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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Breed Specific Legislation Doesn’t Work – Ask Lennox

Today, the Belfast City Council in Northern Ireland snuffed out the life of Lennox because he looked like a Pit Bull.  His owners, the Barnes family, fought for two years to save him, and all the while the dog was kept in what appeared to be a concrete block kennel with some pine shavings spread around on the floor.  The Council said that they were only upholding a law that deems all Pit Bulls as dangerous, and the dog warden’s decision, based on some cranial and skeletal measurements, that Lennox was a Pit Bull type dog.  The Barnes family had registered him legally as an American Bulldog mix.  The United Kennel Club Breed Standard for the American Pit Bull Terrier says, “The length of the front leg (measured from point of elbow to the ground) is approximately equal to one-half of the dog’s height at the withers. The head is of medium length, with a broad, flat skull, and a wide, deep muzzle.”  Would you want to sentence a dog to death on that vague a set of criteria???

Despite the dog warden’s contention that Lennox was an unpredictable and dangerous dog, news reports state that no complaint had ever been lodged against him, nor had the dog ever bitten anyone.  

One Council member, in an interview, stated that the people who cared for the dog at the kennel said he was unpredictable – placid one moment and charged at people from behind a gate the next.  Of course, they were seeing a dog who had already been ripped from his family, and placed in a barren kennel which may not have had much enrichment for his benefit.  

Shelter and rescue workers here in the United States are familiar with the term “kennel crazy” and it often applies to dogs that have a high energy level but then are confined in kennels, perhaps with lots of distressed barking from other similarly incarcerated dogs, and some dogs deteriorate mentally very quickly without proper interventions.  

The BCC contends that it couldn’t possibly allow a dangerous dog to be allowed out into society, however, Victoria Stilwell had offered to place the dog in a sanctuary in the United States if necessary, so that he would not be killed and could live out his days in a safe environment.  Two qualified behaviorists, David Ryan and Sarah Fisher (click for Sarah’s statement about her evaluation of Lennox), had already examined the dog and found him not dangerous, yet the BCC accepted the word of a dog warden who was a former police dog handler, but had no credentials in animal behavior.  (Incidentally, David Ryan has also been a police dog handler.)

This sad case is why breed specific legislation does not work and is just plain wrong.  When  dog can be ripped from the arms of its owner, with no history of ANY problems, and taken away to be killed because it LOOKS like a Pit Bull, without any requirement for evaluation by a veterinarian or Ph.D. level professional if the family desires to save their dog, is absolutely the most ludicrous situation any dog owner could find themselves in.

To that end, because ALL of our dogs are Lennox until all dogs are safe from BSL, I’ve started a Facebook group called In Memory of Lennox – the Worldwide Anti-BSL Page.  The group was just started this morning and has over 700 members this evening.  What I hope is that we can be the landing spot for people who want to organize campaigns to overturn BSL where it exists, to give every dog the opportunity for a professional evaluation by a qualified behaviorist before any euthanasia decision is ever made, and that no dog can be deemed dangerous because of its breed or appearance, only by its actions.  We need to uphold current laws – and we need to educate the public on how to keep their dogs, no matter what breed they are, from becoming a public nuisance or a statistic.  

Please, never forget Lennox.  He was a well loved dog, didn’t deserve to die when an alternative was available, and he certainly shouldn’t die in vain.  Let’s return logic to our dangerous dog laws worldwide, and base our decisions on sound professional advice, and not on how wide a dog’s head looks.  Can you find the Pit Bull?  Incidentally, this little test was brought to an anti-BSL hearing that I attended once at the Massachusetts State House.  Animal Control Officers from Boston were asked to find the Pit and they refused to try.  That tells me that even they realize how impossible it sometimes is to determine a dog’s breed by appearance.  Pick the Pit.  

Until Breed Specific Laws are gone, law abiding people and their dogs must continue to live in fear.  Miscreants and dog fighters don’t care about that.  What society needs to do is hold the latter accountable for their disgusting actions, and allow decent pet owners to enjoy their dogs without fear that someone will come and haul them off someday for no other reason than that they resemble a particular breed.

As a trainer, I know that the best way to insure that a dog does not become dangerous is to socialize it while it is still a puppy, and train it early using non-coercive training methods.  The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and the Pet Professional Guild have good position statements and resources about that for pet owners.  If a dog does develop issues, consulting a qualified behaviorist and the use safe management practices is imperative.  

If we continue to stand together against breed profiling, we can implement laws that make sense, not laws that exact capital punishment on innocent dogs.  There is no reason why a dog that was evaluated by two behaviorists and offered a home at an animal sanctuary should now be dead instead.

At Paws for Praise, we offer Yappy Hour play to our clients where they learn about socialization requirements, and dog body language.  We do not shrink from telling our clients about breed predispositions in terms of both health and behavior, but we also focus heavily on how they can use training and social activity to help their dogs be good canine citizens.

Couldn’t Have Said It Better

This really belongs in the “I Couldn’t Have Said it Better” category:

From Maria DeLeon, a very nice piece in response to a recently published blog from a so called “balanced” trainer who thinks that positive trainers “kill dogs” and other such nonsense.  In an unregulated industry, there is little, except a sense of personal responsibility, to force trainers to learn the science and the technical skill behind modifying dog behavior.  Maria has captured what a lot of very well educated trainers are thinking these days – we prefer to be as un- “balanced” as we can if balanced means rejecting science that is coupled with ethics, and if it means that we stick with modalities that have been disproven as helpful:

At Paws for Praise we try very hard to keep up with the latest science, and improve the technical skill with which training is done.  Timing, technique, and how to determine whether to use operant or respondent learning to address a given training goal are so important to success.  You cannot claim that a method doesn’t work, or has poor outcomes, if you don’t know how to apply the method properly, or when to use it!   It’s not enough, in dog training, or in any other professional field, to say that we do it because it works and we’ve always done it that way……..  Always seek to improve!!!  Thanks to Maria for the reminder that trainers who do that are on the right path, not only to more successful training outcomes, but to more successful businesses as consumers begin to realize that there’s something to this science stuff, and they really are having an easier time living with their dog!