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The University of Southampton
Psychology

Are Pit Bull terriers always aggressive? The myth of dangerous breeds

Published: 6 November 2013

In the aftermath of serious dog attacks that kill or maim children, there are frequent calls for crackdowns on ‘aggressive breeds’. UK Dangerous Dogs legislation relates to both specific types of dogs and to the behaviour of all dogs. At the time of writing, Government is discussing proposals to add to this criminal legislation by extending the circumstances where a dog might be considered dangerous.

Dr Anne McBride, from the University of Southampton's Applied Animal Behaviour Unit in Psychology believes that simply taking a punitive approach is unfortunate and unlikely to dramatically reduce injuries. There is a need for preventative steps to also be taken; Anne is urging policymakers to take action to educate children and the wider population about dog behaviour. She believes increased awareness and education will reduce the number of attacks by ‘man's best friend'.

"There is no such thing as a dangerous breed, all dogs can behave aggressively if they have been badly trained or if they're scared or frustrated," she says. "Many people do not know how dogs naturally behave and unwittingly cause problems by treating them in inappropriate ways."

Anne believes ignorance is the cause of many attacks because many people fail to realise that animals can perceive human behaviour as threatening and then seek to defend themselves in the only way they can. "We teach children so many things at school, but there ought to be room in the national curriculum to learn how to improve our relationship with animals, and in particular how to interact with dogs. This is important for dog owners and non-dog owners alike," she adds.

The senior lecturer in applied animal behaviour is particularly concerned at the lack of regulation in the ‘dog profession' as evidenced by increasing numbers of self-proclaimed dog trainers who set up in business with little knowledge of animal behaviour and use inappropriate methods based on aversion; instilling fear and pain,  in an attempt to change behaviour. She believes this is not an effective training technique and can cause long term damage to dogs and lead to an increased likelihood of the dog showing aggressive behaviour.

In 2008, Anne contributed to the writing of the Companion Animal Welfare Council report on the regulation of services relating to the training and behaviour modification of dogs. From this report many concerned and responsible animal related organisations came together and formed the Animal Behaviour and Training Council with the aim of setting educational and skill standards for those involved in animal training and behaviour modification. Member organisations include the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, Association of Pet Dog Trainers, Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, UK Registry of Canine Behaviourists, Guide Dogs and the Police Dog Working Group. Educational and skill standards have been agreed, and it is Anne's hope that this group will become the official regulatory body in this area: "Effective reduction in dog related injuries can only be attained by properly educating the dog owning and non-owning public, and those involved in the education of the animals."

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