Rishi Sunak recently announced that the American XL bully dog will be banned in the UK by the end of the year after a spate of serious attacks over recent years. This will make it the first breed to be added to the prohibited list under the Dangerous Dogs Act since the law was first introduced in 1991. We know this news can be very distressing for pet owners all over the country, and so we wanted to provide you with all of the facts surrounding the ban and what it means to you. Whether you own an American XL bully or you are just a concerned dog owner, we hope to provide some clear answers amongst what has become a media frenzy.
The Dangerous Dogs Act was first introduced in 1991 and initially listed four breeds of dog; the pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, dogo Argentino and fila Brasileiro. The introduction of the Act came following a series of 11 serious dog attacks in that year. The Act has always been controversial, with many animal rights activists and rescue centres arguing that specific breeds aren't the issue when it comes to dog attacks, the owners are. However, there are also many people in support of the Act, believing it is the safest, most humane way to avoid dog attacks and keep people safe. The Dangerous Dogs Act has remained unchanged since it's creation in 1991, up until now. The addition of another breed is a big move, and will have a huge impact on many dogs and their families.
So, what does the ban actually mean? The rules that are outlined in the Dangerous Dogs Act state that banned dogs are to be identified by their physical characteristics, as determined by a dog legislation officer. This is a title given to a police officer experienced in dog handling and dog legislation. If a dog is deemed to be a banned breed, the dog can be seized by the police and euthanised, unless the owner applies for an exemption from court. The exemption process can take a long time, and during this time seized dogs are to remain in police custody.
Exemptions can be granted if the dog is deemed not to be a danger to the public, is owned by a “fit and proper” person, and is neutered and microchipped. The owner may be granted a certificate of exemption that is valid for the duration of the dog’s life but often comes with strict conditions such as keeping the dog muzzled and on a lead in public, and taking out public liability insurance to cover any injury or death caused by the dog. There has still been no precise news from the government about what will happen to existing American XL bullies, however the current guidelines as expressed in the Dangerous Dogs Act is believed to still stand. For some, knowing that this breed will be banned and therefore mostly off the streets is a relief and will help them to feel safer when they are out and about. However, it is important to remember that many dogs that will become eligible to be seized have been living happy, healthy lives with their owners for many years. Nothing about these dogs has changed, however their owners may now have to fight to keep them safe.
What exactly is an American XL bully? A modern breed of dog developed in the 1990's, it is thought to have been bred from a few different breeds including the American pit bull terrier, which was banned in the UK in 1991. The American XL bully has a heavy bone structure and muscular body. Fully grown adult males can weigh more than 57kg (9st) and grow to 53cm in height. The breed was first introduced to the UK around 2014. Since then, the breed has soared in popularity, with puppies selling for thousands of pounds. However, as the breed is not officially recognised by the Royal Kennel Club, there is very little data on how many dogs there actually are. However, numbers are believed to be in the thousands. According to Bully Watch, a group that has campaigned for the breed to be banned, the breed accounts for less than 1% of all owned dogs across the country.
Three of the seven fatal dog attacks this year have been linked to the breed. Some campaign groups believe that this is because the XL bully is inherently dangerous, and because of this they should be banned. They argue that potential inbreeding may exaggerate behaviours such as aggression. The breeds strength and size also mean any attacks or bites are more likely to be serious. Previous investigations into the breed have revealed a strong link between XL bully breeders (many of which are unlicensed) and organised crime, suggesting that these dogs were never given the chance at a normal, healthy life. Other campaign groups including animal welfare charities such as the RSPCA, Blue Cross and the Kennel Club, think dogs should be judged on their “deed not breed” and oppose a ban on the American XL bully. They believe that every dog is an individual and therefore cannot be inherently aggressive. They argue that the increased popularity of the breed has turned the dogs into “valuable commodities, resulting in irresponsible breeding, rearing and ownership, which can all contribute to an increased likelihood of aggression in dogs, regardless of breed”.
You may be asking, why now? Though it may seem sudden, campaigners and the government have been working on implementing a ban on the breed for quite some time. A viral video showing an XL bully cross-breed breaking free from its collar in the street and attacking people prompted Suella Braverman, the home secretary, to announce she was seeking “urgent advice” on a ban. Rishi Sunak’s announcement about the ban came hours after it emerged that a man named Ian Price had died after being attacked by two dogs which are believed to be XL bullies, in Staffordshire. A spokesperson for Rishi Sunak said work on implementing a ban had been under way for a while, however it was complicated by the fact the XL bully is not a legally recognised breed. This can make a ban very difficult to enforce as there are no concrete factors for determining whether a dog belongs the the breed or not.
Bans on specific breeds aren't necessarily as effective as you may believe. In fact, making a breed illegal may reduce the numbers, but the breed will no disappear altogether. Metropolitan police data from 2015-2016 showed pit bull terriers were responsible for 19% of dog attacks across London, despite the fact the breed had been banned for 25 years. The RSPCA said that from 1999 to 2019, the number of hospital admissions for the treatment of dog bites increased by 154% despite the ban of certain types of dogs, and adding another breed to the list “will only see history repeating itself”. There is also a concern that similar breeds will be developed and introduced as a result of the ban, just like how the American bully has grown so popular since the pit bull terrier was banned.
Overall, there is still a lack of certainty over the fate of the American XL bully breed. The legislation that is likely to be introduced may have a positive impact of preventing dog attacks, however much of the evidence points towards the possibility that the ban will actually have little to no effect when it comes to protecting people. If you are the owner of an American XL bully please don't panic, there is plenty of support out there to help keep you and your dog safe. The Dog's Trust are amongst many charities promising support to this breed and their owners during a difficult time. If you own an American Bully XL type dog, you can start preparing by making sure your dog is neutered, microchipped and trained to wear a muzzle. You can also obtain third party liability insurance, see The Dog's Trust Membership Scheme for affordable options.