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.

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A Confession on Bias

I’ve written here at least once about the problems associated with breed stereotyping certain dog breeds, and the often completely incorrect assumptions the public or the media can make about “bully breeds” such as Pitbulls or Rottweilers.

But even when sweeping generalizations don’t lead to breed specific legislation, I think it’s fair to say everyone harbours different kinds of bias with respect to dogs.  Sure, we all know dogs vary across the spectrum for size, energy and age, and we’ve all met a surprisingly calm lab or a crazy excitable Great Dane, but assumptions are still there.

Whether it be a fear of Schnauzers because one bit you once when you were little, or an affinity for Golden Retrievers because your family had one when you were younger, certain preferences and experiences can shape our decision making  – whether we acknowledge them or not.

For example – and you may want to take a seat, since this may surprise you – I have a pro-large-breed bias.

Who you callin' large?

Shocking, right?  But the other side of that coin is actually an anti-small-breed bias.  There.  I said it.

When someone talks about a small dog, I generally think of this:

What an adorable companion...

Or this:

Good God.

I heard Malachy, the Pekingese, won Westminster last week, and I wondered when cats became permitted to enter the show.

There's a dog in there? Seriously? (Photo: kasa.com)

Nothing against cats, it’s just that these concepts don’t necessarily make it into my ‘bucket’ of how I’ve come to define “dog”.

At least not lately, though should I encounter a Maltese that is actually an adept and trained mouser, I would be super impressed.  And the fact that some hotels have a 20lb limit on the pet policy stuck me as ludicrous (still does, for the record).

But then, one fine afternoon not too long ago, I caught myself mid-thought and very surprised.

I was looking at a dog named Barkley thinking “gee, isn’t he cute”, as I often do, but then I realised something: I was looking at a SMALL DOG.

He was an unknown cross, but looked something like this. (Photo: aplacetolovedogs.com)

I know, WTF right?

A small dog that was cute and endearing?  I even wanted to pet him.  What was wrong with me?

Then I figured it out.

Barkley couldn’t have weighed more than 35 pounds and he was extremely well-mannered.  He heeled nicely, paid attention to his owners, and responded to their cues.  He didn’t bark – not a peep – and wouldn’t lunge like a maniac at the sight of an approaching person or another dog.

I don’t necessarily have an anti-small-dog bias, but I certainly have an anti-bad-dog bias.  And not “bad” as in immoral, but “bad” as in high strung, noisy, untrained, and uncontrollable.

And whose fault is in that a dog may be bad?  Well… infrequently it’s the dog’s fault.  Lookin’ at you, owners.

Should I think all small dogs are bad without exception, then we’re in the realm of unfounded stereotypes, but too often my experience with smaller dogs involves barking and lunging at the end of a flexi-leash.  And after enough repeat experiences like that, the brain starts to recognise a pattern.

Thinking about it more, my opinion about dogs of any size is strongly moulded by how they behave.  Sure, bigger breeds may receive some initial benefit of the doubt, but even after they’ve exhibited disappointing behaviours, rose coloured glasses come off and opinions change.

And though maybe those judgements should really be reserved for the dog’s owner (owners currently working on resolving issues with their dogs notwithstanding and deserving of my complete and total sympathy), I do suppose it’s a more fair assessment; we do that with the people we meet, too, after all.

Jon Hamm may usually set hearts a-flutter, but upon the revelation of his douchey nature, his Bridesmaids character Ted was just a bit less attractive. ...Right?

I can’t be the only one with these kinds of biases, so ‘fess up.  And knowing I am influenced by these kinds of things (and can’t be the only one) just goes to show how important training and being an ambassador for all dogs really is.

You can judge a book by its contents.

A Second Dog? Revisited

Back in June I mentioned that The Husband and I were in the process of determining what kind of dog we would like to add to the household next.  That process is still under way.

In fact, nearly 6 months later, we have explored a lot of options, researched some breeders and even more breed-specific rescues, but are still a single-canine family (for now).

Our “short list” for breeds is pretty much the same – and not at all narrowed down.  Newfoundland.  Saint Bernard.  Tibetan Mastiff.  Great Pyrenees.  All favourites.

So in our commitment vacuum, I decided to turn to the one place that could give me concrete answers and unveil some insights from my inner most psyche.

You guessed it: the interweb.  The land of online quizzes.

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I'm most like: Lisa Turtle! (Photo: fashionindie.com)

And there are no shortage of online quizzes that attempt to match you with your perfect dog breed.  I found 11, to be exact.  And I took them all.

Now, I might argue that Newfoundland – Moses, in particular – is the ideal breed for our household and lifestyle, but I’m curious to see what the “experts” say.

So let’s look at some results!

(Photos are of adoptable dogs available on PetFinder.com)

Quiz #1:  Dog Breed Selector, breederretriever.com

By grading qualities by importance on scales of one to ten, the best breed for me is:

St. Bernard (Elly, Mikey's Chance Canine Rescue, PFId#19414949)

Not bad!  Though, not sure what bumps Newfoundland to #19 on the results list.

Quiz #2: Dog Breed Selector, PuppyFinder.com  

And my ideal dog breed is…

Newfoundland! (Geyser, Heart of America Newfoundland Rescue, PFId#20863395)

St. Bernard was #2.

So these results seem to be right up my alley.  But does that just mean it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy?  I mean, I am filling out the quizzes to indicate large breed, lower-energy dogs that do well in a cold climate.  Let’s see what else comes up.

Quiz #3:  Dog Breed Selector Quiz, DoggieDealer.com

(Terrible website URL, by the way.  Sounds like a puppy mill broker or something.)

And the jury’s back with…

Curly Coated Retriever!... ? (Abby, Pick Me! Pet Rescue, PFId#21105232)

Interesting.  Newfoundland was #2 on this list.

Quiz #4: SelectAPet, petnet.com

This website picked four breeds “most suitable” for my lifestyle, so I decided a screen shot of the results would speak for themselves.

This website has the caveat that results are based on "Australian lifestyles". Not sure what that implies.

Is it just me, or are they a bit all over the place?

Quiz #5:  Breed Match, Eukanuba.co.uk 

First, props go to Eukanuba for having the nicest quiz so far!

My ideal breed is:

Bull Terrier! (Kenzie, Yakima Valley Pet Rescue, PFId#20868959)

Unexpected!  But how can you not fall in love with Kenzie?! Though I’m not sure she’d appreciate the long, cold Calgary winters.

Rounding out the top 5 were Newfoundland, Rottweiler, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Great Pyrenees.

Quiz #6:  Dogfinder Matchup, dogtime.com

My favourite quiz thus far.  Doesn’t look like a website that will give you spyware, and the questions are different that the others – more insightful.  Despite the results, I think I’d actually recommend this quiz to people initially considering getting a dog, based on the way it highlights time, exercise, and training commitments.

And after that glowing review, my Matchup results:

Akita! With a 96% match! (Ginger, Washington Akita Group Inc., PFId#20084568)

Not a bad option, if not a bit on the small side 🙂

Also recommended for me: Alaskan Malamute, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, and Black Russian Terrier.

Quiz #7:  Purina Dog Breed Selector

This quiz slowly eliminates breeds as you answer the questions.

Interesting concept, but once I was finished, zero breeds matched my criteria.  That’s a little depressing.

With a little revamping of my answers, my sole ideal match is:

Great Pyrenees! (Aspen, Friends of Animals Utah, PFId#19332264)

Looking at that photo, I’m not sure what’s stopping me from dropping everything, driving to Utah, and adopting Aspen!

Quiz #8:  Which Dog Is Right for You?  GoodHousekeeping.com

Not being Good Housekeeping’s target demographic, this should be interesting.

And the votes are in…

Bichon Frise?! (Benny, For Pets Sake Inc., PFId#21102764)

I’m sure Benny is adorable, but I’m going to have to say Good Housekeeping is just a little out to lunch on this one.

Quiz #9:  Dog Breed Selector, ShowDog.com

The breed that “best satisfies my requirements”:

Beauceron. (Zoey, Wags, PFId#15685531)

Very interesting!  Had to Wikipedia the breed, since I’d hardly heard of them and judging by the low PetFinder results (only 10), I’d say it’s a pretty rare breed.

Extremely varied results in my top 25 from this site, though, with lots of spaniels, hounds and terriers, so I will be putting even less stock in these results.

Quiz #10:  Dog Breed Selector, Animal Planet

On question 3 I’ve already decided I’m not a fan of some of the messages behind this quiz: the maximum daily exercise option is only 45 minutes?

As I moved through the questions, it seemed like someone who’d never actually owned a dog wrote this one.  Heaven forbid someone actually take this one looking for advice.  For shame, Animal Planet.  Let Ms. Stilwell at it, will you?

Nevertheless, my result is:

Another Akita! (Inu, TikiHut Akita Rescue Association (TARA), PFId#20517268)

Quiz #11:  Dog Breed Selector Quiz:  SelectSmart.com

(The last one!)

And with a 100% match, my ideal breed is:

Mixed Breed! (Buster, Edmonton Humane Society - no "mixed" search options on PetFinder)

Ha!  Well I can definitely see the underlying message from these results, and I must say: I approve!

The results go on to say that Leonberger and Newfoundland are both the next-best results, with a 72% match to my responses.

Phew!  And that’s it for the online dog quizzes.

Call me a sap, but Moses is the only 100% match for us I can be sure of.

After all that I can say with confidence that I have learned… nothing.  And gained no new insights.

But I suppose that shouldn’t be too surprising.

The search continues.

A Second Dog?

The Husband and I frequently discuss what breed our second dog will be.

It’s not like we’ve put down deposits or placed ourselves on a wait list for a litter anywhere, but it’s something we discuss frequently – and we change our minds just about every time.

A swimming buddy for Moses?

Moses is over 3 years old now, so we do want to start seriously researching breeders and scouring breed-specific rescues over the next year or so.

The main factor we’re taking into account before considering a sibling for Big Mo is Moses himself – particularly his age and his temperament.  At 3 years old, he’s pretty much fully mature.  And he’s a great dog (if I do say so myself); we’ve worked hard on training to get him – and us – to where we’re all at now and we can trust him in pretty much any situation.  Any new puppy to the household will be able to follow his lead and he’ll be a great teacher.

Some long-distance patience training at the dog park.

The breeds that make our short list for a sibling for Moses are pretty predictable, and we’re pretty open to either a male or female, but tend to lean towards getting a girl.  We have an obvious large breed bias, and aren’t looking for anything too energetic that would clash with our calm household.

On the shortlist are another Newfoundland or a Tibetan Mastiff.  Depending on the day of the week, a St. Bernard is also a close contender, and we both like Leonbergers, too.  But we’re trying to keep it simple and easy on ourselves, and resisting the temptation to consider other great breeds like Great Pyrenees.  And I’m only eliminating other breeds like Great Dane and Greater Swiss Mountain Dog because while two big dogs means a lot of fur to deal with, for my own sanity, I’d like to stay consistent with the type of shedding.

Bartok, the Tibetan Mastiff (dawatm.com)

When it comes to committing to even just a breed – before the endless breeder search begins – we’re very wishy washy.  The Husband likes to backcountry camp and hike a lot, so there is some benefit to considering a dog with slightly more energy than Moses.

On the other hand, Moses is the best (objectively true).  We have an idea of what we’re getting into with another Newfoundland and we won’t be disappointed.  And while I do appear to have an affinity to Tibetan Mastiffs, our direct and personal experience with the breed is extremely limited, so it feels like a bit of a gamble (some meet and greets are in order).

Decisions, decisions.