Tag Archives: breed specific legislation

Breed Labels: When Guesses Turn Into Predictions

The NZ Government has proposed breed specific legislation that would prohibit animal shelters from re-homing ‘menacing’ breeds. These breeds would be identified solely based on appearance. This is a wonderful blog post on the subject of labeling of breeds.  It’s certainly timely – since the City of Montreal has also proposed a ban on pit-bull type dogs (which has been temporarily stopped by the courts – with the Mayor of Montreal promising to fight to retain the law).

Fingers crossed for all rescues and dogs out there.  These are challenging times.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

As we travel around the country, having conversations with shelters and rescues about the “pit bull” dogs in their care, we find that there are always a few big a-ha! moments that help people understand that all dogs are individuals just a bit better.

One of the more exciting moments typically happens during our Labels & Language presentation where we discuss the role of breed labeling in shelters and the assumptions we make about dogs based on those labels.

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Diggy the dog – a BSL success story

Imagine falling in love with a dog at a shelter, bringing him home, and then because he’s a Facebook success having authorities deem him unacceptable because of his breed.

That’s what happened to Diggy and his adoptive owner, Dan Tillery from Waterford Township in Michigan.

detroit-dog-rescue-photo

Diggy was labelled a pit bull and Dan was charged with a code violation for owning a banned breed.

But Diggy wasn’t a pit bull and Dan had veterinarians willing to testify to his breed.  In the intervening time, bills were introduced so local communities couldn’t introduce BSL ordinances and 100,000 people signed petitions on Diggy’s behalf.

The court dropped the charges once the signed affidavits of the veterinarians were entered into evidence.

Breed specific legislation doesn’t work.  And in Diggy’s case, he was identified solely based on appearance – which is fraught with difficulties since so many dogs can appear to be one breed but are, in fact, a mixed breed or a different breed altogether.

I’m just glad that Diggy and Dan are allowed to remain a family.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Source:  Boston.com

The mis-labelling of pit bulls

DNA results show that shelter workers are often mistaken when they label a dog as a pit bull, with potentially devastating consequences for the dogs, a new University of Florida study has found.

DNA pit bull study

Dr. Julie Levy holds a dog currently up for adoption at the Alachua County Animal Services facility in Gainesville, Florida

“Animal shelter staff and veterinarians are frequently expected to guess the breed of dogs based on appearance alone,” said Julie Levy, D.V.M., Ph.D., a professor of shelter medicine at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine and the lead author of a study published recently in The Veterinary Journal.

“Unlike many other things people can’t quite define but ‘know when they see it,’ identification of dogs as pit bulls can trigger an array of negative consequences, from the loss of housing, to being seized by animal control, to the taking of the dog’s life,” she said. “In the high-stakes world of animal shelters, a dog’s life might depend on a potential adopter’s momentary glimpse and assumptions about its suitability as a pet. If the shelter staff has labeled the dog as a pit bull, its chances for adoption automatically go down in many shelters.”

The past few decades have brought an increase in ownership restrictions on breeds including pit bulls and dogs that resemble them. The restrictions are based on assumptions that certain breeds are inherently dangerous, that such dogs can be reliably identified and that the restrictions will improve public safety, the study states.

The study focused on how accurately shelter staff identified dogs believed to be pit bulls. ‘Pit bull’ is not a recognized breed, but a term applied to dogs derived from the heritage breeds American Staffordshire terrier or Staffordshire bull terrier. The purebred American pit bull terrier is also derived from these breeds and is often included in the loose definition of ‘pit bull.’

The research team evaluated breed assessments of 120 dogs made by 16 shelter staff members, including four veterinarians, at four shelters. These staff members all had at least three years of experience working in a shelter environment. The researchers then took blood samples from the dogs, developed DNA profiles for each animal and compared the DNA findings against the staff’s initial assessments.

“We found that different shelter staffers who evaluated the same dogs at the same time had only a moderate level of agreement among themselves,” Levy said. Results of the study also showed that while limitations in available DNA profiles make absolute breed identification problematic, when visual identification was compared with DNA test results, the assessors in the study fared even worse.

Dogs with pit bull heritage breed DNA were identified only 33 to 75 percent of the time, depending on which of the staff members was judging them. Conversely, dogs lacking any genetic evidence of relevant breeds were labeled as pit bull-type dogs from 0 to 48 percent of the time, the researchers reported.

“Essentially we found that the marked lack of agreement observed among shelter staff members in categorizing the breeds of shelter dogs illustrates that reliable inclusion or exclusion of dogs as ‘pit bulls’ is not possible, even by experts,” Levy said. “These results raise difficult questions because shelter workers and veterinarians are expected to determine the breeds of dogs in their facilities on a daily basis.

Additionally, they are often called on as experts as to whether a dog’s breed will trigger confiscation or regulatory action. The stakes for these dogs and their owners are in many cases very high.”

Dog breeds contain many genetic traits and variants, and the behavior of any individual dog is impossible to predict based on possible combinations.

“A dog’s physical appearance cannot tell observers anything about its behavior. Even dogs of similar appearance and the same breed often have diverse behavioral traits in the same way that human siblings often have very different personalities,”Levy said.

Even though most pet dogs are of unknown mixed breeds, there is a natural inclination among pet owners to speculate on what their dog’s breed heritage might be, the authors said.

“This has fueled an entire industry of pet dog DNA analysis,” Levy said. “These tests are fun, but they won’t help predict behavior or health traits. Shelters and veterinary clinics are better off entering ‘mixed breed’ or ‘unknown’ in their records unless the actual pedigrees are available.”

As for legal restrictions on dogs based on their appearance, Levy said public safety would be better served by reducing risk factors for dog bites, such as supervising children, recognizing canine body language, avoiding an unfamiliar dog in its territory, neutering dogs and raising puppies to be social companions.

Source:  University of Florida media release

See also my 2013 post on Visual identification of breed – one reason why BSL doesn’t work

Now Paw-tucket can live up to its name

The city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island had a 10-year old ordinance banning the ownership of pit bulls until earlier this week.  A judge ruled that a 2013 state law banning breed-specific legislation meant that the city’s law was now illegal.

This is a win for the fight against breed specific laws and restrictions.

Pit bull owners in Pawtucket celebrated on Sunday with a parade.  There was also a free dog training class offered afterwards.  A local group, Pit Bulls for PTSD, also participated in the parade.  The group trains pit bulls to become service dogs for autistic children and veterans suffering from PTSD.

Please remember:  punish the deed and not the breed!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Life lessons from the Vicktory dogs

I do not support breed specific legislation.  One of the agencies leading the way in changing the perception of pit bulls, and breed specific legislation more generally, is Best Friends Animal Society.

In this TEDx talk filmed in Salt Lake City, Julie Castle, the Chief Marketing and Development Officer for Best Friends Animal Society, talks about the 22 pit bulls rescued from Michael Vick’s fighting kennels that were sent to the Best Friends sanctuary.  Alongside their journey of recovery, Castle discusses how Best Friends built a coalition to change perceptions about pit bulls and to advocate for saving rather than killing pit bull dogs.

I hope you find this story as inspirational as I do.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Is that dog a pit bull?

A recently published Open Access article “Is That Dog a Pit Bull? A Cross-Country Comparison of Perceptions of Shelter Workers Regarding Breed Identification” asserts that shelter workers operating in areas restricted by breed-specific legislation (BSL) are more likely to consciously mislabel a dog’s breed if they felt it were to increase the dog’s chances of being adopted and/or avoid being euthanized.

The study, published in Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, compares the breed identification process between workers in the United States and the United Kingdom, noting that often the process relies on the individual worker’s intuition and prior experiences with other dogs. A survey with photos of the same twenty dogs were sent to shelters in the US and UK. American shelter workers were more likely to consider a dog a pit bull than their counterparts in the UK.

These are the photos that the research subjects were shown:

Pit bull identification photos

The pit bull terrier is banned or restricted by BSL in parts of the United States and throughout the United Kingdom. Shelters in both countries are often tasked with accepting unwanted animals and finding new homes for them; many of these animals are pit bulls or other bull breeds. BSL restrictions may include a total breed ban, or some lesser rules such as (but not limited to): higher licensing fees, registering the dog as dangerous with local governments, liability insurance coverage, mandatory sterilization, muzzling on public property, placement of warning signage on private property, and standardized caging requirements.

Shelter workers in areas affected by BSL know that a dog’s identification can influence micro-level trends such as adoption rates, but also macro-level trends such as breed perception nationally and even globally. The study highlights the fact that there exists a lack of consensus on what exactly a pit bull is, and calls to question the validity of determining breeds based on visual assessment.

Source:  Taylor & Francis media release

More evidence against breed specific legislation

UK legislation that targets ‘dangerous dogs’ has not been shown to reduce dog bites and policies should be based on evidence and risk assessment, suggests a new article.

Rachel Orritt, a PhD student of psychology at the University of Lincoln says that dog bites present a “public health risk of unknown magnitude but no scientific evidence upon which to base a reliable UK estimate has been obtained in the past two decades.”

She also says that discussion by medical professionals about the impact of dog-human interactions “sometimes ignores the health benefits concomitant with dog ownership” with one writer in The British Medical Journal suggesting that “the only way to stop dog bites will be to ban dogs.”

Orritt says there are several studies that show owning a dog is associated with increased physical activity, better self esteem and fewer annual visits to the doctor. She adds that “eradicating dogs would have negative consequences for human health.”

She argues that the British news media “confound the matter further through inaccurate representation of the risk posed by dogs.”

Inaccurate reporting of dog bites, coupled with public pressure “have contributed to the drafting of legislation,” she writes. The Dangerous Dog Act 1991 has been amended in an effort to improve this legislation “but has been shown to be ineffective at reducing dog bite incidence.”

Orritt says that to reduce dog bite incidence, “academics and medical and veterinary practitioners need to cooperate to develop effective, scientifically sound risk management strategies. These should be evidence based and should not depend on politically driven initiatives such as the current legislation.”

Risk assessment for human violence has proved to be accurate and reliable and Orritt says this “might be a practical preventative measure to reduce injury from dog bite” along with medical and veterinary professionals “familiarising themselves with evidence based resources.”

She says that attention must also be given to the psychological health of patients after trauma.

Orritt believes that research is needed to improve care and an “estimate of dog bite incidence” but until this is done, “the scale of the problem is entirely unknown.”

She concludes that evidence based measures to inform ongoing risk management, such as developing effective risk assessments, “should result in the reduction in dog bite injuries that punitive legislation has not achieved.”

Source:    EurekAlert! media statement

Journal Reference

R. Orritt. Dog ownership has unknown risks but known health benefits: we need evidence based policy. BMJ, 2014; 349 (jul17 7): g4081 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g4081

If a pit bull could talk

Pit bull poster

DoggyMom.com and Canine Catering do not support breed specific legislation in any form!

No correlation between breed and aggression

Researchers from the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences have investigated the occurrence of dog aggression towards people with a survey of UK dog owners.

The 4,000 responses revealed:

  • aggression towards unfamiliar people was reported more commonly by owners than aggression to family members
  • 7 per cent of owners responded that their dog barked, lunged, growled or actually bit when people came to the house
  • 5 per cent of owners said that these things happened when out on walks
  • 3 per cent of owners reported aggression towards family members

Dog bearing teeth

The study highlighted that the majority of dogs showing aggression do so in just one type of situation. This indicates that the tendency to categorise dogs as either generally ‘safe’ or ‘vicious’ is a misconception, and that most dogs show aggression as a learnt response to particular situations.  (A lot of trainers working in animal shelters probably already knew this.)

The research also highlighted that although general characteristics, such as breed type, are significant risk factors across large populations they explain only a small amount of the overall difference between aggressive and non-aggressive dogs.   Therefore, it is not appropriate to evaluate the risk of aggressive behaviour in an individual dog using characteristics such as breed type.

That’s another black mark for supporters of breed specific legislation!

The results of this research have been published in the journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Source:  University of Bristol media release

Why breed specific legislation does not protect the public from dangerous dogs

Photo courtesy of University of Lincoln (UK)

Photo courtesy of University of Lincoln (UK)

The latest research on breed specific legislation formalises a lot of the information that I already suspected or knew from other sources:  that BSL doesn’t work and is a flawed concept.    Read more below:

Research conducted by animal behaviour experts challenges the basis of breed specific legislation designed to protect the public from ‘dangerous’ dogs.

A team from the University of Lincoln, UK, concluded that rather than making people safer, current legislation could be lulling them into a false sense of security. Their findings were recently published in the journal Human Animal Interaction Bulletin published by the American Psychological Association, in a freely available paper “Acculturation – Perceptions of breed differences in behavior of the dog (Canis familiaris)”.

Dr Tracey Clarke and Professors Daniel Mills and Jonathan Cooper from Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences set out to discover the source of people’s perceptions about ‘typical behaviours’ associated with different breeds of dog.

Professor Mills said: “This work provides good scientific evidence to explain why the pursuit by governments of breed specific legislation to reduce the risk of harm to citizens is not only doomed to failure, but also giving people a false sense of security, which may actually be making the situation worse.”

The researchers applied a theory known as the ‘contact hypothesis’ – used by sociologists to understand the origin of racial stereotyping and other forms of prejudice.

They surveyed more than 160 people to examine if their contact with dogs influenced their tendency to believe populist and negative breed stereotypes.

They found significant variations in attitudes between people who owned dogs or had regular contact with them, and those who did not. More than half (54%) of respondents who identified themselves as “experienced or knowledgeable” of dogs disagreed with the statement that some breeds are more aggressive than others. Only 15% of respondents who said they had little or no experience of dogs held the same view.

Similarly, more than half of the “experienced” respondents felt there was no valid reason for breed specific legislation, whereas less than 1 in 10 of the inexperienced respondents felt the same.

The results were consistent with the prediction that not just the level but also the quality of contact with dogs are major influences on the tendency to believe populist breed stereotypes, despite scientific evidence which challenges the validity of such generalisations.

The variability within a breed is nearly always greater than the variability between breeds for behavioural traits, meaning while there may be differences on average, when it comes to assessing the likelihood that a particular individual will behave in a certain way generalisations are often unsound. The type of person attracted towards certain breeds and encouraging certain behaviours may be a much better predictor.

It was discovered that a dog’s visible characteristics informed strong attitudes, resulting in over-generalisation. Not only bull-breeds but also those with much more superficial characteristics such as being well-muscled, or even short-haired, were stigmatised more often as dangerous by those with less experience or knowledge of dogs.

Attraction to certain types on the basis of their appearance, can then lead to these being preferred for use as a weapon or status dog, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy about their behaviour through environmental rather than genetic effects.

The team suggest that further scientific research is needed to improve understanding of the origins and basis of negative breed stereotypes, and that this in turn should be used to inform future legislation.

Source:  University of Lincoln media statement