Dangerous Dog Diatriabe Part V: Solutions to End BSL

To resolve the BSL issue on both sides of the debate we need education. I know this I sound like a skipping CD, but it is the answer... First, it has to be a task that is undertaken by those of us “in dogs”. Many people are doing research that shows the ineffectiveness of BSL. Janis Bradley has published two well thought out and understandable pieces of literature on the subject of dog bites. Her policy paper on the math, science and factual statistics about dog bites is something every dog owner in America should have as a reference. In addition it is something everyone should carry out of the shelter door when adopting a dog. Her book Dogs Bite - But Balloons And Slippers Are More Dangerous is dead-on accurate and pulls the whole dangerous dog issue down off the ledge. As with many presumed “fears” in American society, the dangerous dog laws and the banning of breeds et al…is wrapped in propaganda and media bias. Sound familiar?

Everyone is concerned about dog bites. Even those of us who laugh at dog behavior that would have some shrieking for cover are concerned. However, the concern is not actually so much about dog bites but how they are perceived or as Jean Donaldson says how non-lethal bites get “lumped” in with actual bites that have done harm to a person. 

The one thing to understand is that dogs do bite, and if they are intent on harming someone, they will get the job done. The numbers to focus on are not the 20 or so deaths dogs are involved in each year, or the 200 or so bites that require serious medical attention, the number to keep close at hand when dealing with people who are up-in-arms over dog bites is that out of 74 million dogs and 300 million humans (in the U.S. alone) these numbers of lethal bites and deaths are a safe bet by anyone’s standard of safe.

Our collective concern should be, as Dr. Nicholas Dodman says, “based on ownership practices”.

In my travels as a dog trainer who does not use pain-force-shock or startle in my tool kit to train dogs, I see many people either forgetting or forgoing common sense advice offered by me or by way of other responsible educated dog trainers that have available information out here. Perspective and common sense about dogs is one of the psychological and belief changes we need in order for an even better dynamic to take place. It is much of what Jean Donaldson speaks about in her book The Culture Clash.

Get involved by getting educated.

Anyone can complain, or sit around and feel bad or be confused. What we need to do in order for things to change is combine action and education. If you live in a state that has proposed BSL or has a breed ban enacted, or even if you don’t, start a group or website based in the truth about dogs.
Media and public opinion are what culture responds to.  Keep in mind this is not just about Pit Bull dogs, this is about dogs in general. Start a group that serves to protect and properly train any breed of dog that is maligned by law or myth; this includes many of the dogs out there. You will find a staggering amount of dog issues that are causes to begin the crusade.

Write well thought-out and respectful letters to your legislature. Contact responsible and reputable dog trainers and people in canine behavior with degrees in the humane science of dog behavior. Do not settle for someone representing dogs that is not able to back it up. Much of the emotional components of pro-BSL arguments can be replaced and resolved with logical and factual information. If that is not enough we always have the cost vs. effectiveness argument. Collect the truth about the breeds in question. Have as much documentation by checkable legitimate sources. In essence build a case against BSL. This is what I have done with this series as well as my documentary, Judging the Innocent.

Marthina McClay of Our Pack said to me in a phone interview that she reminds her dog training students it is “we dog-people who need to make the laws for dogs”. One of the major problems with dogs in the USA and around the globe is that many times the fate of dogs is in the hands of people who do not understand them.

Even if they love the dogs with all their heart they may still misunderstand the dogs’ behavior. There is an intersecting point within the dog/human dynamic especially where training, behavior modification, breeding, and rescue takes place, where love stays in place, but humanity, science and factual information based on quantifiable data takes the lead and we make decisions based on those criteria with our love for dogs firmly in place. The false beliefs and myths and emotions are what have maligned breeds of dogs all through history. How in one breath humans can be so intelligent and in the next fail to understand something as simple as a dog?

This disconnect that humans still have with dogs is astounding to me. No amount of math, science, logic, or history has so far been able to erase the ongoing chasm of misunderstanding of some people. As we careen into the end of the first decade of the 21st century, I am amazed at how misconstrued the dog has become. One thing I know for sure is the vast majority of humans across all areas of society love dogs. This is good news.
In spite of it’s never failing popularity or its complete immersion and influence over one aspect of popular culture at all times in each major cultural shift, the dog is still taken for granted and tossed about like a disposable item, property as it is referred to by states, considered best friends by those who believe the factual truth that there is no loyalty like the canine.

The proper definition of what dogs are these days by and large is – companion animal. We should then be working harder to normalize dog behavior so we can have an even better relationship with our companions. Building bonds not binds is something I strongly suggest to anyone involved with dogs.
It is ironic that when I was asked by DSD to write the BSL series I was researching to write about Bud the fist dog to accompany two men Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewall K. Crocker across the country in the first transatlantic car ride. I wonder how many of those states they traveled through would today have Bud the Pit Bull banned? During the trip Bud was the center of attention at the resting points, crowds would gather and pet him and give him water etc…Today there is still a segment of our society that would be afraid of Bud no matter how cute he looked in those goggles. Again fear of dogs will not be erased, what we need to erase is the prejudice of dogs. We need to remove the misunderstandings about dogs from the “killer dog” myths all the way down to the benign training confusion.

Stay On Top Of The Media

This fear has been directly caused by the media’s false claims and the never-ending meme that Pit Bulls are “monsters”. Why someone would choose to malign an innocent creature that is supposed to be our best friend is unconscionable. The loss of logic by some people that surrounds dogs says quite a bit about our collective consciousness and our devolution towards paranoia about things that are not a threat. Fortunately, dogs are not “monsters” out to get us; no, dogs are part of society. They are intertwined with humans. They are, after all, part of the reason we made it through history.
How do we erase the prejudice of breeds? I am asking anyone reading this who is tired of breed prejudice to start appealing to those who will listen and use their intellect. Emotions need to be in check when presenting the case for dogs. Those who will help fight the pro-BSL factions need to be dedicated and have their ducks in the proverbial row. We have the overwhelmingly apparent truth on our side to boot! Find people who are passionate and smart. Lawyers who love animals, judges that own dogs, legislators who have dogs. Business people, teachers, doctors, vets etc… Anyone who knows how to get organized and has influence is a good candidate.

Dog Educators

Get involved by educating as many people as possible. Yes we are busy, but we also need to combat the disease that is BSL and other myth driven dog flummery. People have biases and some people have will always fear, that’s fine. What dogs need are people who can explain how they tick, concisely and in everyday language. Work with your shelter, rise above the fray, avoid the politics and start some kind of educational program. It is one-day one dog at a time. Just start, because there are 41 states that have BSL or are proposing it. Cities like Denver and many others are killing Pit Bulls en mass, around the country shelters and their staffs are afraid of dogs because of urban legends.

These fears creep into shelters and in some cases are the actual causes for dogs being euthanized. These misguided fears coupled with dog ignorance about dealing with behavior are in many cases the perfect storm for dogs to get into trouble. It is not enough to put on a cute T-shirt or say, “they are all good dogs”.

In many ways that is just as naive as people saying all Pit Bulls are bad. What we need in this struggle is the truth that education can bring. Advocacy is not just about cute dogs and smiling pictures of Pit Bulls with children and cats. It is about being responsible and fully educating people.

Yes Pit Bull dogs, and Chows and Rotties etc…are all substantial dogs; however they are also, just dogs first. Then they are whatever the breed has become by way of humans selecting traits through breeding, continued influence by way of training, this is either done through ignorance or design. Dogs are what we make them, biologically or mythically. Dogs do not have a hand in the process; they really are at our interpretive mercy every step of the way.

I honestly believe that 99% of the people out there do not want to see dogs of any breed treated unfairly. So not only do we have the math, science and logic on our side we also have the masses.

My warning to the pro-BSL crowd is this – your days are numbered. There is a sweeping change in the majority of dog people. People are tired of lies, of deceit, of falsehoods. So get ready to be educated, get ready to raise the consciousness, get ready to make a difference, because it is happening, it is changing for the better.

We’ve all got work to do, and it will take more time to do it. Bear in mind people on the other side are also working. Don’t give up, dogs do not give up, they hold on, we owe it to them, after all we would not have made it this far in history had it not been for the dogs.

If everyone reading this saves one dog or changes one person’s way of thinking about dogs by way of education then we are one step closer to victory. As in dog training it is small steps that build success.

The Pit Bull Placebo – Karen Delise (Anibus Press)

•        In addition to these references listed; I have interviewed the most well respected and lauded dog trainers and dog behavior experts in the US and some of the best Pit Bull advocates and rescues for my documentary film Judging the Innocent (2009 K9 Son Media).

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