2018 Breed Specific Legislation in the Netherlands: a critical review and suggestions

Blog post about the Breed Specific Legislation in The Netherlands to be put in place in January 2018: Praise, criticism and implications
Article by Canis bonus. July 2017. Author: Laure-Anne Visele.
Illustration credits and back links at the end of the post.

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About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

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Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I am the dog behaviour therapist at Canis bonus and Head Trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school) in The Hague.

I help people from The Hague, Rijswijk, Delft, Westland and region with their dog’s behaviour.

I have a degree in Zoology, am a certified dog training instructor, and have a Postgraduate in applied animal behaviour (Magna cum laude).

If you want dog-friendly and evidence-based tips, drop me a line briefly explaining the problem and I’ll tell you if I think I can help.

Breed-Specific Legislation in The Netherlands

Breed Specific Legislation will come into effect in the Netherlands again from January 2018, after a nine-year absence. In the post below, I explain what the law is proposing to do, what reasoning went behind it, and what elements do and don’t make sense in my view.

The points raised by the law that I discuss later in the post are indicated in bold.

The proposed law

For now, only two measures have been stated:

1. Owners of the 21 breeds listed below concerned will need to follow a ‘course on raising a dog’ (opvoedcursus).

2. Local municipalities will be allowed to put up regulations applying only to the listed breeds (but will not necessarily do so), such as:

  • Compulsory muzzle
  • Compulsory short leash
  • Ban from certain public areas where many childrenbea play

The Government is also working on additional future measures (so nothing concrete on these points yet):

  • A breeding and import ban
  • A central dog bite incident register (any breeds)
  • A central anti-social behaviour register by dogs and/or owners (any breeds)

What breeds are on the list?

They define High Risk Dogs (HRD) breeds as: “Dogs who were originally bred for fighting […] These dogs can display aggression inflicting serious damage. They frequently bite people.” (Government source here)

The breeds are listed on the official Government page as follow:

  1. Akita
  2. Alano
  3. American Bulldog
  4. American Pitbull Terrier
  5. American Staffordshire Terrier
  6. Anatolian Shepherd
  7. Bandog
  8. Boerboel
  9. Bull Mastiff
  10. Bull Terrier
  11. Bully Kuta
  12. Cane Corso
  13. Dogo Argentino
  14. Dogo Canario
  15. Fila Brasileiro
  16. Rottweiler
  17. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  18. (Caucasian) Owcharka
  19. (South Russian) Owcharka
  20. Pitbulls, bullies and variants: pocket, micro, extreme pocket, regular, xl, xxl, rednose, you name it
  21. Tosa inu

(For technical reasons, I cannot attach source links to the pictures in the gallery itself. For full photo credits, including back-links, check Illustration credits at the end of this post.)

HRD crosses and look-alikes are will also be considered HRD’s but dogs with a *pedigree will not (*a valid Raad van Beheer pedigree. RvB = Dutch Kennel Club).

The Government warns they may add more breeds to the list.

The second list: listed but not considered high-risk

The government created a secondary list with breeds that were originally bred for fighting that are deemed lower-risk by the government:

  1. Boxer
  2. Dobermann
  3. Dogue de Bordeaux
  4. English Bulldog
  5. Mastiff
  6. Shar-Pei
  7. Mastino Napoletano

The breeds on the exemption list need to have a valid pedigree.

Now let’s start looking at my concerns, in no particular order.

High-risk crosses?

In the dog-fighting world, dogs get crossed for maximum dangerosity, granted but…

  1. Do all HRD x HRD mixes stem from the dog-fighting world?
  2. What of a HRD x non-HRD hybrids? I know a Staffie-Labrador cross (he’s a working dog, actually). Are they considered HRD’s? What of Chipits (yes, that’s a thing: Chihuahua – Pitbull)?
  3. What of distant ancestry? DNA testing can reveal 1/16th HRD and 15/16th non-HRD. Is the dog still HRD?

I am concerned by the grey areas raised by this question. I am curious: does someone out there know the answer to a couple of these questions? Include your source and I’ll credit you and update the post.

 

My beloved old dog, Rodgie, an English Bulldog/Fox terrier cross

And let’s make it even more complicated. What of unpedigreed dog with ancestry in the second list (e.g. English bulldog or Boxer)? Take my Rodgie, an English bulldog/Fox terrier cross. Was he a HRD in the eyes of the law?

High-risk look-alikes?

What of the purebred/pedigree-less lookalikes like old English Bulldogges (not on either list), or complete mutts that look like a HRD like my own dog (Podenco x Labrador).

Viewed from a certain angle even my Lab/Podenco looks like a Staffie

I heard stories of large-skulled Labradors being confiscated as they looked like an HRD, and the police being reluctant to return the dog even though a passport and pedigree was produced (in the old Dutch Breed-Specific Legislation days)

So, will a DNA test be part of the identification process this time?

And how do you DNA test a banddog or a Pitbull (they are not even a breed but the ultimate mix of physical and temperament traits suitable for protection/fighting)?

Why these breeds and not others?

This Government page (in Dutch) explains why they picked the breeds they did. This NRC article covers the question in layman’s terms (in Dutch).

In short, the reasons were:

  1. Originally bred for fighting skills
  2. Powerful, large, muscular
  3. Particularly dangerous biting style
  4. Often involved in serious attacks on people.

I review these below.

Dangerous biting style

The elements they took into account were:

a. Ability to sustain a hold-bite with unimpeded breathing 

Powerful jaw = more stable bite hold

High-risk dogs on the list have powerful jaws, no argument.

With unimpeded breathing?

This point sounds an awful lot like the lock-jaw super-power urban myth. Does someone out there know specifically what aspect of morphology would help what specific HRD breed to keep breathing whilst holding whilst other breeds cannot?

Steadfast bite as a psychological trait

Sustained bite ability is 10% morphology 90% psychology in my view. (Some) dogs with Bull ancestry can have behavioural tendencies for hold-biting. THAT is the concern, not some anatomical feature.

It boils down to the same (a dog who easily lets go vs. a dog who does not let go) but it’s still an important distinction or you’ll even be sticking English Bulldogs on the first HRD list next.

b. Tendency to aim for vulnerable body parts (e.g. throat) 

They do NOT aim for the throat in human attacks, unless trained specifically to do so

What I see when analysing the horrendous incidents involving HRD’s is impulsive aggression: opportunistic bites to the nearest body parts like the face for children and the hands, arms and thighs for adults.

They ALSO bite vital body parts in dogs, but not exclusively so

When it comes to attacking other dogs, the bites also, but not only, target the abdomen, femoral and neck regions, and can include shaking.

The bite locations also appears opportunistic in these frenzied dog-dog incident: the victim-dog is bitten with great force (no doubt about the intend to harm), but all over (not with the surgical precision implied by the ‘going for the throat’ statement).

What makes it pathological is that the attacker bites the vulnerable parts at all. Behaviourally healthy dogs tend to resolve their conflicts ritually, with a lot of show and dance but no bites to vital body parts.

Another worry in the types of aggression we see in these frenzied moments is the uninhibited use of force. My own dog (Lab size) has impressive jaws. He could inflict serious damage if he chose to. But he has a soft bite and stays cool. He caught a duck by the neck once. In my panic, I naively asked him to let go. And he did! He wasn’t worked up. He’d just had something in his mouth. The bird left unscathed! Now picture a typical Jack Russell in my dog’s place. He would have torn the duck to pieces.

The role of neurotransmitters

An attack with opportunistic and unrestrained bites is the product of a state of frenzy. Could it be that some certain (not all) members of some breeds are predisposed to (not bound to) to

  1. Reach this state of frenzy more easily (with less provocation) than the average dog?
  2. And that this state of frenzy lasts longer than for the average dog?
  3. And that this state of reaches higher peaks of intensity?

On all three counts, that would be a Yes. Yes, a tendency for 1-3 can be heritable.

During this state of frenzy, dog is blind to their victim’s appeasing signals, bites without inhibition, gets so excited that it will not feel attempts to pull it off, and it keeps attacking, taking a long time to calm down. These are the hallmarks of the attacks that are being reported in the press. The dog is ‘seeing red’.

ADRENALINE: In human terms, adrenaline has been (partly) involved in impulsive aggression, a type of aggression that looks an awful lot like these dog attacks in the press. Adrenaline also explains that the attacker is not perceiving its environment, just its victim. And that the attacker is seemingly oblivious to pain during a fit.

For a detailed look at the possible role of adrenaline, read my article on Pitbulls.

DOPAMINE: Dopamine too has been implicated in impulsive aggression (in humans, Oades et al, 2008). And yes, certain lines of dogs have been bred for ‘vechtlust’, a desire to fight. ‘Healthy’ aggression is reactive, defensive, a last resort. A dog who wants to fight pro-actively seeks opportunities because it feels good and the slightest excuse will be enough to trigger an all-out attack.

SEROTONIN: A dysfunction in the serotonin system has also been implicated in humans aggression (Bevilacqua and Goldman, 2013). Interstingly, it is also involved in canine ‘impulsive disinhibited aggression’ (Peremans et al, 2002), which may be the types of attacks we’ve been seeing.

Why am I talking of neurotransmitters? Because it’s the nature side of the nature-nurture arguments. It’s a biological mediator of a dog’s behaviour. It’s heritable.

Predisposition vs. certainty

Nature: Let’s start with killing the ‘It’s all about the owners’ argument. Some dogs can be predisposed to these problems. And some strains of some breeds (i.e. in fight and protection dog circles) are selected for frenzied aggression. You can raise these dogs with all the love in the world and still have an aggression problem (though a lot profound and intense than that showed by the neglected and abused dogs typically involved in bite incidents – Nurture).

Now the million dollar question. Are 2% of Staffies predisposed to frenzied aggression? Or 99%? From my daily practice (most are pedigreed pet dogs), most are extremely tolerant to humans. Are my human-tolerant guys the minority? The statistics are all over the place so we don’t know if it is (a) typical of a Staffie to be extremely aggressive, or whether (b) only deviant Staffies have the problem. From personal experience, (b) gets my vote but you don’t get to solid facts from personal experience.

The ones I see in my practice also show a predisposition (again, predisposition, not a certainty. Not all of the ones I see have the problem far from it) for unprovoked dog-dog aggression. This typically starts around the 18-months or two-year mark. These attacks are not frenzied, though, but they do seek out conflict.

c. Hard bite pressure, making it much harder to pry the jaws open

Psychology vs. morphology

Again, we are dealing with psychology as well as morphology.

I am not sure the bite pressure is solely due to their wide skull and strong muscles. A St Bernard has a respectable skull size, but his ancestors weren’t bred for clamping down onto a furious bull’s nose.

Remember: genetics are probabilistic, not deterministic

Not every Lab has a soft mouth and not every Bully has a hard bite.

Irresponsible ownership: fight training, abuse, neglect, neglectful confinement and lack of socialisation

Lastly: can we separate irresponsible ownership from biting styles? I don’t believe we can.

Most serious incidents I’ve read involved a status dog being kept in neglectful conditions, or a recently adopted dog of unknown origins.

In the circles where the dog is objectified as a status dog, he may be involved in casual or even professional fights, and thus trained like an athlete to have a quick, powerful and tenacious bite. These dogs undergo hours of training every day and are provoked and starved and beaten up.

Would your standard Staffie (who does not come from fighting stock and who isn’t abused) pose more of a danger than your standard Labrador? I sincerely don’t know.

Dangerous breeds: but not if they have a pedigree?

Dogs on the HRH (Hoog Risico Honden) list are exempt if they have a pedigree. The reasoning seems muddy to me, and smacks of pressures from interest groups (i.e. Kennel Clubs), but may have a little something to it. This is my take:

a. The aggression would have been ‘bred out of them’: how do we measure this?

It is in theory easier to ban the breeding of aggressive dogs from the pedigree world, than to try to regulate this from backstreet litters. I see the point there. Breeders would design a ‘companion’ line of the breed – temperamentally suitable as urban family dogs – by removing aggressive specimens from the gene pool (i.e. banning them from breeding). Within a couple of generations, the genetic component would have indeed been largely bred out of the breed. The English Bulldog is such a success story.

This is elegant in that it implicitly targets the dangerously irresponsible owners. I know plenty of responsible owners of non-pedigreed dogs (I consider myself to be one), but people involved in dog fights want to fly under the radar and are much less likely to register their dog, nevermind have pedigreed dogs.

So why is it only a good idea in theory? Because it gets complicated for many reasons.

Let’s start with where do you draw the line for ‘too aggressive to breed’? How do you objectively and reliably measure this?

  1. I am yet to find a suitable temperament test for aggression – or for any other temperament trait for that matter. This area of research is plagued with shaky results: poor predictive values, tons of false positives, a fair few false negatives, to name but a few of the problems.
  2. Without an objective yardstick, we have to rely on individual judgment. Ouch! ‘Too aggressive’ can mean an entirely different thing to two people. Considering the commercial interests at play, the pendulum may swing towards under-reporting aggression problems then blaming the owners. Mmmmhhh. Business as usual then.

b. The aggression would have been ‘bred out of them’: how do we regulate this?

  1. There are a million and a half different types of aggression in dogs (well, about ten). Some only develop with sexual maturity, some even later, with social maturity. Are we going to wait until the dog is over 2 years old before we subject them to the aggression test? It’s not the biggest problem in the world but it’s an added policy complication. I doubt your average commercial breeder will follow up with all the offspring of a particular sire x dame combination for up to two years, and wait before breeding them again until he’s heard that most of the litter turned out not to have an aggression problem.
  2. Aggression – and behaviour in general – is the product of the interaction of Genetics x Environment (x Epigenetics). I know enough young adult dogs who became severely aggressive after a violent burglary. These would be banned from breeding? Not a huge deal for the dog concerned, but irrational from a genetics perspective (though who knows about Epigenetics influences…)

c. The aggression would have been ‘bred out of them’: I beg to differ on certain breeds

From professional experience (so take it with a pinch of salt, this is not statistics-based), I see enough trigger-happy pedigreed Staffies. Staffies with a problem with other dogs typically show hyperfocus, uninhibited aggression and unprovoked attacks. Staffies, pedigreed or not, require particularly careful socialisation to other dogs.

Exempt breeds: lower risk?

Some breeds on the second list struck me as odd: Neapolitan Mastiff and Shar Peis. I would most certainly not put these breeds in inexperienced hands. They are still bred for protection, and many Shar Peis seem to really have a problem with other dogs come social maturity.

The Hondenbescherming reviews the matter of exempt breeds very aptly here.

Where are the German Shepherds?

Your average German Shepherds (or Malinois, for that matter, or Dutch shepherds) is more bite-prone than your average Staffies. Let’s not even talk of the working line German Shepherds who display these traits a hundred fold. Your average German Shepherd tends to:

  • Hyperfocus on fast movement
  • Get spooked by uncertainty, novelty or excitement: not exactly great to walk in the city
  • Get easily frustrated and…
  • … Get mouthy when frustrated or spooked
  • Be wary of strangers
  • Be protective of their family or territory

Not a great risk picture for such large breed, right? Why weren’t they included in HRH list, then?

Where it makes sense to exclude Shepherds from the list

The answer is: a sound risk calculation. Likelihood * Damage = Risk.

German Shepherds bite more frequently, but the damage they incur (tends to be) less severe. They (tend to) go for flash-bites instead of sustained bite. They (tend to) threaten more than injure.

What drives (most) incidents is fear so once the threat is retreating, the shepherd (tends to) let go. This in contrast with fight dogs who were bred to seek out conflict and to keep it going, inflicting as much damage as possible.

Where it does not make sense to exclude Shepherds from the list

The primary goal of the proposed 2018 legislation is public safety, primarily humans.

It is interesting, therefore, to note that the average Staffie (tends to) be extremely sociable to humans. Much more so than your average Shepherd.

As a dog professional, I am a lot more nervous if a German Shepherd comes close to me or my kid. If it’s a Staffie, we brace ourselves for A LOT OF licking and perhaps jumping – to reach the face… for licking. I make no secret that Staffies are among favourite breeds for that very reason. The boundless joy they (tend to) show from the slightest human attention is pure bliss to me.

Before you think I am being biased by my love of Staffies, I can tell you that I also get more nervous if an unfamiliar Staffie comes up to my dog. If a (German) Shepherd comes up to my dog, chance is he is not feeling nervous therefore chance is there will be no problem.

So will (German) Shepherds be added to the HRH list?

This RDA report says it’s a possibility, but not likely in the short-term future.

Knowledge used to draw the list

According to this Government document, the list was put together based on the advice of 5 national and international experts. The High-Risk Dogs being a devilishly complicated tale of behaviour genetics, epidemiology and criminology, I’d love to know what experts were consulted. If you know, please share it with us and leave a comment.

According to the same document, they based their decisions on the following list of references. I am underwhelmed by the quality of the sources here: look at the ratio of valid research references vs. popular science vs. opinion piece.

  • Avner, J R, Baker, M D (1991). Dog bites in urban children. Pedriatrics, 88 (1),55- 58
  • Beasly, J.T. (2015). Misunderstood Nanny Dogs? North Charlesto: CreateSpace
  • Billmire, D.A. (25 augustus 2016). Opinion: There is no need for pitbulls
  • Coppinger, R, Coppinger, L (2001), Dogs, a new understanding of canine origin, behavior and evolution, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press
  • Harding, S (2014), Unleashed: the phenomena of status and weapon dogs, Bristol: Policy Press
  • Jessup, D (1995) The working Pit Bull, Neptune City: T.f.h. publications
  • Kaye, A E, Belz, J M, Kirschner, R E (2009). Pediatric Dog Bite Injuries: A 5-Year Review of the Experience at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. PRS Journal, 551-558
  • Loewe, C L, Diaz, F D, Bechinsky, J (2007). Pitbull mauling deaths in Detroit. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 28 (4), 356-360
  • O’Brien, D C, Andre, T B, Robinson, A D, Squires, L D, Tollefson, T T (2014). Dog bites of the head and neck: an evaluation of a common pediatric trauma and associated treatment. American Journal of Otolaryngology – head and neck medicine and surgery, 36 (1), 32-38

Each of the valid papers came from bite treatment data from hospitals, with obvious breed identification limitations.

Where are the papers showing an inverse correlation between size and likelihood to attack (you can find a few here). Where are the papers showing the ineffectiveness of Breed Specific Legislation in reducing serious incidents? Regardless of the literature, having toyed with BSL from 1993 to 2008 (see Regeling Agressieve Dieren) and failed to reduce bite incidents, shouldn’t the Netherlands know better?

The original report: focus on the owner

If you look at this report from the RDA (a large panel of experts advising the government on the dog bite problem), the risk factors they identify are: owner first, breed second, context third (as in at the time of the bite, degree of provocation of the victim, etc.).

Source: Hondenbeten aan de Kaak gesteld. Aanbiedingsbrief of the RDA (Feb 2017)

This diagram shows the dog’s breed as a sub-point in the second risk factor, along with the character of the invididual dog. Why aren’t the measures focusing on all breeds? Or problem dogs – as identified pre-bite by neighbours, etc. raising concerns in a central database, and early intervention. Why does the current law proposal have such a focus on these 21 breeds?

Are dogs on the HRD higher-risk?

The risk calculation

To assess risk, you look at:

  1. Potential for injury: A furious Staffie will cause more damage than a furious Cocker Spaniel (but don’t underestimate the Cockers either), no argument.
  2. Likelihood of aggression: This point is A LOT more contentious. It is a mix of the dog’s state of mind at the time, the dog’s upbringing and the dog’s temperament. I discuss this prickly issue in details here.

Likelihood and genetic predisposition

As far as a genetic predisposition for aggression (i.e. point 2. likelihood) is concerned, I refer you to the points I made in the discussions on bite types:

  • Adrenaline hypersensitivity: Terriers were bred for responding quickly and fearlessly to fast movements and high-pitched sounds. Think of how a Jack Russell would treat a rat if  you want to picture the sort of mental state I am talking about.
  • Steadfastness: Dogs with bulldog ancestry may not let go easily.

Likelihood at bite records: minor bites

You can also estimate the likelihood of aggression by looking at bite records. What you need to know is there is no one standard way for first responders like family doctors, ER personnel or law enforcement to record the breed (or even the species in some cases) involved in a bite incident. When they do record the breed, this is often mis-identified. So our bite – breed records are very shoddy indeed. Bearing that in mind…

Let’s look at some bite epidemiology numbers from the Netherlands (Dutch Ministry of Finance’s advisory report, 2008). Note that these numbers have been corrected for the size of the breed’s population to avoid popular breeds becoming unduly incriminated.

Let’s start with minor bites. The researchers surveyed about 900 people who’ d been bitten by dogs (including benign bites that required no medical attention), then recorded the breeds involved and calculated a ‘bite index’ per breed. A bite index of one is how much individuals of an average breed would be implicated in bite incidents. An index much lower than one, like for the boxer (0.4), indicates a breed whose individual representatives bite much less than the average breed. Now take a look at the top of our list: 1. Weimarners (with a whopping 6.1), 2. Airedale terrier and 3. Bull terrier.

Table 6 of ‘hondenbeten in perspectief’ report, 2008

Before you scream for a ban on Weimerarner, remember to take these results with a pinch of salt as every study of this type gives you a different top 10. This points to very shoddy data and tells us that we still do not have a universal list of the top 10 ‘bitiest’ breeds. It is interesting to note that, out of our list of 21 HRD dogs, only 3 appear in this table: 1. Bull terrier (4th), 2. Rottweiler (5th), and 3. AmStaff (6th).

Likelihood and bite records: bites resulting in a criminal case

The same report analysed the data for a pilot project in Rotterdam in the early 2000’s (2000-2006) which recorded the breed in dogs involved in dog bite criminal cases.

Table 6 of ‘hondenbeten in perspectief’ report, 2008

This table is interesting in that it clearly shows Pitbull clearly stands out (technically, the Pitbull is many breeds put together, but let’s not split hair) with, respectively, 26 dog on person attacks and 13 dog on dog. This is closely followed by the Am Staff, then the Malinois, and back to a bunch of HRD breeds. 7 out of the 10 recognizable breeds are on the current HRD list.

Interestingly, look at the Staffie: 2 times, for biting a dog and not a person. This is what I see in my daily practice (a potential predisposition by some for dog-dog aggression but an incredible tolerance to humans). Again, we can’t draw many conclusions from such small numbers, particularly from police records (imagine the number of UNreported dog-dog incidents by all sorts of breeds, for starters), but it is interesting nonetheless.

What’s going on? Here we seem to have our criminal element influencing the data again. When you look at the types of breeds involved, most are status breeds, breeds popular in ‘hot’ neighbourhoods. Note also, 58% of the people whose dog ended up impounded to assess its potential danger to society, had a criminal record. I don’t know what the Dutch national average is for criminal record but I imagine it’s MUCH lower than that. There we have this critical variable again: problem owner – problem dog.

Likelihood and bite records: lethal bites

Let’s now look at lethal bite incidents (from police records, from the same report). There have been 29 between 1982 and 2006. Every year, 0 to 2 such incidents took place. As you know, data on the dog’s breed after such incidents can be hard to track so it was only possible to look closely at 14 of these 29 incidents.

Pitbull Terriers and Rottweilers were top of the list of dogs who inflicted fatal injuries to a person, with 3 victims each (over the course of 25 years). They are the only two breeds from the current HRD list. The other dogs each made 1 victim each. Staffies are nowhere to be seen but this may be due to identification issues. A Mastino napoletano does feature on the list, as do one St Bernard, one Malinois and one Jack Russell Terrier.

Table 2 of ‘hondenbeten in perspectief’ report, 2008

Again, we must be careful not to draw conclusions from this, before we go and add Bouviers and Malinois on the list. Fatal dog attacks are extremely rare (0.04 of non natural deaths in the Netherlands, same as lightning basically).

So the question of frequency is tough to answer, but when you look at the big picture and compare different studies you tend to end up with the larger breeds bite less often than the smaller ones. Look at this recent literature review by the National Canine Research Council to give you an idea of the big picture.

Now let me refer you back to the core question: how many individual HRDs have these predispositions to a concerning degree? 1% or 99% of them?

Bottom line on the likelihood question

The data is all over the place and we will never have accurate numerical records of an individual breed’s propensity for serious bite incidents. What we do know is that:

  1. HRD’s don’t rank that high in tendency to inflict bites (to people);
  2. HRD’s (particularly Pitbull breeds) are, together with shepherds, leading perpetrators in lethal attacks. But lethal attacks are thankfully extremely rare (although I appreciate that an average of 1x per year is 1 too many)
  3. HRD’s in general appear much more often than non HRD breeds in criminal cases (where someone submitted a complaint about the dog)
  4. Owners of impounded HRD dogs are much more likely than the average Dutch citizen to have a criminal record

The key factor: responsible ownership

Putting genetics aside for a moment, let’s look at the environment that could predispose a dog to severe aggression incidents:

  • People who use these breeds as dogs and encourage them to act intimidatingly.
  • People who purposefully fail to socialise their dog.
  • People who not only provoke, but highly train their dogs for aggression to other dogs (dog fights) and/or people (protection, revenge, status)
  • People who keep their dogs in neglectful and often abusive conditions. People who keep lots of bully dogs and barely feed and care for them. Who beat them up or worse when they underperform. This is sadly very prevalent in the dog-fighting underworld.
  • People who are unlikely to ensure their dogs are safety secured on a leash, behind a SECURE door or fence. Many horrendous attacks reported in the press involved a dog who’d escaped from his property into its victim’s gardenr by jumping over several fences.

Dogs who stacks up the size, genetics AND irresponsible owners odds are undeniably high-risk.

The crux is: how dangerous are dogs when raised by responsible owners? You’ve guessed it, we don’t know. There is no decent data.

Special local measures by municipalities

The local municipalities will have free range to enact local Breed-Specific measures (e.g. compulsory muzzles and leashes, or a complete ban from certain areas). This clause is causing anxiety among owners of HRD’s. They might be slapped with arbitrary restrictions at the whim of their local council from one day to the next. Should every HRD – no matter how sociable – be muzzle-trained already just in case the local council decides to pull the trigger?

Serious bite incidents involving children often involve dogs who either escaped their own property or the child’s own family dog (after the child was left unsupervised with the pet…). These were not incidents were Bullies were left to roam in children-heavy areas. What difference would a ban from local parks make for these incidents? Or leash or muzzle laws? .

A focus on containment measures, and this only for dogs who are giving their neighbours concerns (so not necessarily HRD) might be more effective and wouldn’t victimise countless sociable dogs. I am thinking of high, secure fences and so-called air-lock systems (think 2 front doors instead of one).

So what’s my take?

To me, the focus on breeds is like banning all kitchen knives because some are used as weapons. I appreciate you don’t want to wait until the first stab victim until you do something about someone, but not every kitchen knife is a weapon-in-waiting.

My position on the proposal is mixed: problems with status dogs are spilling into daily life at an alarming rate. Something needs to give. I hope the proposed change is a first step in the right direction. The text deserves praise in that it tries to focus on responsible ownership.

My bone is 1. the seemingly arbitrary choice of some breeds; 2. passing the buck to local municipalities for security measures, causing much uncertainty all around; and 3. the compulsory course that is supposed to change hearts and minds but that is as-yet undefined (I have written a whole post about my detailed concerns).

Bottom line: we are stigmatising 100 responsible owners to get to 1 irresponsible one, who, by the way, doesn’t stick to the existing laws so probably won’t obey the law change either.

Here are my alternative suggestions:

  1. A sort of ‘driver’s licence’ before anyone gets any dog. Anyone deemed high-risk during this process (e.g. objectifying the dog, documented risk-taking behaviour or a criminal record) would be denied their application.
  2. A ban on having a dog that is actually followed up on, and not ignored as it is today when the owner who had a dog confiscated can go get his next dog the day after.
  3. The fight-dog world crippled by a concerted police and governmental effort. Tied as it appears to be to the drugs and gambling world, I realise how naive my wish is.
  4. Animal welfare offences (abuse and neglect) being punished harshly, pushing these two risk factors a little further down the equation.
  5. Breaks in dog etiquette being treated as endangerment (they are): this includes, but is not limited to, allowing loose dogs to approach leashed dogs.
  6. Clear and enforced confinement laws (e.g. minimum fence heights, leash, muzzle) for individual dogs of concern. Concerns can be raised anonymously by members of the local community into the central database that is being worked on right now.

Between now and 2018, the best you can do is continue to be a great embassador for your breed and try to keep cool despite the rising pressure.

References

Additional bibliography

Illustrations

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4 Comments

  1. Heath Keogh
    Posted 16 August 2017 at 17:38 | Permalink

    A very interesting read. I am the author of the Metropolitan Police Service, LEAD Initiative, (Local Environmental Awareness on Dogs).

    We engage with all dog owners, of all breeds of dogs, regardless of social background of the owner. Through early intervention we are able to manage RISK and proactively engage with irresponsible owners before their dogs move on to commit a more serious offence. Over a period of 5 years, in the London Borough of Sutton some 297 owners were engaged with either due to their dog’s behaviour or due to their irresponsibility as a dog owner. Out of the 297 owners that have been engaged with, 4 have gone on to commit an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Which is a success of over 98.7 % .

    Our work is recognised National as ‘Best Practice’ and is endorsed by national dog charities, government departments and ministers.

    Please do not hesitate to contact for more on the LEAD Initiative.

    Kind Regards

    PC Heath Keogh

    Heath.J.T.Keogh@met.pnn.police.uk

    • Posted 25 August 2017 at 12:40 | Permalink

      Hi Heath. Many thanks for reaching out. I have just sent you a mail to follow up. LEAD sounds extremely interesting indeed.

  2. Alison
    Posted 17 October 2017 at 09:03 | Permalink

    Hi there
    I’ve found your article very interesting.

    I have a Bull Terrier – we got her from a registered breeder (from the UK) and she is Kennel Club registered (with the kennel club name the breeder gave her) and she has a bloodline certificate.
    We live in England but taker her everywhere with us , even on holiday. We recently got married in Venice and she came too! We were planning to come to The Netherlands next year (2018), when this ban list may be in action. Can you advise me what I need to do? Or where I can go to find out? I hear in Denmark she can be seized and killed, and Germany has tight restrictions too in various states. I do not want to take any risks with her life, or have her taken off us. It’s all very confusing!
    Thanks for writing the article, it’s been a huge help so far.
    Many thanks
    Alison

    • Posted 4 November 2017 at 09:03 | Permalink

      Hi Alison. Many thanks for your message.

      I would advise you keep an eye on the government list for updates: https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/hoog-risico-honden

      What we know so far, is that, somewhere at the start of 2018, owners of dogs on the list who do not have a pedigree recognized by the Dutch kennel club will need to attend a compulsory course. There is doubt about the timing as preparation does not seem to be progressing much. My estimate is 12 months, rather than 2.

      Depending on the gemeente (municipality, city council) you move into, different rules will be in order. A dog will only be seized with due cause, and this only happens if the dog is involved in a severe accident. Bear in mind that this is the way things work right now and that the regulations might tighten. So for now, I wouldn’t worry about her being seized. The worst that could happen if your dog has no aggression problem is that the gemeente says she needs to be muzzled (not pleasant, but dogs can be taught to tolerate it) and leashed.

      The minister of Finance who authored the law proposal has categorically rejected the idea of a standard rule for euthanizing certain dogs, even on the merits of a severe incident. He continues to recommend that euthanasia only be considered on a case-by-case basis. So you don’t have to worry about the worst case scenario when moving here. Having said that, a new government has just formed and I do not know to what extent this will affect the proposed legislation. Knowing the Dutch culture and the political climate around this issue, I would be extremely surprised if anything approaching euthanasia made it to the legislation.

      What I would do is check with the Dutch kennel club (http://www.bullterrier-rasvereniging.nl/index.php/96-raad-van-beheer) and ask them if you can make your UK pedigree into an official Dutch one. Then the local police will have no recourse against you (again, provided the dog has no aggression problem).

      If you are in The Hague, get in touch when you move here and we’ll help you further.

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