Nature or Nurture: The Status of Dogs Currently Within the UK


Man’s best friend has had a subjected life over the past 10 years. Breeding programmes, labelling as illegal and misuse of dogs as fighting tools has only damaged their reputation rather than that of the owner or the breeding group. Our current mentality defining good bad a dog is not only causing harm to the dogs themselves, but it has also led to some tragedies that in some cases could have been avoidable. However, we must understand that dogs are still canines. The relation to wolves, foxes, jackals and coyotes may determine their psychological state. This in the future may have to be looked at thoroughly when we are accepting our furry friends into a home.

Current tragedies highlight the ferocity and violent nature of dogs as a whole. The Death of four-year-old Lexi Branson is a shocking case and over the past 12 months, there have been 4 cases of a similarly brutal nature. Harry Harper was only 8 days old when he was killed by the family’s Jack Russell in April. Both of these cases demonstrate that even dogs without a stigma of violence have the mentality to react aggressively and it brings into question the influence of our training and care as responsible owners. Lexi Branson was killed by a French bull mastiff that only lived with the family for 2 months before the death and previously was an abandoned stray. Regardless of its behaviour during the previous two months, it is possible that previous experiences the animal endured may have triggered a sudden brutality which in this case led to tragic consequences.

There have been 17 canine-related deaths since 2005, and even though the cases above are quite unusual due to the breed involved, many of the other cases have come from the typical types that have been deemed violent. Breeds banned in the UK include the pitbull terrier, the Japanese tosa, the dogo argentino and the Fila Braziliero. These dogs may have connotations of violence and danger. It is true that all of these dogs in the past have been used to kill (the dogo argentino is still used today to fight pumas) but these breeds still have the capacity to be docile. The pitbull terrier in the UK is used for pitting against other dogs, but genetic make-up cannot presuppose its actions. Rather than punishing the dog in situations like this, the owner should be examined on how they are treating the pet and what they are using it for. The pitbull terrier derives from other breeds such as the bulldog, and today in society they are viewed as a perfectly normal dog.

But what is a normal dog, and how do we make such an assessment? Should we instead assess the potentially harmful act of selective breeding? Huge competitions like Crufts and societies like the Kennel Club have already been questioned on morality as recent documentaries have shown the harmful consequences of conserving breeds. The BBC stopped showing the dog show in 2010, but much can still be done. The Pitbull terrier is a mongrel at heart and can live up to 17 years, while the bulldog which is now a selected breed is lucky to live past the age of 8. Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Pugs and many other breeds are constantly measured and scaled like a piece of meat and all it has led to is severe health problems for the dogs.

Who are we to define what the perfect dog looks or acts like? It is important to consider the nature of specific breeds before caring for a dog. Once we do this, all we can do is love them and treat them with the care they deserve.

[Arron Cockell]

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