In this week’s magazine, Justin Marozzi writes about a vicious dog attack on a beach in Norfolk, which left his mongrel Maisie close to death and his own fingers ‘redesigned’ by a bull terrier’s teeth. What of the owners? Well, they slunk off, and were last seen ‘kicking and whipping’ the dogs in punishment.
The ‘kicking and whipping’ is the part of the story that’s most telling. If these dogs are whipped and kicked at home as punishment for misbehaving, is it any wonder that they behave aggressively themselves?
I can understand why Justin likens those who defend bull terriers to ‘those who believe Hitler was misunderstood’. But is it really the breeds that are to blame, or the owner?
It’s no surprise that bull terriers (including English ones and staffies) have a bad reputation, when you take into account everything that’s written about them. It’s also very easy to get confused between pitbull terriers – which are a banned breed in the UK – and other bull terriers, which aren’t.
The reason these dogs are so often linked to aggressive attacks isn’t necessarily because the dogs are naturally vicious. It’s irresponsible owners who teach their dogs to behave aggressively, rather than such behaviour being genetically within the dog’s temperament.
The Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 banned four breeds of dogs that were deemed dangerous as ‘types bred for fighting’. It was a knee-jerk reaction at the time to a spate of dog attacks, intended to protect the public. But dog-bite incidents continue to rise. In May of this year, amendments were made to the act, which allow owners to be prosecuted when their dogs attack on private property and increase the prison sentence for those convicted of certain offences. The amended act even considers it an offence if there is ‘reasonable apprehension’ that a dog might injure a person.
But the fact of the matter is that any dog can behave aggressively if it is taught to do so by its owner. It doesn’t matter whether that dog’s a spaniel, a labrador, a chihuahua or, for that matter, an English bull terrier.