This week I took part in a documentary that is being made for RTE all about dogs that are dangerous and our restricted breed list.
Its great that this documentary is being made, and that the producers are looking to speak to people 'in the know' about this controversial and heated topic.
The good thing, and bad thing about dogs is that everyone has an opinion. Whether people love them or hate them, if you gave them a pen and paper and told them to write an essay on dogs, you would soon fill the page.
Problem with this is, if I corrected that essay the vast majority of the time my red pen would have big fat X's all over that page.
I was always one of those people who had strong opinions on dogs and dog behaviour ever since I could talk. I started studying all-things-dog 12 years ago and haven't stopped since.
Over the past 12 years I have learnt a ridiculous amount of information about dogs that contradicted what I already thought about dogs. Good for me - bad for dogs. What it basically means is that the vast majority of what the general public think about dogs is w.r.o.n.g.
Dogs aren't pack animals - it was an assumption that when investigated turned out to be wrong.
Dogs won't turn aggressive if they taste blood - same way we won't.
Dogs brains work very similar to ours and their ability to learn is very similar to how we (and dolphins, and parrots, and hamsters learn) so we very much can teach our dogs in similar ways to how we train children.
Pit Bulls and bull breeds do not have a locking mechanism in their jaws which stop them from being able to release a bite.
Only 1% of a dogs DNA represents breed, and there are no genes identified to represent aggression.
Therefore a dog cannot be 'bred' to be aggressive.
Thems some facts - if you want to disagree, you can, but first show me your list of qualifications.
Classical conditioning has a massive influence on what we think about almost everything, without us being aware. It happens all day every day. From the moment we are born we are being classically conditioned to associate out mums with food and crying with getting attention.
Classical conditioning is simply pairing one thing with a feeling or an emotional response. So for most people if you say 'bank holiday weekend' they feel good (unless you have to work bank holiday weekends!!), or if we look at a picture of a big spider most of us are conditioned to feel fear. We don't need to have ever been hurt by a spider, but all our lives we've seen scary spiders in movies, and other people around us have helped us form the association that spiders are scary.
Classical conditioning is important because it helps keep us safe and helps us quickly respond when exposed to things we have formed an association with.
It's how advertising works - you want a take away when watching Saturday night TV, or want to grab a Guinness during the Jazz festival. Its classical conditioning, and advertising companies spend billions on it because... guess what .... it works!!!
Unfortunately Pit Bulls, and all dogs on the restricted breed list have automatically become victims to classical conditioning.
Such restricted breeds have been used as the 'bad' dogs in the media and entertainment all our lives. The bad dogs in Beethoven? The doberman. The bad dogs in Up!? Rottweiller, Bulldog and Doberman. Oliver Twist? The English Bull Terrier.
As I mentioned earlier, I've been studying dogs and dog behaviour for over a decade. I am currently studying dog behaviour at the highest level possible, doing a masters in Animal Behaviour at Newcastle University specialising in clinical dog behaviour. I know that a dogs behaviour is molded by its upbringing, and I can read a dog better than I can read people - I speak their language.
A couple of years ago I got in touch with Dog Action Welfare Group to offer to foster a couple of dogs. They were super grateful and said they would drop out Frank, a white German shepherd, and Yelski, a Pit bull, at 7pm that evening.
I carried on with my day, looking after the many different breeds we had that day at daycare, and at 7pm when he doorbell rang I popped out to the shop to welcome Jane and the dogs in, no big deal.
What happened next left me quite shocked and disappointed. The instant I opened and looked at Yelski my entire body went cold and I immediately heard voices in my head saying 'don't look in his eyes, don't look in his eyes'.
I was so disappointed in myself, and so surprised by my response. Without knowing it, I, with all my years of study and knowing so much better, I was a victim of classical conditioning, and because society had told me over and over again that I was at increased risk when exposed to Pit bulls, it had altered my emotional response to these dogs at a subconscious level.
Yelski was with me for about 4 months in total, and from day 1 he very quickly became my baby. He would curl up on my lap, and just wanted to be loved.
He got on great with the other dogs at daycare, and had a very special relationship with Cyan, a dalmatian that he quickly fell in love with - cue lots of kissing and snuggling together (Check out the video below).
Restricted breed lists do two very dangerous things.
Firstly - they put a big flashing arrow at such breeds if you are looking to get a dog to make you 'look tough'. There are many people out there that want to get a dog to make them look tough. From day one, they encourage aggressive behaviour, and do what they can to 'toughen up' these dogs. Of course they are going to choose the dog that according to Irish law, are more dangerous than other breeds.
Secondly - and this is something that could potentially get the legal structure in trouble, the restricted breed list by default tells society that they are safe around other breeds. By telling the nation that these dogs have been determined to not be restricted, we are leading people to believe that aggression is based on breed - which is simply not true. There is absolutely no evidence that any one breed is genetically more aggressive than another.
There was an interesting study done a couple of years back in Ohio that showed a big link between people who had been convicted of aggressive crimes (domestic violence etc.) and their dog being dangerous ( determined as whether the dog has bitten, not by its breed).
This is a more interesting study than the studies that show that x% of each breed has bitten, because we see a correlation between the type of dog owners and the breeds they choose, so this data is tainted.
The fact of the matter is yes, dogs can pose us a risk. As do horses. And cars. And aeroplanes. And choking on hazardous material. And tripping over curbs.
A dog that poses us more of a risk than other dogs is
1) A fearful dog. Whether they are afraid you are going to hurt them, or afraid you are going to take their bone. That is a dangerous dog.
2) Under the same category of fear is undersocialised dogs. A dog that isn't raised as a family pet doesn't learn how to behave appropriately with people, and usually develop fears of people.
3) A dog in pain, again similar to fear, will lash out to protect themselves.
4) A dog trained and rewarded to behave aggressively will of course be more of a risk
5) A hyperactive dog - this dog is generally not thinking straight and 'forgets' that they are not allowed put teeth on people.
These are dangerous dogs. Breed does not come in to play here.
If you are afraid of restricted breeds, and have never been bitten by such a breed, then you have been the victim of allowing media and society control how you think and have been mis-lead.
Lots to share !