Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Comment to My Post about Best Friends

My Good Friend Angela has a blog called "The Doghouse" and she wrote a post a couple weeks ago about bans on Pit bulls" that she commented about in my post below about in response to my post about Best Friends.

Here's her comment:

Heya Joan,

Here's what I wrote on things a few weeks ago:

You might not like that either...

I'm still trying to digest the Best Friends thing...not sure what is going on with them.

I would never ever support BSL and if my blog comes off that way then it is misunderstood.

I totally agree that bad owners make bad dogs but I also think that not every living being is well balanced by birth. So, we have schitzophrenics, etc. and how do we deal with them? And we can't even diagnose dogs...but I disgress.

It's such a complicated issue but there is just no way anyone can ever take a friendly dog and look them in the eye and say you have to die because of what breed you are.

Man I hope things get better.

Whatever happened to Petey?

ang & nelly

Here is what my response to her was...

Well I'm pissed off #1 because the service I subscribed to that was supposed to tell me when you posted to your blog - hasn't been telling me that you've been posting to your blog!

But I've also got a lot to say about that blog posting too! Whoa boy, hold me back. All in good nature of course - you know that we are just having intellectual conversation and that this is all for the betterment of dog culture, right? I can take it if you can take it.

You can give it right back to me toute suite. But here is what I think.

I think perhaps the reason why you're still digesting the Best Friends stuff is because you implicitly agree with it - you just don't realize it yet. You ARE supporting BSL - and I'm not misunderstanding you - you are just supporting a different kind of BSL - you are supporting a type of BSL that is very sneaky and sly. It is a kind of breed extermination that involves just not breeding a type of dog anymore.

By saying that the breed is too "aggressive" or "not necessary" - "why would anyone WANT to have that kind of dog?" Only people of ill repute and drug dealers want that kind of dog - so the way to not have dog bites and let the dogs get into those people's hands is to just not let anybody breed them anymore - and case solved! That is easy!

Well I'm sorry to tell you - but that is breed extermination. And it does exactly the same thing as breed specific legislation.

You say in your posting that "we don't have any strategy for dealing with really bad owners" - but we actually do. Legislation already exists just about everywhere. It's just that it's not actually enforced. If legislation as it currently exists were actually enforced, and legislation that's been successfully put in place in
lots of places were put in place in other spots - BSL wouldn't be needed. If things as simple as leash laws, anti-tethering laws, spay and neuter laws - if those THREE things were done - no one would ever be mentioned. Not even to mention registration of dogs.

There are model cities - the Calgary model is brought out whenever successful cities are talked about. Look that city up to see what can be achieved - and it was done - and without any kind of BSL. And it is making the city of Calgary a TON of money every year. And everyone is happy - and they have literally - HUNDRED'S of off-leash parks.

And I'd be willing to bet that they're chock-a-block with pit bulls.

Unlike what you said in your blog posting. Which made me a bit ill actually, Angela. That really was very biased. There is SO much stuff out there now about how pit bulls really have no dog-dog aggression built into their genes. Have you never been to I really thought you would've been more educated about stuff like that - I can send you a ton of links about pit bull stuff if you'd like - or maybe I'll send them to you anyway! haha!

But the whole point of that Dangerous Dogs Summit is exactly about what your post is about - is that some DOGS are more dangerous than other DOGS - which is wrong. That is so ORWELLIAN - Everyone is equal - but some people are more equal than others. I think that's been proved wrong about humans, hasn't it? Well I believe the same thing about dogs. (.......all dogs are equal......)

I absolutely cannot condone anyone saying that it's okay to ban or limit the lives on one breed of dog - "pit bulls" - which we all know isn't even a breed, but a type of dog - and Angela - you own a dog that in Ontario would most probably be killed if it went into the shelter system because it has characteristics that are somewhat consistent with a pit bull type dog - so Nelson would probably be KILLED if you tried to visit Ontario Canada right now. How can you even talk about stuff like this and agree with "pit bull" management policies so lightly?


ps: The picture at the top of this post is a picture of Nelson


  1. Anonymous7:58 AM

    Heya Joan,

    Honestly I don't support BSL but I know it could look that way.

    I didn't really read the Best Friends stuff because it was not very clearly presented on their website but I will have to read it all when I have more time. On a road trip now...

    I guess one of the major reasons I say stop breeding pitbulls is because they are in trouble...which is not fair at all and I know that. But they are. They are hard to adopt out at shelters and breed bans are popping up everywhere so I feel they don't have a chance. So I guess I feel like bringing them into the world is setting them up for failure and until the hysteria dies down it's not fair.

    As for dog/dog aggression a very reputable breeder told me she does not believe it's been bred out of them completely. And I know there are a lot who wouldn't fight ever but again if a fight happens they will get blamed and will be in trouble.

    So this is my rationale...and it's hard to explain over email and on blogs...but we'll sit down and have a beer and discuss it in person sometime. I like debate and don't take it personally. It's a very difficult issue and not one to be swept under the rug.

    And yes Nelson is not a dog who would do well in the shelter system hence he sat in one for 5 months before I adopted him. I wouldn't trade him for the world though and he's 99% good with some issues so I just keep him out of trouble and situations he can't handle. That way he gets to be a good dog all the time :)

  2. Dear Joan,

    As you know, I am an expert in Canadian dog bite statistics. After years of research, there are a number of interesting facts I've uncovered (most of which are now widely published). As such, I've provided a synopsis here, for you and your readers. I realize it is very long, but it is a more concise collection of my years of research; right here, in one place.

    The situation with unprovoked dog bites is not what nearly everyone believes it to be.

    If I had one pet peeve, it is that most people merely repeat things they’ve heard or read. They don’t really know if what they’re saying is true or not. They merely “believe” those things to be true, and that’s enough for them, I guess.

    You know what I say, “No matter how often or loudly a myth is repeated, it is still just a myth.”

    Some people simply like agreeing with others. Some like to pretend they’re especially knowledgeable or have unique insight. Whatever the source for so many of these myths, years of research has proven the majority of beliefs I encounter about dogs are simply untrue.


    Whenever discussing the issue of dangerous dogs, it's always important to remember a few key points about the dog bite statistics (especially as they pertain to Canada):

    1. The most dangerous breeds in Canada are, in order: German Shepherd, Cocker Spaniel, Rottweiler, and Golden Retriever.

    Why do I say this? Well, this is not dog "bite" data, but rather dog "attack" data based on the reporting information from the Canadian Hospital Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP).

    The CHIRPP members (hospitals, and reporting physicians and nurses) have no reason to lie about the information they receive, surrounding the breed of dog that has attacked.

    Why do I say "the most dangerous"? Well, because the CHIRPP data only applies to the most severe dog attacks (i.e. those injuries serious enough to require treatment in hospital). These are not little nips that can be treated with ice or even a band aid. These are severe dog bite injuries that need to be treated in hospital. The dogs that cause the most serious injuries in Canada belong to the above-mentioned breeds, more than any others.

    Unlike municipal dog bite data (where any bite, no matter how inconsequential, or even against other animals, is counted), the CHIRPP data only relates to the most serious dog attacks against human victims.

    2. 'Pit bulls' are rarely in the #1 spot in dog bite statistics.

    Any measures to restrict or ban the #2, #5, or #37 'breed' of dog in the dog bite statistics, but not #1, is pure hypocrisy.

    If you're going to ban or restrict a type of dog in an attempt to reduce the number of dog bites, then it must be the ones who bite the most and/or cause the most serious injuries. Either way, that 'breed' is not 'pit bulls'.

    3. There hasn't been one confirmed death of a child attributed to an unprovoked attack by a 'pit bull' in Canadian history. (There has been one unconfirmed death.)

    4. The very first human fatality attributed to an unprovoked attack by a 'pit bull' in Canadian history occurred in May of 2006. Until then, every insinuation or claim about Canadians being in danger of being killed in unprovoked attacks by 'pit bulls' was totally unfounded.

    (In the Ontario case in May, the dog was actually only part 'pit bull'. It was a Labrador Retriever/'pit bull' cross, and the dog's owner was the victim.) (It should be noted that there have been at least two human fatalities in Canada attributed to unprovoked attacks by Labrador Retriever crosses, yet this was the first for a 'pit bull' cross.)

    5. Municipal dog bite statistics often combine reported dog bite data against both humans and other animals.

    While I don’t have any problems with doing so, those citing combined statistics must be aware that the majority of the dog bite reports aren’t against people. To imply otherwise is, at best, misleading and, at worst, dishonest.

    For example: Toronto has arguably the largest municipal ‘pit bull’ population in Canada. In 2004, 12 of the city’s estimated 30,000+ ‘pit bulls’ had been reported for biting. (That’s about 0.04% of the population, by the way; leaving 99.96% of Toronto’s ‘pit bulls’ completely innocent of such allegations.) However, the majority of those reported bites were against other animals. Only 2 of the 12 could even begin to be called “attacks” against humans.

    So, when 2 out of at least 30,000 dogs of a loosely-defined type are involved in attacks in an entire year, is that really justification for not just trying to ban or restrict them, but for making sweeping generalizations about all the rest?

    6. No matter what dog ‘breed’ tops the dog bite statistics, the vast majority of bites are still attributed to other breeds.

    To better help people understand the absurdity of a breed-based approach to dog bite prevention, let’s imagine that ‘pit bulls’ are responsible for a virtually unheard of 10% of bites in some Canadian city. That still leaves 90% of biting dogs unaffected by any breed-based approach.

    This is the primary reason why breed bans have been such a colossal failure wherever they’ve been tried. The majority of biting and attacking dogs are not affected, so their owners are free to continue to behave negligently.

    7. All dogs can bite.

    There is no such thing as a breed of dog that has never bitten, never attacked, never maimed, or never killed (a person or other animal).

    8. It is the size of the victim, not the dog, which best predicts severity of injury in an attack.

    While even the very smallest dog breeds have killed humans, the very largest dog breeds are rarely involved in attacks.

    9. Adults are rarely seriously injured by dogs of any size, while children are the most common dog bite victims. Their attackers range from the very smallest to the very largest dog breeds.

    10. The dogs actually involved in attacks are not genetically related in any meaningful way.

    This goes right to the heart of common, yet completely unscientific, baseless claims about allegedly inheriting aggressive behaivours or being bred for aggression. In short, the dogs involved in attacks are not closely related to one another. This tends to refute the idea that the attack was due to some aberrant inherited gene.

    Think about it. What could the Dalmatian that bit off a boy’s nose 10 years ago and the Golden Retriever that left 76 stitches in a girl’s face, just a few years ago, possibly have in common, from a genetic standpoint? Is anyone really trying to suggest they’re genetically related, and both inherited some sort of as-yet-undiscovered “attack gene”?

    Even the Rottweiler that killed a child in New Brunswick and the Rottweiler that killed a child in Ontario don’t share any common ancestors in their pedigrees; making the whole notion of a shared genetic cause for attacks completely ludicrous.

    Put simply, the individual dogs involved in unique attack incidents are not genetically related in any way other than that which makes them dogs.

    11. Psychology defines aggression as learned behaviour.

    I’ve been researching dog biting incidents since 1999. I have yet to find a dog involved in an attack that didn’t have a known history of aggressive behaviour.

    Aggression has to be learned and practiced before it is perfected. I have yet to come across a case of a dog that attacked unprovoked, without ever having barked menacingly, growled, lunged, snapped, or what have you.

    This completely refutes the (quite silly) urban myth that “some dogs just turn”, or that dogs can be THIS unpredictable. (i.e. friendly family pet with no history of ever having behaved aggressively one minute; then savage, unprovoked attacker the next)

    As an experienced dog trainer (one who has spent many of those years SUCCESSFULLY re-training aggressive dogs), I can attest that dogs are not all that unpredictable. Sure, they might do something out of the ordinary, every now and then. However, for a dog to suddenly behave aggressively in a way that is truly threatening or injurious, it must have practiced those behaviours at least once (and probably many times) in the past. This is the nature of all learned behaviours. Only practice makes perfect. (I can elaborate more on that, if you wish.)

    It’s as though people can’t imagine any other form of aggressive behaviour, other than biting. To help them along, I must point out that aggressive behaviours follow a fairly predictable scale of escalation. It may begin with staring or raised hackles (all merely indication discomfort with a situation). That can lead to raised lips, growling, stiffened body posture, menacing barking, lunging, and attempted bites. Long before an unwarranted bite ever occurs, there are a litany of warning signs that the dog will eventually bite.

    Even the most die-hard dog fighting breeders admit they have to start their puppies very young (often at six weeks), to turn them into superior fighters. When asked why they have to spend so much effort training their (allegedly bred-to-fight) dogs, none can provide a scientifically or practically sensible response. Most use made-up terminologies to emphasize what they believe are inherited traits, while playing down the daily training they force on the dogs. Yet it is clear that, without this ongoing encouragement, the dogs don’t become proficient fighters.

    I’ve researched so many cases where the owner has allegedly claimed the attack was the first time the dog behaved aggressively, I now pay little heed to such statements. The neighbours almost always tell a very different story.

    To use a more famous case as an example, little Courtney Trempe was killed by a dog the owner claimed had never behaved aggressively before. The owner went on to say he “couldn’t have known” the dog would attack, because it had never tried to bite a person. Well, it turns out the dog had not just attacked previously, but had actually killed two neighbourhood dogs in the past. That is an aggressive dog, by anyone’s standards.

    But it does bring me to my next point…

    12. Aggression is aggression is aggression. The idea that aggression can be species-specific is not based in any kind of scientific, statistical, or practical data. It seems to be little more than wishful thinking. Those perpetuating this notion tend not to have even attempted to validate this theory in any way.

    There is a very disturbing myth being promulgated by a number of groups that should know better than to perpetuate unfounded myths. The idea that aggression towards other dogs is markedly different than aggression towards humans is completely ludicrous. I have to point out that the real-world data, in no uncertain terms, clearly refutes such theories.

    Of the dogs involved in their first aggression incident towards a human, the vast majority had behaved aggressively towards other animals (usually other dogs) in the past.

    Of the dogs involved in their first bites against humans, where the dog had no history of aggression towards humans, the majority had behaved aggressively towards other animals in the past (usually other dogs) in the past.

    Of the dogs whose first bite against a person resulted in that individual’s death, and where they had no history of aggressive behaviour towards humans, every one of the cases I’ve investigated involved dogs that had behaved aggressively towards other dogs in the past. (see the Trempe case example, above)

    So, while some aggressive dogs may, for now, limit their aggressive behaviour to other animals, it in no way guarantees it will remain that way forever. Many of the first-time human biters had only behaved aggressively towards other dogs, in the past.

    13. Nearly all unprovoked dog bites would not be prevented by dog control laws.

    Since dog control laws typically only apply to the conduct of owners (and their dogs) when they’re on public property, it completely negates their ability to affect the circumstances that lead to the vast majority of unprovoked dog bites.

    When it comes to total dog bite numbers, almost all take place on the owner’s property.

    When it comes to reported dog bite numbers, the overwhelming majority take place on, or directly adjacent to, the owner’s property.

    Supervised dogs in a public place account for less than 1% of all bites.

    This makes public restraint laws especially ineptly-aimed and ineffective in reducing dog bites.

    Most unprovoked biting incidents involve (typically an unsupervised) dog known to the victim. Whether or not the victim knows the dog, the bite usually takes place on the owner’s property (where the dog is either loose or tethered), or directly adjacent to the owner’s property (where the dog was either allowed to venture off the owner’s property, or “escaped”).

    Very few unprovoked biting incidents involve a supervised dog. Simple supervision appears to be very effective in preventing dog bites.

    When bites take place far from the owner’s property, the dogs involved were most likely loose, roaming, unsupervised dogs.

    Simply put, public restraint laws don’t target the situations that actually lead to unprovoked dog bites.

    14. Cities that address the real causes of unprovoked dog bites (i.e. lack of supervision & lack of socialization and training) are hugely successful in reducing the number of dog bites.

    Calgary is the best example we have in Canada. They reduced dog bites by 70%, even during a period where the population doubled.

    Calgary’s approach was to first enforce existing laws. They strictly enforce licensing, and boast a licensing rate of 90% (compared to most cites’ 10-20%). In this way, they have a better handle on the dog population in their community, which helps in making decisions and drawing conclusions.

    They also have a zero tolerance policy for acts of aggression. (Something I’m personally totally in favour of. Dogs are not weapons, and anyone who unethically uses a dog for that purpose shouldn’t be allowed to own one.) Any report of aggressive behaviour of any kind results in a visit from animal control and a warning.

    City officials are clear, in that they agree one of the biggest aspects of their success was the creation of ample off-leash areas for dogs to be exercised, socialized, and trained off-leash. With reportedly over 200 off-leash parks, it’s no coincidence that Calgary has not only the largest number of off-leash parks, but the lowest dog bite rate of any major city in Canada.

    Several years ago, I made this prediction, “When the studies are done, we’ll find the cities with the best access to off-leash parks are also the cities with the lowest percentage of dog bites.”

    Calgary certainly suggests my prediction was true.

    Finally, Calgary increased the penalties for some transgressions. Combined with increased enforcement, the large percentage of licensed dogs, along with the higher fines, has led to Calgary’s animal control department becoming financially self-sufficient.

    It’s win, win, win, in Calgary, all because they addressed the real causes for unwarranted aggression in dogs.

    15. Breed-specific approaches to dog bite prevention have failed.

    There isn’t one region that can claim a reduction in the number, or severity, of dog bites as a result of banning a breed of dog.

    In Winnipeg, officials promoting the city’s long-time ban on ‘pit bulls’ often misleads the public by stating “’pit bull’ attacks” have been eliminated. Well of course they’ve been eliminated. ‘Pit bulls’ are banned in Winnipeg. You don’t have to be rocket scientist to figure that out. There are also no wooly mammoth attacks or saber toothed tiger attacks, either.

    When Winnipeg banned ‘pit bulls’, German Shepherds, and their crosses, were far and away the most common biters in that city. After ‘pit bulls’ were banned, there was an average of close to 50 more bites per year, for the following decade. In addition to the rise in overall dog bites, the number of bites by German Shepherds and crosses, Labrador Retrievers and crosses, Terriers crosses, and Rottweilers and crosses, skyrocketed.

    Kitchener is another example. The city of Kitchener banned ‘pit bulls’ in 1997, without ever having done an analysis on the city’s dog bite data. Only after ‘pit bulls’ were banned was it discovered they were #8 in the 1996 dog bite statistics, “right behind #7 Poodles,” as it is commonly said. In what could only be a deliberate attempt to mislead the public, officials immediately halted the collection of dog bite data by breed.

    Even so, while we don’t know which breeds have been doing the biting, we can still determine if the ‘pit bull’ ban has been effective in reducing dog bites in Kitchener. Every animal bite is required, by law, to be reported to the Medical Officer of Health. With a sleuthing, it was discovered that dog bites haven’t been reduced at all, since ‘pit bulls’ were banned in 1997. They’ve remained pretty constant.

    According to a BBC report, hospitalizations due to dog bites rose 25% after ‘pit bulls’ were banned in England.

    Officials from most of the cities that have repealed breed-specific laws have used terms like “ineffective” and “unenforceable”.

    16. All dog breeds are genetically identical. Even DNA can’t distinguish between a Chihuahua, a ‘pit bull’, a Great Dane, and a wolf.

    Those rare individuals with the personal expertise necessary to accurately attempt to determine a dog’s breed based on appearance alone typically are not employed in the various occupations charged with enforcing most breed-specific legislation. This leaves the subjective determination of a dog’s breed to the very inexpert animal control and shelter workers. In some cases, police officers must decide the dog’s breed, yet not one police officer is trained to (accurately) differentiate between dog breeds. The same can be said of veterinarians. A veterinary license infers expertise in diagnosing and treating illness, for the most part. Neither practicing veterinarians nor veterinary students are required to prove any expertise in breed identification in order to obtain a license. Any expertise an individual veterinarian may possess, in terms of breed identification, or even dog training and behaviour, was most likely acquired outside the requirements of licensing.

    Because the people enforcing breed-specific laws are not dog breed identification experts, the likelihood of misidentification is unconscionably great. (In Ontario, several dogs have already been misidentified, under breed-specific ordinances.)

    17. "The public" is not in danger of unprovoked dog bites.

    For instance, every recent dog-related fatality in Canada has involved dogs and victims residing within the same home. The same could be said for the majority of bites and attacks, as well.

    This is very important information, in terms of quelling the public’s hysteria.
    “The public” is rarely involved in unprovoked biting incidents. Most bite victims knew the dog and were voluntarily interacting with it at the time of the bite. Most people are bitten by their own dogs.

    If you don’t own a dog, your risk of being bitten is very low. If you also don’t live next door to a dog that is routinely left unsupervised, or one that is known to behave aggressively, then your risk of being bitten is virtually nil.

    Even when we don’t account for contributing factors (such as proximity) you are still more than 100 times more likely to be hit by lightning than killed by a dog. (In Canada, the likelihood of being killed by a dog you don’t know or live with is virtually zero.)

    18. ‘Pit bulls’ are, if anything, less likely to bite.

    In the U.S., ‘pit bulls’ are estimated to make up 9% of the dog population, yet they typically only make up 2-4% of dog bites, nationwide. In case your readers don’t understand what that means, it would be expected, purely on population alone, that 9% of dog bites would be attributed to ‘pit bulls’. Since less than half (even a third) of bites are reportedly caused by ‘pit bulls’, this suggests they’re much less likely to bite than should be expected.

    19. ‘Pit bulls’ are less likely to kill than people.

    In the U.S., even extremely conservative estimates suggest that only 0.00002% of the ‘pit bull’ population has killed. This is much lower than the human population (men, in particular).

    Whatever someone’s views about ‘pit bulls’ might be, it can’t change the fact that at least 99.99998% have never, and will never, kill anyone.

    20. 99.9% of all dogs, from all breeds, will never be involved in an attack.

    Huge generalizations about dog breeds is not only unscientific, it’s not even practically accurate. I like to put it this way, “If any ‘breed’ were genetically programmed to attack, certainly more than 0.1% of them would.”

    21. The media.
    While I don’t want to get into a protracted discussion about the lack of honesty in media reports of dog bites, I will summarize by saying that reviewing media reports of dog biting incidents is not “research” because the media is extremely biased in regards to which stories it chooses to cover.

    For instance, I reviewed Denver media’s coverage of dog biting incidents and found nearly 100% of the cases involved ‘pit bulls’; yet the city’s own dog bite data shows ‘pit bulls’ are attributed with just 2.6% of bites.

    The media reports dog biting incidents involving ‘pit bulls’ to the near-exclusion of all others. In addition, they use other tactics to exaggerate the details, such as salacious language, or references to other dog biting incidents involving ‘pit bulls’.

    There are countless incidents of media bias. In Ontario, a ‘pit bull’ killed another dog, and it was front-page news, that reappeared in the media for weeks. The owner was swiftly taken to jail. Around the same time, two Labs killed another dog, and attacked a ‘pit bull’ without any real media interest. The owner of the Labs was not charged with any serious offence.

    There are other blatant incidents, as well. One weekend, a off-leash ‘pit bull’ and an off-leash Doberman Pinscher got into a squabble, and every major media agency reported the incident. That same weekend, a child was mauled by the family’s Golden Retriever, and not one media outlet covered the story.

    A child was mauled so savagely by his grandfather’s Labrador Retriever, he required treatment at two Ontario hospitals. Only one media outlet covered this story in just one broadcast.

    Again, relying on the media for the facts of dog biting cases is not advised.


    Naturally, I could go on. But there you have a pretty good primer (off the top of my head), regarding the facts about the who, what, where, when, how, and why dogs bite unprovoked.

    Because I kept encountering the same story, over and over and over again, in my research of dog biting incidents, I was led to create a dog bite prevention strategy that deals with the factors common to nearly all the cases I’d investigated.

    I made it simple, and easy to remember. And I made sure not to include anything that would require an individual to develop some kind of expertise. People who don’t own dogs or aren’t experienced dog trainers still have a right to protect themselves from unprovoked dog bites. The following is what I call, the “3 Simple Steps to Dog Bite Prevention”:

    1. Avoid unsupervised dogs.
    2. Never leave children unsupervised with dogs.
    3. Ensure our own dogs are properly trained and adequately supervised at all times.

    By following these “3 Simple Steps”, we could virtually eliminate unprovoked dog bites in Canada.

    It is not just important, but vital, to know what ACTUALLY causes dogs to bite unprovoked, if we ever hope to reduce those numbers. Obtusely theorizing about possible causes or solutions is not helpful and, as in the case of breed-specific legislation, is often harmful to both humans and dogs.

    If you would like more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


    Marjorie Darby

  3. Anonymous5:16 PM

    I think Marjorie's research on dog bite stats is brilliant (thank you very much for that) and highly commendable, however must strongly disagree that all dogs are created equal based on genetics.

    In fact I think it is misleading to suggest that genetic similarity creates a completely level playing field. To say that a Golden Retriever and a Presa Canario have the same temperament just because they are genetically similar makes zero sense to me.

    I'm going to confer with two good friends of mine about DNA/genetics etc. who are both PHD's in biology and see what I come up with in respect to our canine friends.

    In the meantime I've got some stuff I'm going to post on my own blog about it. Well when I can find the time of course...


  4. Anonymous5:22 PM

    Oh and quickly I found this on the web:

    Not trying to be argumentative...only to learn and seek the scientific truth.


  5. The study of dog breeds, from a unique genetic standpoint, is ongoing. Over the past few years, we get a report, every now and then, that a study was able to, seemingly, identify a dog's breed, strictly via its DNA.

    This is the media report of the situation, but not the reality.

    The fact is, we can find markers that seem unique to a breed but, when tested over a larger population, totally unrelated dogs will also possess this marker. At best, we can sometimes predict the likelihood that a dog will be a memeber of one of the mapped breeds. Mixed breed dogs further confuse the results. (The predictions are most accurate when dealing with dogs from scrupulously purebred lineage.)

    Since dog "breeds" are identical to "races" in humans, the same can be said of human DNA. I am no more or less likely to have genetic markers in common with races completely unlike mine. My genetic markers could be closest to the darkest-skinned man in the heart of Africa, even though I'm totally fair. My closest genetic marker match could be Asian or Scandinavian. Who knows?

    While there have been inroads (similar to that described in the referenced article from 2004), we still can't accurately determine which race someone belongs to, based solely on his/her DNA.

    All human races, as all dog breeds, are agreed to be genetically "identical". Whether or not this will change over time, the current debate is best left to the experts, for now.

    Sufficeth to say, it's not as simplistic as media reports make it out to be.

    There was also no mention of a genetic cause or link for aggressive behaviour. Indeed, the thrust of the article was limited to the study of that which we know is genetic; the development of certain forms of disease.

    People often lump all sorts of unrelated traits and behaviours together, as though they're all 100% genetic. They aren't. We didn't "invent" any instinctual dog behaviours. Some behaviours are instinctual and some are learned. Some are a bit of both.

    Temperament does not equal behaviour. Puppies from the same two parents can exhibit a wide array of temperaments. Indeed, most suggest each litter will have at least one more dominant and one more submissive puppy, with the rest probably somewhere in the middle, no matter what the temperament of the parents was like.

    We can't breed for learned behaviours.

    I encourage you to research scientific studies from actual canine geneticists, rather than the easy synopses provided by the media.

    One respected canine geneticist, Glen Bui, says this (specifically in reference to the American Pit Bull Terrier):

    "To state that a breed of dog is aggressive is scientifically impossible. Statistics do not support such a finding. Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years and within all breeds there can be dangerous dogs because of owner issues such as training the dog to attack, lack of training and socialization.

    There is no such thing as the "Mean Gene" in dogs as well as in people. However mutant genes have been discovered. Alteration of a single DNA base in the gene encoding an enzyme called monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) has been found to render the enzyme nonfunctional. This enzyme normally catalyzes reactions that metabolize the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. What this does is cause slight mental impairment which interferes with the ability to cope with certain situations resulting in aggression. There is no proof and there never has been that the American Pit Bull Terrier possesses mutant genes. There is a one in ten thousand chance of a mutant gene appearing in a population."

    I must caution that I disagree with the sweeping view that a dog which has never behaved aggressively will suddenly learn and exhibit aggressive behaviours in a neurotransmitter-deficient environment. In all likelihood, such a dog would merely behave aberrantly, and not necessarily aggressively. Most companion dogs have been allowed or encouraged to behave aggressively, in some way; thus making the observation seemingly accurate, in a clinical environment.

    Bui goes on to say,

    "Aggressiveness has many definitions and its stimulus of the environment that causes behavior. Dogs defend territory, they exhibit dominance and if allowed can become protective of their family. All this behavior can be controlled by the owner and aggression is mainly an act of behavior.

    To make claim that the American Pit Bull Terrier can cause more severe injury than other breeds is ludicrous. Over 30 breeds of dogs are responsible for over 500 fatal attacks in the last 30 years, every victim was severely injured. The American Pit Bull Terrier is clearly a useful member of society, the breed was World War One Hero, its rated as having one of the best overall temperaments in the United States (A.T.T.S.). The breed is used for dog show competitions, therapy, service work, search and rescue, police work and companionship. Man has domesticated dogs to the point they serve as companions, workers, and even objects of beauty. Dogs will protect man, see for him, hunt for him and play. One breed is not more inherently good or evil, vicious, harmful or helpful. It is man who is responsible for the dogs behavior, not the breed of dog.

    Those passing breed bans fail to understand that a mis-trained Pit Bull can be replaced with another breed. People determine whether dogs will be useful members of a community or a nuisance. It is the people who allow their dogs to become dangerous and legislators must control and punish the people."


    I always like people to read the following, as it tends to help people rethink their view of "genetics":

    Canine Behavior and Genetics

    By Dr M Malini, DVM, Canine Behavior

    1. Genes do not cause anything. They dont cause breast cancer; they dont cause aggression; they dont cause blue eyes or floppy ears. Saying that genes cause problems is a device used by those who

    a) dont know any better or

    b) are seeking a quick-and-dirty way to reduce an incredibly complex concept to a sound-bite for the masses.

    2. Aggression per se is not a problem. There isnt a single living being who doesnt owe his, her, or its existence to the willingness of his, her, or its ancestors to display aggression. Sperm compete with each other, developing mother and fetus fight over scarce resources, as do developing young from moment of conception until death possibly years later. Without a willingness to display aggression, none of us would be here. To me that means that the probability of any DNA associated with aggression in any dog breed being relegated to that relatively small amount that separates one breed from another is extremely low. The principle of conservation of energy would seem to guarantee that aggression is simply too fundamental and important a characteristic for survival in all living beings for that DNA associated with it to be distributed that way. It seems far more likely that all the "recipes" for aggression reside in that large lump of genetic material we share with at least the bulk of animal life if not all living things.

    3. No agreement exists on the definition of normal aggression, let alone problem aggression. A dog who attacks a serial killer trying to off his owner is a hero; a dog who attacks the local minister is a killer. Some owners think a dog has a right to bite a child who kicks the animal; other people believe that no dog should ever bite any human under any circumstances. Some clients come to me because their dogs bit someone else after biting only family members for years. Other comes for exactly the opposite reason: the dog is now biting them as well as everyone else.

    4. Even if we could agree on a definition of problem aggression and isolate what will surely be the multiple genes associated with it, the most we could do would be to attribute that particular behavior to a particular dog in a particular situation. That is, behavior only has meaning in context. Behaviors may be described as, for example, dominant or subordinate, but the dogs cannot be except in that particular situation.

    5. Police, shelter workers, insurance company reps, medical personnel and others who may be involved in dog bite cases often have little or no knowledge of normal dog behavior. Because of this, they often don't get any kind of meaningful history because they dont know the right questions to ask. Consequently, in order to say anything meaningful about the attack, we need a decent history. Without it, the most we can do is guess which is, unfortunately, more often the case than not.

    6. In volume VII, No #4 1994 of the interdisciplinary bond journal, Anthrozoos, theres an interesting article entitled "Dog on a Tightrope: The position of the dog in British society as influenced by press reports (1988 to 1992)" by Anthony Podberscek.

    Although theoretically dated as research articles go, the material is a fine example of the old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Podberscek contends that "the media, public, and government response to dog attacks is an overreaction to the generally held ideal that the dogs position in society is as a loyal and faithful companion," a relationship based on what those of us in the bond arena refer to "disneyfication." Because of the ideal arises from myth rather than recognition of normal canine behavior, the dog's relationship to us is highly unstable.

    Podberscek also points out that, even though Rottweilers and GSDs were involved in numerous attacks, both of these breeds were eliminated from Britains Dangerous Dogs Act which only named four breeds: "the type known as Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Filo Braziliero." The fact that the latter two breeds didnt exist in the UK and there was only one Tosa in the country at that time makes it clear that this law was not about protecting the public from dog attacks. I agree with Poberscek that the reason these dogs were targeted and the far, far, more numerous Rottwielers and GSDs were not was because the former were associated with drug dealers whereas the latter were associated with the police work and as guardians of estates and places of business. Thus the banned dogs became the symbol of what the media and public hoped to do to the drug dealerslock them up, muzzle them, or put them down.

    It seems to me that 10 years later, the parallels between breed bans and ethnic cleansing and the fact that those viewed as minorities in certain areas may still be over-represented among drug dealers and dog fighters suggest that this projected symbolism remains alive and well.

    7. Relative to the medias penchant for seeing a pit bull every time they report a dog attack, it reminds me of a phenomenon in psychiatry known as "semantic contagion." A corollary of this in medicine is "meetingitis." What happens is that, as soon as someone starts writing or talking about a problem, people start to see it everywhere. Years ago everyone was having nervous breakdowns, then they were all schizophrenics. Now everyones depressed. My dentist is so susceptible to this that I always make sure not to schedule an appointment with him for the week after he returns from a meeting because I knew that, regardless what problem I went in with, I'll come out with the one he heard about that week.

    I used to work for a veterinarian who did the same with medical diseases and I know the same thing happens with behavioral problems. In spite of the fact that no agreed on definition for separation anxiety exists (either), its surprising how many dogs now have this problem. Given the tendency for the human mind to work this way, it wouldn't surprise me if the same thing happens in the media when it comes to pinning breed labels on dogs.

    Granted some unscrupulous journalists undoubtedly will refer to a biting dog as a pit bull or pit bull type even if the animal is obviously a ShiTzu if it might increase the chance the wire services will pick up the article. However, I think that, aside from whatever breeds a person happens to know from personal experience, most people recognize relatively few purebreds. Rather they lump dogs in often highly nonspecific, arbitrary groups such as "yappy little dogs" or "squashed nosed ones." Hence the person who looked at the Boston terrier and said, "Is that a mini-pit bull?"

    8. In keeping with disneyfication, the human-animal bond is often reduced to a public relations or marketing device. In reality, the nature of the human-canine relationship plays a critical role in canine aggression. In spite of the fact that owners often express shock when their dog bites them or someone else, a complete history of the dog and its relationship reveals a scenario that more often than not unfolds like a Greek tragedy. The question is rarely if these dogs will bite, but merely when, who, and where. Just as its virtually impossible to change a dogs or humans behavior without changing their physiology and vice versa, its also impossible to change their relationship without changing the other two. What those who seek to ban breeds and even ultimately the entire domestic canine species fail to recognize is that humans and dogs co-evolved for thousands of years. We are as physiologically and behaviorally dependent on them as they are on us. At the same time that we think were training them, theyre training us. At the same time as theyre enhancing (or undermining) our health, were doing the same to them. Behavioral ecologist Ray Coppinger refers to dogs as parasites. I would agree that they do function as physical parasites, but we even the ante by emotionally parasitizing them by projecting our most intimate and sometimes neurotic and totally self-serving symbolism on them, unmindful of the stress this may create. (Although some dogs are becoming highly skilled emotional parasites, too.)

    9. Because of the physiological and behavioral effects of domestication, the ideal human-canine relationship should mimic that between a mature adult animal and a pup. The term used for the parental role is leader rather than parent to distinguish this relationship from primate parenthood. This is necessary because primate parenthood is initially highly reactive, a form of adult response that communicates subordination in canines. Unfortunately, many people erroneously associate leadership with (reactive) dominance and dominance with the ability to win fights. The net result is that aggressive dogs often don't recognize human leadership because their owners don't communicate it. Instead they see their owners as competitors or pups. This relationship then affects how they related to other people, too. In my experience, owners and others don't communicate leadership to dogs either because they don't know how or because they don't want to be leaders. (We also happen to live in a society in which the lack of human role models is rampant with those championed as "leaders" actually being energy-squandering folk who lack sufficient leadership skill that they have no choice but to dominate by force. The true leader isnt the individual who wins the fight, but rather the one who possesses so much presence he or she needn't fight at all.)


    Among the litany of experts who disagree with a genetic cause for aggression, there's this:

    "Variability in behaviour has a wider range within a breed than between breeds. ...The adult behaviour of a domestic dog is determined overwhelmingly by its experiential history, environmental management and training."

    - Dr. Mary Lee Nitschke, Ph.D.


    My own research shows no link between the dogs that attack, other than the poor care the owners provided.

    My experience as a dog trainer has not revealed the need for any breed-specific training techniques. In fact, dogs of similar temperaments, but of different breeds, tend to respond equally well to the same training style.

    My personal dog owning experience (with dogs from a number of breeds, life experiences, and reproductive status) anecdotally demonstrates that a competent person can properly raise one good canine citizen after another, without the need for gene therapy, medical intervention, or extraordinary behavioural modification; and never having their dogs behave aggressively, unjustifiably aggressively, or biting anyone, or anything.

    There is no "aggression gene". If a behaviour is genetically caused, only by directly affecting that gene, can it be modified. I have yet to hear of anyone doing gene therapy in an attempt to halt aggression.

    Of course, I could go on and on, but I stand by my first grievance: the very people most committed to the notion that aggression can be inherited are people with absolutely no relevant expertise, whatsoever. It always comes back to what they heard or read, often in a magaizine or on the Internet.