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What Does “deed Not Breed” Really Mean?

If you were put on the spot and asked to name one dangerous dog breed, your answer would probably be one of two things; either the pit bull as the first dog that comes to mind as one of the UK’s banned breeds, or that there is no such thing as a dangerous breed per se, and that dogs’ behaviour comes down to a combination of their treatment and training.

This latter answer forms the basic principle of the “deed not breed” movement, which is based upon the idea that there are no dangerous breeds, only individual dogs, and that in most cases, said dogs are only potentially dangerous because they have been poorly treated, improperly trained, or not kept under control.

The deed not breed principle is a response to the UK’s Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) which has been in place since 1991, or 25 years this year. The DDA enforces an ownership ban on four specific breeds of dog, being the Pit bull terrier, Fila Brasilero, Japanese Tosa and Dogo Argentino. The Act also mandates that dogs of all breeds and types must be kept under control and unable to harm another person or animal, but it is the banned breeds section of the Act that is the target of the deed not breed movement.

In this article, we will look at what is meant by deed not breed in more detail, how the principle could theoretically be applied to the Dangerous Dogs Act, and whether or not the principle is a potentially viable alternative to the framework of the DDA as it currently stands. Read on to learn more.

Why are there banned breeds in the UK?

The stated reasons behind why the four above-mentioned breeds cannot be legally owned in the UK (with a couple of narrow caveats for dogs owned under licence) are twofold; firstly that these breeds have a history of being bred and used for fighting and other roles that may reinforce or encourage aggression, and secondly, because if a dog of those breeds were to make a determined attack on a person, they have the strength and size necessary to cause a great deal of harm very quickly.

It is this combination of perceived danger and ability to cause harm that flags the four breeds above for inclusion on the banned breeds side of the Act.

However, there are also a great many other breeds of dog that also tick both boxes-fighting potential and ability to cause harm-such as the English bulldog, and yet these breeds are legal to own in the UK, which adds another element to the argument against the Act in its current form in terms of its consistency.


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Breed and aggression

The deed not breed argument tackles the perception that just because any given breed of dog could potentially cause a serious injury does not mean that they are likely to; essentially, taking the nurture rather than nature approach, that behaviour, aggression and temperament rely heavily on the control, training and treatment any dog receives rather than their breed, with the breed itself having little to no influence on the dog’s temperament.

Does breed play a factor in temperament and aggression?

It would be hard to argue that the dog’s breed does not come accompanied by certain basic traits across most or many dogs of each breed; such as propensity to chase in sighthounds, a strong drive to herd in the Border collie, and various other factors for each breed.

However, aggression is not in and of itself a personality trait in the true sense of the word, any more than grief or hatred are. Puppies are not born aggressive; however, their formative experiences even before they reach the age of twelve weeks can go on to shape their temperament and behaviour throughout the rest of their lives; which is why the way that dogs are treated and managed from a very early age is key when it comes to ensuring that any given dog is safe and trustworthy.

Temperament and treatment

Deed not breed is based on the principle outlined above-there is no such thing as a breed that is by nature, bad or aggressive, and if any given dog is well treated, properly trained and kept under control, they should not be any danger to people. While there are always exceptions, these exceptions can arise in any breed, and are no more likely to present in one of the banned breeds than, say, a Springer spaniel.

Essentially, this principle outlines the fact that if a dog is not likely to attempt to harm someone, the fact that they are physically able to do so is irrelevant, and so every dog should be assessed on their own merits, behaviour and temperament, as individuals-and not automatically be blacklisted due to drawing the short straw in a genetic lottery.

To find out more, check out the website of non-profit organisation Deed Not Breed, which can also provide advice if you have any concerns about your own dog’s appearance or breed. 


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