USA in 2012
  • Topeka, Kansas, after discovering repealing BSL would save the city money (click here for story)
  • If you want to see a full list of (mostly American) governments that have either declined to enact or repealed breed-specific legislation, this website has compiled an exhaustive list tracking from 2003-2011.

BSL Has No Support From Experts

In addition, there is no professional support for BSL, from lawmakers to dog breeders, rescuers and trainers to veterinarians. The following institutions/authorities have official anti-BSL policies:

Calgary & Canada

US/International

  • The American Bar Association (click here to download PDF statement)
  • The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AMVA) (click here for policy)
  • The American Kennel Club (click here for policies/info)
  • The President of the United States (August 2013)
  • The Humane Society of the United States (click here for policy)
  • The American Humane Association (click here for policy)
  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) (click here for policy)
  • The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) (click here for policy)
Did you think this was a pit bull?  It's not.  It's an American Bulldog.

Do you think this is a pit bull? It’s not. It’s an American Bulldog. (Photo: dogbreedinfo.com)

Other Objections

Pro-BSL Position 1: It may not be the breed, but a “certain type of person” is attracted to owning a dangerous dog like a pit bull, and if you can’t ban dog ownership by these people, you should ban dangerous breeds instead to keep them out of the hands of these people.

This is an interesting point, and I don’t disagree – those terrible owners are setting the bad example and getting all of the terrible press. But BSL also punishes the majority of dog owners who aren’t “these types” (and I certainly think there needs to be a firm mechanism in place prohibiting ownership by people proven to abuse/neglect dogs). I know several pit bull owners who are perfectly responsible, took their dogs to training, and have friendly, well-adjusted dogs. The majority are, since there are literally millions of pit bulls in North America, but not millions of attacks. BSL punishes these dogs and owners for the actions of a minority.

If the aim is to stop pit bulls from getting into the hands of these “types”, where does it stop? You ban pit bulls, and anyone who really wants a “bad-ass dog” for protection will just get another breed. Boxers, Mastiffs, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Huskies, St. Bernards, Dogue de Bordeaux, Bull dogs, Labradors, Retrievers, Ridgebacks, Wolfhounds, wolf-hybrids… all of these are large breeds (and therefore have large bites) and any dog with the wrong owner can be dangerous and aggressive. Is the aim to ban any dog over 100 pounds? 50 pounds? It gets ridiculous and out of control quickly.

If you ban one breed because it is perceived to attack people the most, another breed will just take the #1 spot next year, perpetuating the cycle. Breeds with most bites attributed to them change over time, so while pit bulls may be perceived to be the problem now, that will change and any BSL will soon be obsolete while people grow concerned over another breed that’s gained popularity and notoriety.

Banning the dog is not the best solution – or even a marginally good one. The focus must be on these problematic owners, their individual dogs, and enforcing the legislation already in place in Calgary to protect people and dogs.

Did you think this was a pit bull?  It's not.  It's a Boxer. (Photo from: http://fantasticaanimal.blogspot.ca/2013/03/boxer-dog-description.html)

Did you think this was a pit bull? It’s not. It’s a Boxer.
(Photo: http://fantasticaanimal.blogspot.ca/2013/03/boxer-dog-description.html)

Pro-BSL Position 2: Pit bulls are responsible for a disproportionately high number of bites/attacks compared to other dog breeds.

Even with all of the mighty powers of Google, I was unable to find reputable sources for this claim. Or recent sources. Or local sources that would be relevant to Calgary or Alberta or even Canada.

So we have to look to anecdotal US studies for the most part. And, of course, methodological issues about defining pit bull, how mixed-breed dogs are classified, and reporting accuracy and frequency all seriously arise when it comes to looking at dog bite statistics, but I looked anyway.

There is the 2007 “Clifton Study” (click here to download PDF), which finds pit bulls as disproportionately dangerous is often cited to support BSL, but it should be noted that this was self-published, not peer-reviewed, and the author of the study has no credentials in animal behaviour, biology, or research in general.  The data cited itself is unverifiable, so using this non-scientific “study” to prop up BSL is highly suspect and problematic.

Working, herding, and terrier breeds were responsible for 73% of dog bites in Calgary in 2012, and presumably pit bulls are included in the terrier category, but no further local information is available. In 2010, pit bulls were responsible for 13 of 102 dog bites in Calgary – and for several years prior, Labrador Retrievers held the honour of most frequent dog attacks in our city.

Real analysis of the subject by the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AMVA) does not support BSL, and instead shows that pit bull-type dogs are not implicated in controlled studies of dog attacks. The AMVA assessment is a good read, and it discusses relevant facts such as the dog-victim relationship and certain dog breed popularities over time or in certain locations.

And I’ve linked to this Canadian Veterinary Journal study several times that shows not a single dog-related fatality in Canada in a 17 year period (to 2007) is attributable to a pit bull.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US did a 2000 study of its own on this issue looking at fatal attacks over 20 years and also did not identify any specific breed that was most likely to bite or attack (click here to download PDF of study).

So it’s established by reputable experts and organizations that pit bulls are not more likely to bite or attack than any other breed of dog.

What about the part of the claim that says there are fewer pit bulls, so any bites or attacks signifies a higher proportion/likelihood of attack?  Or that it doesn’t matter if other breeds attack more because pit bull attacks are more serious?

Well, first, the proportions claim is hard to determine and verify.  Pit bulls aren’t a registered breed, so you can’t exactly look at CKC registration stats to determine their popularity.  Again, the identification issues arise; dogs like boxers and bulldogs have long been popular, making top 10 most common lists, and are often also mistaken for pit bulls.

It might be worth noting that in articles claiming pit bulls are Public Enemy No. 1 in the US, Rottweilers are often up there in second place, and are often also targeted BSL, but they have been in held firm as a popular US dog breed, coming in at 9th most popular in 2012, challenging the legitimacy of proportionate claims and BSL.

This 2009 Colorado dog bite study says pit bulls were responsible for 8.4% of bites (Labs were 13%, German Shepherds 7.8%, Rottweilers 3.9%), which, together with the 13% in Calgary in 2010, is certainly not the exorbitant majority of bites often quoted by the pro-BSL lobby.

As for populations, the best I could find was estimates that pit bulls make up somewhere between 5 and 10% of the North American dog population (and growing), possibly up to 30-40% if focusing on urban centres, and upwards of 40% of the population of dogs in shelters.

So, if there are 5-10 million pit bull-type dogs in the US, and 61 million dogs total, that’s 8-16% of the US dog population. Looking at this and the Colorado/Calgary bite figures seems pretty proportionate to me, actually.

Did you think this was a pit bull? It's not.  It's a Dogo Argentino. (Photo: puppydogweb.com)

Did you think this was a pit bull? It’s not. It’s a Dogo Argentino. (Photo: puppydogweb.com)

Better Alternatives

BSL is reactionary and not pragmatic. Any dog in the hands of the wrong owner can become aggressive and a public risk, so the emphasis has to be there with public education and laws that look at the actual statistics surrounding dog attacks.

It’s fairly telling that no experts, authorities or associations advocate for BSL, and there are no reliable facts supporting it, but it still gets passed in many places just due to the fear insighted by the media and politicians looking for a false sense of accomplishment.

Like I’ve said, there are more interesting factors at play in dog attacks that should be the focus of solutions. In Calgary, dog attacks are most frequent in the lower-income/notorious neighbourhoods. In Canada, dog attacks mostly involve children. In the US, statistics show unaltered dogs (97%), abusive owners (84%) and guard dogs (78%) as most responsible for dog bites.  Because even if pit bulls account for 13% of dog bites in this city, that’s still 87% (approximately 175 dog attacks) not at all addressed by BSL. What’s the plan for those victims?

Calgary already addresses dog concerns with mandatory leash laws and dogs-at-large and dangerous dog by-laws. Perhaps pro-BSL efforts are better spent lobbying for better enforcement of these existing laws (after all, who’s to say BSL, if passed, wouldn’t also be as poorly enforced?).

Or perhaps working towards educating anyone who interacts with dogs on how to properly do so and recognize proper dog body language (that dogs bite unprovoked and unexpectedly is a myth 99% of the time, but if someone doesn’t know the signals, they won’t see it coming). You know – something that successfully addresses 100% of dog bites, breeds, and owners, not just potentially 13%, while needlessly punishing the majority of pit bulls and their owners. As always, public and owner education is key when it comes to interacting with dogs, allowing your dog to be off-leash or meet others, and basic training, and socialization.

I honestly don’t think Calgary is at a huge risk of legitimately considering a pit bull ban, but there are always those reactionary voices out there who can speak loudly and to the right people.  And with an election coming up in a few weeks, I’d rather hammer my point – and the facts – home just to be safe. Of course, calls for BSL are based out of fear and anger, and fueled by sensationalist headlines, so maybe my hope that anyone would give this post and these facts real consideration is all in vain. But I’ll put the information out there just in case.

Unsurprisingly, our awesome Mayor knows what's up.

Unsurprisingly, our awesome Mayor knows what’s up.

For those truly consumed with this issue, the Canadian Kennel Club offers a straight-forward Canine Good Neighbour certification/evaluation – maybe that’s an interesting starting place for anyone really concerned with lobbying regarding dangerous dogs.

That, and asking for better enforcement of our existing laws. The Calgary Model is famous for the way we handle dangerous dogs and pet by-laws. Personally, I’d love to see folks cracking down on those illegal flexi-leashes.

Do you think this is a pit bull?  Still not.  A Presa Canario. (Photo: pedigreedatabase.com)

Do you think this is a pit bull? Still not. A Presa Canario. (Photo: pedigreedatabase.com)

Is this a lot of focus from someone who doesn’t even own a pit bull?

Maybe. But maybe if the BSL got out of hand or started exclusions by size, then I’d have a problem. World-wide, 75 breeds are targeted by BSL somewhere – and Newfoundlands make that list.

Or maybe I acknowledge I worked in dog training for a few years in this city and got to see just what it takes to create (and help) an aggressive dog – of any breed.

Or maybe I just want to stand up for what makes logical sense for my city. Loud voices with emotional pleas easily get the attention of politicians – someone needs to counter with information and reason.

And does this just seem like a lot of effort for both sides when just 201 people out of 1.1 million (0.0001827%) were bit by dogs (and none fatally) in Calgary last year?  Probably, but everyone has a(t least one) cause and that’s what soapboxes are for.

Look alive, Calgary! It’s time to vote!

I’ve written before about the importance of voting, and I’m doing it again.

Calgary heads to the polls on Monday, October 21 to elect city council and school board trustees.

Moses has civil pride; he's a proud Calgarian

Moses has civil pride; he’s a proud Calgarian

The last Calgary election was in 2010 where we elected our famous Mayor Nenshi (full disclosure: I’ve always been a fan of the Purple Wave).

nenshi_darwin

The 2010 municipal election had an interesting race for the Mayor’s seat and voter turnout was 53%, which sounds sad, but is actually a huge improvement.  In 2007 voter turnout was 33%.  In 2004 it was 18%.  EIGHTEEN PERCENT.  Pathetic.

Pollsters say that voter turnout plummets when there isn’t an interesting race for mayor, which may turn out to be the case this year, since no one has decided to challenge Mayor Nenshi (yet – the deadline for nominations isn’t until September 23, though, so that could still change).

But in Calgary, that lack of attention just silly.  There are 15 seats on city council – the Mayor is one of 15 votes.  To get something done, 7 other city councillors would need to agree with him.  Or any group of 8 councillors can get something passed (or stalled).  So even if the mayoral race isn’t interesting, Calgarians need to pay close attention to their Ward races, too, especially noting the Ward 1 and 2 Aldermen are retiring.  (Click here for Ward information.)

Federal and provincial elections often get much more attention from voters, but I think it’s downright stupid to forego the municipal election.  I’ve heard people say they don’t notice much change in their lives as the Prime Minister’s office changes between parties, but that’s not the case with city government.  Municipal politics directly affect everyone’s day to day lives, including things like:

  • snow ploughs (very important in Calgary and a common thing to complain about!)
  • transit: routes, budgets, infrastructure maintenance
  • property taxes and budget surplusses
  • essential services (police, fire)
  • school board governance
  • emergency response, like when a giant flood takes your city by surprise, for example
  • garbage and recycling pick up and curb-side composting
  • residential speed limits, school zones, playground zones
  • city parks, their maintenance, locations, and rules
  • even the placement of crosswalks and the repair of streetlights
  • business and construction licences
  • social issues like shark fin and retail pet sale bans, smoking bylaws
  • hot button issues like bridges, secondary suites, airport tunnels and ring roads
  • animal bylaws: from dog and cat licenses, to impounded and adoptable animals, to dangerous dog assessments
  • other bylaws: neighbours annoying you with their noise/messy lawn/grow-op?  The city helps you with that.
  • city festivals like Canada Day fireworks and the Stampede Parade
  • road building and maintenance: if someone wants to bulldoze your house to put in an overpass, your city councillor is your representative for that
  • lots of other things not listed here

So from your daily commute to taking out the garbage to building a new garage on your property, you can see how city government impacts day to day life.

Which is why it’s important to vote!

You have 65 days, Calgary, to research your candidates and make a decision.

Full election information can be found on the city’s website here.

All candidate information will be official after Nomination Day, on September 24, but you can already see candidates getting their names out there and knocking on doors.  Put them to the test!  Tweet them, Facebook them, call them up, get involved and tell them what’s important to you! Find out whose platform you agree with and throw up a lawn sign if you want!

Election Day is October 21.

Or, if you’re a keener like me, the advance polls are October 9-13, 15, and 16 (I always go to advance polls – the lines are shorter).   You can also mail in your ballot if needed.

Alma is all about civic engagement; she even walked to polls with me for the last provincial election.

Alma is all about civic engagement – she even walked to polls with me for the last provincial election.

Get on it, Calgary!  This is important!

And if you need a little extra help, Mayor Nenshi has set up a Vote Pledge – just sign up and get emailed election information and reminders.

Nenshi's Vote Pledge

35 Kinds of Restaurant Patrons

I was in University for 6 years, working on two degrees and doing my damnest to delay entry into the “real world”. During that time, I served people just like you food and drink. Prior to that, I even worked at McDonald’s all throughout highschool. So I’ve put in my time – nearly a decade – when it comes to food service.

And, in fact, I am a firm believer that everyone should have some food service time on their resumes. The experience provides some life lessons about humanity that you can’t really get anywhere else.

Previously, I’ve brought you other itemized (non-dog-related) musings on procreation, Facebook, renters, and weddings, so, in honour of those days that ended many years ago now, I present you with another list:

35 Kinds of Restaurant Patrons

The Unable to Find a Sitters: The generally nice couple who usually come in alone, but not tonight. They stick their kids at a nearby table, give you explicit instructions on what they are and are not allowed to eat, and proceed to ignore their offspring and any accompanying noise/mess for the duration of the meal. Usually come with empty promises about discipline and control.

The Verbal Tipper: Tells you – and maybe even your boss – how amazing the food and service was and how they had such a great time. Leaves less than 10%.

The Old-Timey Tipper: Is convinced that 5-10% is still reflective of good service, unaware that market inflation and minimum wage have not increased at the same rate over the last 40 years, or that many servers also have to tip out bartenders, hostesses, and kitchen staff.

The Unexpected Surprise: Curmudgeonly and curt, but not overly unpleasant. Somehow leaves >18% tip; the best kind of customer.

The Personal Trainers: The group of six or more – any combination of men and women – who can’t get their poop in a group long enough to make collective requests. For example: one asks for a glass of water. You canvass the group to see if anyone else needs anything. No reply. You come back moments later with the water, and just before you’re out of earshot, another request is made. These repeated trips continue throughout the duration of their meal. Your pedometer thanks you, and you are thankful for mandatory group tip amounts.

The Hot Water with Lemon: Seriously? All the effort – and dishes – for something free that requires constant topping up? And the water isn’t hot enough, requiring an apologetic trip to the Forbidden Kitchen Area to use the microwave?  Oh, and you’ll split a scone? Wonderful. This will make a huge dent in my accumulating $20,000+ student loan debt.

The Former Servers: The double-edged sword: they are sympathetic to your plight and handsomely reward good service; however they will punish poor service and poor excuses swiftly. They know just how taxing the job is, but also just how easy it is to get it right. They have been known to literally count your tables to estimate competence when quality of service appears to slip.

The 2005 movie Waiting is a crass -  yet accurate - look into the food service biz.

The 2005 movie Waiting is a crass – yet accurate – look into the food service biz.

The Girls’ Night Out: They will probably socialize for 90 minutes before even looking at the menu, but as long as you keep everyone hydrated and don’t screw anything up, it’ll pay off.

The Guys’ Night Out: Just as much maintenance as the girls’ night out, but don’t tell them that. As long as you keep smiling, it’ll pay off.

The Fake Foodie: Easy to spot by the way they drown their venison in ketchup or order their tuna steak well done. If you help them keep up the charade, it could pay off.

The Fake Wino: Sniffs the cork and refuses to order anything with a screw top. Add as much pomp to the wine-serving ritual as your stomach can stand, and ask them later how they felt about the “notes of leather” for your own entertainment.

Honesty is refreshing.

Honesty is refreshing.

The Third Degree: Eats out for the social interaction, questioning you on your day, your other job/school studies/kids/significant other/travel plans/you name it, oblivious to the fact that you probably have other tables to get to. Not necessarily a lone diner.

The Over-Sharer: The other side of the coin of the Third Degree, instead telling you about their lives in intimate detail as you smile, nod, and slowly try to back away. Also oblivious to your other tables and the fact that their confession hour is detrimental to the service you can provide other customers.

The Pop Quiz: Wants to know everything about the menu, and wants to hear it from your lips, not read it on the page. “This says gluten free – is it really? What are my choices with the burger? If I ask for medium-rare, is it really going to be medium-rare? What kind of blend is the house red? Is arugula a perennial plant? How many capers on the smoked salmon – be specific.” Probably couldn’t handle this kind of interrogation about their own job, but that doesn’t matter since you don’t know where they work.

It says "free range" right there.

It says “free range” right there.

The This Is Not a Buffet: Basically wants the kitchen to revolt violently against you: “I want the burger, but instead of fries or a salad, I want fettuccini on the side, and you should be able to do that since I see fettuccini elsewhere on the menu. And can you make the paella with quinoa instead? And substitute chicken for the chorizo? I don’t see a kids’ menu here, but we’d like chicken fingers and a grilled cheese sandwich – no crust.”

The Doesn’t Understand There’s a Division of Labour: Holds you personally responsible for any error or imperfection with the food and tips (or doesn’t) accordingly.

The First Date: Uncomfortable with each other and also with you. Do them a favour and make yourself the common joke by waiting until they take a bite to go and ask them how the food is. Ensure you put the bill fold in the EXACT centre (to the millimeter!) between the couple at the end of the night – assumptions are no one’s friend.

The Last Date: Awkward City, Population: All Three of You. Efficiency is your friend and theirs – get them out of there ASAP.

The 2,000th Date: They’ll come at the same time, sit at the same table, order the same thing, and share a newspaper and not talk the entire time. Really, it’s adorable and we should all be so lucky. Don’t interrupt their peace by trying to chit-chat.

The Forgetful: “I thought I ordered another drink? I know I didn’t order fries instead of salad. Oh, didn’t we say separate cheques?” Arguing is futile – just get it done.

The Great Expectations: The. Worst. Ignorant to the fact that servers are people, too, that no one is a mind reader, doesn’t understand the distinction between servER and servANT, refers to your manager as a maître d’, and is an unapologetic douche about knowing you’re there to wait on him/her. Livid that a place they may choose to go doesn’t have high chairs, their favourite chardonnay, or some disgusting poutine-nacho hybrid they had at a pub once in another city. Unaware that most people in Canada don’t wait tables as a life-long career, and thus the commitment to the job can only be so great and only so much can be put up with. Can be passive-aggressive or downright rude, and has been known to throw a very public temper tantrum about something trivial like the free bar snacks. It is supremely satisfying seeing these people post-serving in a professional context, and regaling colleagues with survivor stories.

The Misery Loves Company: Not their usual demeanour, but had (or having) a rough day and lucky you get to be the person they take it out on, because no one ever taught them not to mess with people who touch their food. Irrational, emotional, and cannot be cheered up, so just keep your head down and do your job. If a regular, may fly off the handle simply because you ask them what they want with their beef dip, rather than knowing they always get seasoned fries with the beef dip, you insufferable moron. Silver lining: they may over-tip at the end as compensation for the emotional abuse.

The Zero Self-Awareness: Blows their nose, flosses their teeth, changes their socks, and clips their toenails at the table (true story). Basically a walking health code violation, unaware that this (a) isn’t a washroom, or (b) isn’t their own dining room where maybe that revolting behaviour is tolerated. Disgusting to you and the other customers, and is likely oblivious to your passive-aggressive comments.

The Not Actually an Employee: Will roam around the room at will and without boundaries, searching serving cupboards for extra sugar, napkins or cutlery, despite you having just asked if they needed anything. They’ll rearrange tables, swap out chairs, adjust the blinds, wrestle patio umbrellas, and try to manoeuvre and ignite propane heaters themselves. Thinking they’re being helpful rather than a public nuisance, they’ve even been known to bring their own dirty dishes back to the dish pit, entering a Narnia no customer should ever see.

The Tree-Hater: Uses literally dozens of napkins throughout a meal, often dismantles them to single-ply form, then crumples them up and leaves them strewn about the table/booth/floor/planter.

The Finger-Snapper: GO TO HELL.

The Thief: If you need that cutlery so bad, just take it. But you need to work on being more stealthy about it.

The Jokester: Thinks he’s hilarious, but he isn’t and anything remotely funny is easily recognizable as a Seinfeld or Louis CK bit. Work on your fake laugh, though, or they’ll explain the punchlines to you, thinking the problem is with you, not them.

The Grab-Ass: Often a Jokester who’s had too much to drink or a lonely Over-Sharer who mistakes friendly service for something more. Can be handled with as much force as necessary.

The Flirt: Ultimately harmless and they probably can’t help it; their flirtatious nature says more about them than about you, but mind some specific boundaries when they’re with their significant others – reciprocating is still fine, but keep your hands to yourself.

The Domestic: If any group or couple asks you to settle a debate between them, even if it appears lighthearted, RUN!  There is nothing to be gained by your participation.

The Unsupervised Teenagers: Nightmares despite even the best parents’ attempts to civilize. Keep service roughly proportionate to their behaviour and wait patiently for the day they’re wearing your apron.

The Indecisive: You will come by three times to ask them what they want and they will have no idea, which isn’t usually a problem until you give them too much time on the fourth go and they’re upset you’ve neglected them and their guests are upset that the whole ordeal has taken even longer.

The Shock Factor: Forgets their glass eye and their eye patch and expects you not to stare into the void. Good luck. Also comes in the form of super baggy athletic shorts, no underpants, and feet up on the table. (Also true stories.)

Friends got it exactly right in 1997 with Phoebe's boyfriend:  "Oh God! Here we go again. Why does this keep happening to me? Is it something I'm putting out there? Is this my fault? Or am I just nuts?"

Friends got it exactly right in 1997 with Phoebe’s boyfriend: “Oh God! Here we go again. Why does this keep happening to me? Is it something I’m putting out there? Is this my fault? Or am I just nuts?”

The Genuinely Nice People: Polite, adequate tippers, and a pleasure to serve, but ultimately unremarkable and forgettable.

Of course, these categories are not mutually exclusive – patrons can be multiple types at once, and I know I’ve been more than one when on the other side of the serving tray.

Can you think of any I forgot?

9 Facts About BSL

Throwback Thursday seems to be a thing for radio stations and photo blogs, but I’ve decided to dig into the archives of the Soapbox a little.

The second post ever to appear on the Soapbox, almost three years ago, was basically a long essay about breed-specific legislation (pit bull bans, to be specific).

It’s over 4,000 words and contains not a single picture.  Really setting up for blogging success, wasn’t I?

Who knew the long and detailed philosophy writing I was practiced in wouldn’t prepare me for writing for the internets?

A reader's reaction to that Great Wall of Text

A reader’s reaction to that Great Wall of Text.

So I’ve decided to revisit the subject in a (slightly) more succinct way, despite this being a no-brainer subject to most dog people and there being a myriad of other online resources for this subject.

Truth is, every time a dog bite hits the headlines here, the local papers do their polls and a disappointing 40% of Calgarians support the idea of breed bans, causing my internal rage-o-meter to flare up.

So, if I’m preaching to the choir, just be happy I included pictures this time.

9 Facts About BSL

1.  It doesn’t actually work.  Breed-specific legislation is often introduced after a cluster of fear-mongering headlines like “Pit Bull Attacks Toddler” and politicians find themselves struggling to look useful and effective (what else is new?).  This is how Ontario got its pit bull ban.  But the ridiculous part is that these bans actually do nothing to reduce dog bite incidents.  Seriously.  After 5 years, Ontario got no tangible results from their pit bull ban, yet that still hasn’t been reason enough to repeal the ridiculous legislation.  The Netherlands actually did repeal their BSL in 2008 after they found no decline in dog bites in 15 years.

Alma with Homer and Kimbo.  Chows are another "bully" breed often unduly legislated against.

Alma with friends, Homer and Kimbo. Chows are another “bully” breed often unduly legislated against.

2.  BSL is hard to enforce.  Most people can’t even correctly identify a pit bull (you can even test your idenfication skills here), and law or by-law officers are rarely properly trained in dog breed identification to properly enforce these measures.  Sometimes, like in Ontario, owners are actually required to prove their dog is not a pit bull, rather than the government prove it is.  And when the Canadian Kennel Club doesn’t recognize pit bull terrier as an actual breed, that turns into a problematic thing to assess and enforce.

3.  The statistics used to jusitfy BSL are dubious and the definition of “pit bull” cited in dog bite stats is questionable, since often dogs involved in bites or fatalities are of a mixed or unknown breed.  In actuality, in Canada from 1990-2007 there were 28 fatal dog attacks and not one is attributed to a pit bull.

Moses relaxing with his pittie pal, Hooch on a camping trip. Not exactly a menacing pup.

Moses relaxing with his pittie pal, Hooch on a camping trip. Not exactly a menacing pup.

4.  Just like most things, the media plays a big part in the narrative.  If a pit bull is involved in an altercation, the odds breed is going to be mentioned in the headline is much greater than most other dog breeds.  Chances are the story travels further and gets more attention are also greater.  This does not at all mean that other dog breeds don’t also bite, but the media treats it differently, as studies have shown.  You can read more about this bias here and here.

5.  “Dangerous” dog breeds are a subjective classification and change over time.  In fact, did you know that at the end of the 19th century Newfoundlands were Public Enemy No. 1 for dog breeds? Newfoundlands!  But that’s because they were commonly used as guard dogs, and guard dogs are (obviously) more likely to get into altercations with people.  Now what breeds are used for this very purpose?  Or for dog fighting?  This isn’t a meaningless conicidence; if humans use dogs for aggressive purposes, they’re going to act aggressively, regardless of the breed.

Moses and Alma bully breeds?  Hardly.

Moses and Alma bully breeds? Hardly.

6.  There are more interesting statistics to pay attention to.  For example, in Calgary, most dog bites in 2012, while attributed to a variety of working, herding, and terrier breeds, overwhelmingly happened more frequently in the city’s more notorious neighbourhoods.  So when the top 5 neighbourhoods for dog bites also coincide with crime rates, we can then make some interesting correlations between dog bites and types of owners.  Those against BSL have long said how an owner treats, raises, and trains a dog has a lot more to do with its tendency to bite than its breed does.  An AVMA study of dog bites in Oregon also found a correlation between more dog bites and lower-income neighbourhoods.

7.  It’s common sense that circumstances around dog bites tell more about causation than the dog’s breed.  For example, most dog bites (77%) involve the dog’s own family or a friend of the family.  Over half occur on the owner’s property.  And the most frequent victim of dog bites are children – over 85%!  You can easily see how dogs that are protective of property, tethered, or have a high prey drive can all bite under certain circumstances.  I know just from walking my own dogs that many people – especially children – have very poor dog-interaction manners, and if not closely watched and coached, could easily get themselves bit just for not knowing any better.  A dog will basically never bite without warning, but that doesn’t mean much if kids don’t recognize the warning signals or owners aren’t educated in the basics of dog body language.

doggie-language_2

8.  If we’re going on temperament, you can do much worse than a pit bull.   The American Temperament Test Society tests dog breed personalities and the American Pitbull Terrier scores 86.8%, which is higher than many breeds, including golden retrievers, German shepherds, Maltese, sheepdogs, and corgis.  There are many studies out there showing other breeds like Dachunds, Jack Russells, and Chihuahuas are all more likely to bite than a pit bull.

9.  The vast majority of dog bites are preventable.  Preventable by owners, not legislation.  Preventable by being good, informed dog owners who know local pet bylaws and take time to walk and train their dogs.  Preventable by not leaving dogs tied up, unattended and not letting them run loose.  Preventable by getting dogs spayed/neutered and socialized.  Preventable by owners and parents who don’t let dogs and children interact without close supervision – ever!  Preventable by people knowing to ask before they approach any strange dogs and teaching their children these habits, too.

how-not-to-greet-a-dog

So there you have it.  BSL in under 1,000 words and now including images!

Recommended further reading:  you can download the entire text of The Pit Bull Placebo, by the National Canine Research Council in PDF here and read the Canadian Kennel Club’s official position against BSL here.

Wordless Wednesday 18: A Canadian Pilgrimage

In Calgary, it’s common to head west for the weekend to spend time in the mountains.

For various reasons, the Husband and I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to change it up and road trip east instead.

theHat

First stop: World’s Largest Teepee in Medicine Hat

We're geeks for roadside attractions.

We’re geeks for roadside attractions.

Photo op on an old oil drilling rig.

Photo op on an old oil drilling rig.

Keeping watch at the campsite.

Keeping watch at the campsite.

Buffalo Pound Provincial Park

Buffalo Pound Provincial Park

GPS

The GPS has a very liberal definition of “road” in rural Saskatchewan.

And then we reached a place dear to many Canadians’ hearts.

Yes, that grain elevator says Dog River!

Yes, that grain elevator says Dog River!

CORNER GAS!

CORNER GAS!

I respect that international readers will have no damn clue what Corner Gas is, so I will just say it was a hilarious Canadian TV show that ran for 6 seasons and hit very close to home for many – especially those who grew up in small towns (myself included).  It’s definitely on the list of great Canadian programming with Due South and the Mercer Report.

Chili cheese dog, anyone?

Chili cheese dog, anyone?

Basically, it’s the most Canadian place you can visit, second only to our nation’s capital.

The Ruby - chili cheese dog anyone?

Have you seen my F and E?

Fingers crossed for a movie!

To see the rest of Wordless Wednesday, click here.