We need action on dangerous dog laws, but banning XL bullies isn’t the answer

The subject of XL bullies is really emotive. We, like so many others, are heartbroken by recent incidents which have involved dog bites and aggression, some of which have led to horrendous tragedies. 

We fully understand the public's concern and fears following recent reports and we are also really concerned about making sure the public are effectively protected. 

We know everyone on all sides of this discussion wants the same thing - to keep people safe.

That is why Hope Rescue, as part of the Dog Control Coalition, wants to see urgent action. 

We need solutions that protect the public, as well as safeguard animal welfare. We are campaigning for change because we want an end to these tragic incidents. But we must make sure that any solution works and is effective in better protecting people. Banning another type of dog is simply not the answer.

The Dangerous Dogs Act isn’t working.

We’ve had the Dangerous Dogs Act in force for 32 years. It isn’t working.

In the past 20 years, hospital admissions for the treatment of dog bites have gone up by over 150% - despite four types of dog already being on the banned list. Adding another dog to this list will not keep people safe. 

Some of those hospital admissions are because of bites from XL bullies. These are big, powerful dogs - and that means they can cause serious injury. But they aren't inherently aggressive.

Sadly, these dogs have become commodities to many owners who encourage aggressive behaviours - and that needs to change.

Yet the last three decades have shown us that banning a certain type of dog can mean they become even more desirable in the eyes of criminals, or owners who seek particular types of dogs as part of their image. Or, after a ban is introduced, other types of dogs that reckless owners believe fits with that image, can become popular as individuals switch their focus to another powerful breed of big dog. 

The current law is also very hard to enforce. Whether or not a dog is considered to be banned largely depends on their characteristics and how closely they match a so-called standard. The dogs’ DNA, genetics and parentage are not taken into consideration.

This means it is possible for legal pure and cross breeds to look like a prohibited type of dog and become a target for the law. Identifying XL bullies is very difficult especially when there are several different variants of the American bully and many other dogs who look similar.

Banning types of dog because of how they look - rather than how they behave - fails to protect public safety. It also means countless dogs - who have never shown aggression - have to be subject to very restricted conditions so that they can be legally kept or be euthanised.

However, if in the care of a rescue organisation like Hope Rescue, the law requires us to put them to sleep; which is heartbreaking for everyone involved. 

We have seen many loving, family dogs and happy, healthy, rehomable dogs in rescue shelters and local authority stray dog pounds  destroyed needlessly as a result of the Dangerous Dogs Act - and all while dog bite incidents continue to soar. We need a different approach.

What we need instead

Instead, we urgently need the UK Government to deal with owners whose dogs are dangerously out of control and pose a risk. We also need action against breeders who are using these dogs for profit. 

At Hope Rescue we have long campaigned for tighter breeding legislation and increased resources for enforcement. We see the impact of poor breeding practices every day in our operational work. There has been an exponential increase in the number of illegal and low welfare breeders breeding inherently unhealthy dogs with extreme and exaggerated features, but local authorities simply don’t have the resources to deal with them.

Canine fertility clinics, the co-ownership breeding model, exclusion of stud dogs from breeding legislation, online sale of pets…so much more needs to be done.    

We need more effective enforcement and early interventions - which bring dogs to the attention of law enforcement earlier if there is concern about their behaviour before it escalates.

We also need to work with people to prevent incidents from happening but in addition to tough sentences to punish and deter those who use dogs to harm other people.

The law shouldn't focus on certain types of dogs - but instead deal with aggression in all dogs, with the response tailored on a case-by-case basis. Only then can we properly protect the public from aggressive behaviour in all dogs.

The Dog Control Coalition’s position does not make light of the behaviour shown by some XL bullies or minimise the bad behaviour of owners who fail to keep dogs under control, or those who use them to frighten and harm people, nor the consequences of some unmistakably sad tragedies.

When dogs, including XL bullies, are bred and reared poorly, and denied training, socialisation and good care, aggression becomes more likely. That’s what needs tackling. 

We cannot and should not keep adding dogs to the banned list - we need a fundamental change to the law on dogs acting dangerously to protect the public now and in the future.

How you can help

We're very concerned to see more discussions around adding another type of dog to the banned list - as evidence shows this will not work.

Anyone who believes the UK Government must act to overhaul the Dangerous Dogs Act and instead focus on effective enforcement and early interventions can email their Member of Parliament on the RSPCA website.


This post is based on a blog post on the RSPCA website about XL bullies and dangerous dog law reform.