In Part Two of this blog, I talked about some obvious health risks imposed by the proposed City of Seattle breed-specific legislation. I do, however, see some portions of the law that impress me at first glance.
Under Seattle’s version of BSL, owners must complete a dog training or owner instruction course “that impresses upon owners of fighting breed dogs their responsibilities to properly socialize, supervise, and care for their dog, and which teaches them practical knowledge and tools to help their dog be a good canine citizen.” This is fantastic, and I wish that it were required of all dog owners, not just the ones whose dogs may have an element of a “fighting breed” in the mix. As any behaviorist or dog trainer worth their salt will tell you, and as our consultants at Companion Animal Solutions often explain when working with aggressive dogs, socialization can make a huge difference in the life of a dog. Severe lack of socialization can produce a dog who appears to have been physically abused. Dogs that don’t learn to handle and enjoy a variety of environments, people, dogs and experiences when they are young will not know how to react to those situations later in life, which can result in dangerous fear aggression. My only beef with this portion of the law is that, while it does say that the Director will “vet and pre-approve” the programs that fulfill this requirement, it does not specifically state the training techniques that will be used in these programs.
If all of these breeds are required to go to training classes where aversive training methods are used, this legislation could become a self-fulfilling prophecy: we think these dogs are aggressive, we train them using aggressive methods, and lo and behold, these dogs become aggressive. One reason that Companion Animal Solutions uses and advocates the use of positive reinforcement in training and behavior modification is that more traditional techniques involving leash corrections and choke chains or prong collars can result in serious behavioral fallout. Especially during critical socialization periods, but even later in life, dogs are learning associations between environments or situations and their internal state (fearful, comfortable, in pain, etc). If these dogs associate all of their training experiences (which just happen to be human interactions) with pain or discomfort, we cannot expect them to enjoy training or worse, enjoy being around humans.
It also strikes me as ironic that this law will require owners of “fighting breeds” to learn about properly socializing their dogs while simultaneously making it much more difficult for them to actually do so. The breeds that this law applies to will no longer be able to enter any public building (including pet stores that allow dogs) with the exception of dog day care, boarding, and veterinary facilities, and, if the dog is muzzled and in a crate or kennel, bus and train stations. Unless acting as a service dog, these breeds will not be allowed in any public parks, including dog parks. The places where these dogs will be able to socialize? Outside, with a muzzle on. One hopes that the training classes the owners attend will teach them how to get their dogs to enjoy wearing a muzzle, and that the other dogs these breeds come in contact with during their critical socialization period will have been exposed to enough dogs in muzzles that they won’t react fearfully or aggressively towards the sight of a dog in a muzzle, and that owners will make sure that the muzzle they choose allows their dog to take treats, drink water, and pant. But this isn’t required by law, just that these breeds be in a muzzle and out of public buildings, and that owners be aware of the importance of proper socialization. (Service dogs will be exempt from muzzling only if the muzzle will interfere with their duties, such as retrieving items for their owners, etc.)
For all these complaints, there is one portion of the legislation that I wholeheartedly encourage, and that’s the section addressing tethering. Under this law, owners of the specified breeds would not be allowed to leave their dogs tethered and unattended either in public or on private property. Chaining/tethering is a hot enough topic to deserve its own blog post, so I won’t go into great detail at this time. Suffice it to say, chained or tethered dogs are at risk for extreme boredom, neglect, exposure to the elements, and exposure to people or other dogs that may threaten, intimidate or harass them, with no escape route. When options in a dangerous situation are fight or flight, and flight is removed… bites happen. I don’t see a problem with dogs that are tethered, fighting breed or otherwise, having required supervision.
When weighing the pros and cons of Seattle’s potential version of BSL, I found plenty of faults. Some portions of the law seem to invite inhumane treatment while other sections contradicted each other. I do not support BSL to begin with, and while I am glad that the legislation did not require euthanasia (as happened in Denver, CO when its breed ban was enacted), I was appalled by the apparent lack of concern the bill’s drafters had for the safety and quality of life of the dogs that would qualify under this draft. Generally, I consider Seattle a fairly progressive city as far as dogs are concerned, but this law doesn’t demonstrate that at all.
We’d like to hear any comments you have about Breed Specific Legislation. Is your area considering one? Has your area already enacted one and what were the results? Thanks for reading about this important issue.