By Lesley Liddle
Lesley Liddle is a certified service and pet dog trainer. First Mate Lulu is a Corgi/Red Heeler with spots like a baby harbor seal; Crewman Leonard is a Chihuahua/Doxie with tall ears like a rabbit. Both dogs have very short legs and were originally found in California shelters. Lesley has average legs and can be found on Orcas Island.
The next two weeks I will be talking about Bully Breeds, the dogs that are causing a lot of concern these days, the dogs that were bred in the 19th century in England for bull baiting, and later dog fighting, and ratting.
There are a number of breeds that fall into the Bully breed category, among them the Bulldog, the (English) Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Pit Bull Terrier, and the Bull Terrier. The one that recently draws the most negative attention is, as we all know, the American Pit Bull Terrier.
In the Staffordshire region of England, breeders crossed the mighty Bulldog with a fiesty terrier to develop a predatory, muscular, combative dog which they called a Stafforshire Bull Terrier. This dog was used to fight and kill other dogs and rats without mercy in betting rings – all for gambling and the wild enjoyment of spectators.
Although the dogs were extremely courageous and aggressive to one another, pups and adult dogs were immediately killed if they showed any aggression to people. Over time a dog breed was developed that was capable of being powerful and deadly to other dogs but predictably gentle towards humans.
This original Staffordshire Bull Terrier gradually became known to some as a “Nanny Dog” and was considered a reliable and loyal protector of children as well as a versatile and protective farm dog.
When the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was introduced to the United States breeders began to call it the American Stafforshire Terrier instead of the English Staffordshire Bull Terrier. These American dogs were bred to have heavier muscle weight and head size but – and this is most important – the dogs that were aggressive to people were NOT necessarily eliminated.
On the contrary, the outer fringes of society, gangsters and thugs began to backyard breed and train them not just for dog fighting but for vicious guarding of property and protection against other humans. Thus some of the breed became as aggressive towards humans as they were to other dogs.
By 1900 dog fighting was deemed cruel and was banned in the United States. The sport did nevertheless continue underground and continues to this day illegally in many parts of our country. Just like cock fighting, it is intentionally vicious and cruel.
On with history: By 1936 two clearly separate breeds had evolved over here: the American Staffordshire Terrier which was a more gentle show quality dog, and the American Pit Bull Terrier which had superior fighting abilities. We still have these two distinct breeds, but we also have Bull Terrier mixes of every description from unscrupulous backyard breeders and drug dealers. The shelters are crowded with them across the United States.
O.K., so now what do we do with all this information? Which gene bank are these dogs coming from? Who knows? The American Pit Bull is at the top of the list for the ten most dangerous breeds of dog, having given the most deadly bites to humans in any given year, followed by the Rottweiller and the German Shepherd.
Yet many people swear by the Pit Bull breed’s gentleness and adore them as family pets. What is one supposed to think? Is this really a dangerous breed or is it just the wrong people who own them? It is a sad and confusing situation. We must try to be sensible rather than reactive.
Here is what we do know: All of the ten listed “most dangerous” dog breeds are large dogs, those bred to guard, or fight, who can be extremely protective, who have the capability of doing great damage if they do bite. It is assuredly not that these big dogs bite the most often, however, because small dogs are often nasty biters, but little dogs tend to reach for ankles rather than throats and faces. (continued next week)