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Breed Specific Laws: Nature Or Nurture?

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Have you ever own a dog, if not maybe you have known someone during your life that has owned a dog? For the sake of argument, let’s say that you are a dog owner, and you have had this loving animal for many years. Now, imagine one day an animal control agent has come to your house. Immediately when you open your door the agent hands you a court order, and serious instructs you to hand over your beloved dog. You begin to feel confused and violated as you take in the scene and read the legal documentation that was just handed to you. After a few moments of reading you realize, that you have been accused of owning a specific breed of canine that is banned from the city that you live in. Instantly, you remember receiving a few genetic flyers in the mail warning the public about new legislation that was recently passed in the city and it was dangerous dogs existing within the limits of the city. Laughing slightly, you tell the animal control agent, they must have the wrong house because, your dog isn’t dangerous at all and you even clearly state, and “my dog couldn’t even hurt a fly”. Surprisingly many states and cities in the United States have breed specifics laws (BSL) that ban or restrict the ownership of certain types of canine. “The majority of BSL is focused on breeds traditionally known as "dangerous," or those that have demonstrated particular propensities for aggression and violent behavior” (Weiss, 2001, 4). The responsbility that comes with the territory of owning a dog isn’t easy and being an irresponsible owner will put the dog, you and the public at risk. BSL is intended to increase public safety by targeting these specific groups of canine to hopefully prevent vicious dog attacks or bites from occurring. The nature of an animal’s wild side is undeniably a part of every dog however; responsible dog ownership allows the aggressive, dominant and unpredictable behavior of any dog’s temperament to be controllably tamed and maintained.

It has been thousands of years since the domestic dog came to live side by side with humans. (Discovery, 2007) The tame, friendly and loved pets we now cherish, have not always been so tame, friendly or loved and, every once in a while we can still witness their wilder side. It is hard to believe that humans created hundreds of different breeds of dogs by taming and domesticating a closely related ancestor over the course of 15,000 years. (McGourty, 2002) So where did the domestic dog come from and how did humans create over four hundred, dramatically different looking breeds of canine? The answer to this question is actually very simple. The domestically loved species Canis lupus familiaris, otherwise known as a dog is just a physical mutation of the wild, unpredictable and well feared wolf, known as Canis lupus. (Discovery, 2007) It is uncertain how long it took to completely domesticate the wolf but, studies have revealed how the evolutionary process might have occurred over time. Selective breeding and the animals’ habitat have played significant roles in this development process. Unfortunately for many breeds, adapting to the world has not been an easy journey. The historically strong bond between man and wolf has ultimately allowed the domestication of an entire species. However, many humans today still fear the possibilities that can occur from the aggressive tendency of a dog.

The diverse characteristics of canines’ have been exploited over the last one-hundred years. This power has given humans the freedom to manipulate and create many of the dog breeds we love and even hate today. Many of these particular canine breeds have played important roles in the world and they have been individual shaped to meet many of our civilizations needs. “During domestication there was some kind of change in their cognitive ability that allowed them to figure out what other individuals wanted using social cues” (McGourty, 2002, 26). Dogs, like all animals, are born with instincts and building on a dog’s innate qualities can allow a trainer to properly exploit certain skills in positive ways. Certain qualities like a canines’ powerful sense of smell can be used to help humans locate and track people, drugs, bombs, and even termites. Amazingly, the domesticated dog with proper training can be a good family pet, valuable service animal or rescue dog. (Discovery, 2001) Humans have depended upon animals for many things, and over the last 15,000 years humans have specifically bred dogs for personal gain. Unfortunately, the natural instincts of canines have also been exploited in negative ways over time. Humans have used the natural wild side of a dog’s temperament to their advantage. Specific breeds have earned bad reputations, and have been considered dangerously vicious just because of the way they look. The blood sport of dog fighting is one example of how humans have conditioned and trained specific breeds to behave unpredictable, aggressive and dominant. The Pit Bull is one known type of dog that was regularly used and bred for this sport. Since these types of dog have historical been bred specifically to fight or attack many individuals know without a doubt it is just a matter of time before the animal eventually attacks. Breed specific statements and stereotypes are fueled by fear and ignorance; they create hatred and intolerance towards specific dogs for no just reasoning.

“A dog's looks can be deceiving” (Jackson, 2007, 1). Can the looks of a dog determine whether a dog is really wildly vicious? What if I were to say that anyone with blue eyes was stupid; would you consider my claim to be absolutely ludicrous? “From the smallest Chihuahua to the largest Great Dane, dogs dramatically vary in size, much more than most other animals”. (Jones) If the physical characteristics of a breed dramatically vary, can the qualities of a dog’s behavior vary too? “The behavior of animals has fascinated inquiring minds since the time of Plato and Aristotle” (Funk & Wagnalls, 2005, 1). When determining the factors of a dog’s behavior, there are two different opinions that have offered view points about the specific traits of an animal. The first comes from the behaviorists , this type of individual strictly believes that a dog is nurtured and trained to be exactly what it is. (Funk & Wagnalls, 2005) The use of operant conditioning on a dog, such as positive reinforcement trains the dog to respond appropriately in all situations. (Funk & Wagnalls, 2005) “Behaviorists believe that trial-and-error learning, combined with the associative learning of Pavlov , can serve to link any number of reflexes and simple



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