The Malta Independent 23 September 2019, Monday

No dog breeds banned under Maltese law

Thursday, 13 December 2018, 09:32 Last update: about 10 months ago

No dog breed is banned under Maltese law, contrary to popular belief that some breeds, such as the American Pit Bull Terrier and DogoArgentino are illegal to own in Malta.

This came to light following a story published by this newspaper, on information provided by the Ministry responsible for animal welfare, that a number of dogs were listed in local legislation as banned breeds.

This information was in fact incorrect and the Ministry has since provided new information which does not list any dog species as dangerous.

The law today defines what a dangerous animal is without naming any particular breed.

President of the EBKC, Andrea Selvaggi spoke with this newspaper and noted that thankfully, breed-specific legislations, commonly known as 'BSL' do not exist any longer, and the information given in error for the previous article was based upon an outdated Animal Welfare act of 1998 that were carbon-copies of the British Animal Welfare Act.

The EBKC is an international dog breed registry established in 2008 to promote the study, breeding, exhibiting, and advancement of purebred dogs. They strongly oppose any legislation that determines a dog to be dangerous based on specific breeds of dogs.

Dog owners should be responsible for their dogs, the kennel club believes and the law should impose appropriate penalties on irresponsible owners.Communities must establish a well-defined procedure for dealing with dogs proven to be dangerous which includes, if necessary, the destruction of such animals.

The problem ultimately lies with the individual owner, and that is where the focus of dangerous dog laws should be, the EBKC said.

In addition, a public education campaign is needed for children to learn proper behaviour around their pets.

'No such thing as a dangerous breed' - Robert Spiteri, dog trainer

This stance echoes that of Robert Spiteri from Malta Dog Training Services, a dog trainer and behaviourist with a speciality in dog aggression.

Whilst agreeing that certain breeds have drives, Robert says these drives can be controlled. Do not discriminate a dog breed, but educate their owners.' he insists.

The essential characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are strength, confidence, and zest for life. This breed is eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm. APBTs make excellent family companions and have always been noted for their love of children. Because most APBTs exhibit some level of dog aggression and because of its powerful physique, the APBT requires an owner who will carefully socialize and obedience train the dog.

The breed's natural agility makes it one of the most capable canine climbers so good fencing is a must for this breed. The APBT is not the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers. Aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed and highly undesirable. This breed does very well in performance events because of its high level of intelligence and its willingness to work, Robert explains.

Pit Bull Terriers tend to have a bad image which could even result from films or music video because it looks like a 'gangster dog'. But in reality, this dog is actually called the 'nanny dog' because they get along so well with children and guard and protect them.

If an APBT is brought up well he is highly affectionate and 'extreme lickers', Robert explains. On the other hand, Pit Bull Terriers do not get along so well with other dogs as with most Terrier breeds.

Although some level of dog aggression is expected from this breed due to its heritage, aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed and highly undesirable. Robert says.

What he insists on, rather than defining certain breeds as dangerous, is that not all breeds are good for everyone. Giving the example of a fox terrier, he says this breed is very active and social but if the owner is someone who is sedentary then the match is not going to be a good one.

"There is a part which is nature, that a breed has certain characteristics but in the right hands this can be managed," Robert says. He continues to add that knowing about the breed can avoid certain dangerous situations.

These misunderstood breeds are all strong-willed dogs and if matched with someone who is less strong-willed they will become the dominant one in the pack. "If I just started driving I would not choose a sports car as my first car," Robert explains. That is why it is so important to choose the breed wisely.

"Owners of strong dog breeds need to be physically and mentally capable of being responsible owners," Robert comments.

He also believes that people who own certain breeds should be given an informative session, even of just one hour, on how to handle them. This is something that should be managed by the authorities.

"Not knowing how to handle a dog can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Spoiling the dog can result in certain habits that cannot be controlled, however, for which I blame the owner."

Furthermore, a dog's nature is not to fight but to flee. In fact, most dogs tend to be quite protective on a leash but if left to its own devices it would not be aggressive.

Robert says he has seen dangerous dogs throughout his career as a behaviourist but there is no such thing as a dangerous breed. He also says that he does not generally believe that any dog should be put down.

"There is always a way around it," Robert explains. Of course, the older the dog the harder it is to rehabilitate it and certain limits may not be achievable, however, some element of control can be instilled into any dog. Also, as per the law if an owner believes his dog is dangerous than he should muzzle him in public places.

DogoArgentino case last year - 'These dogs were angels'

Last year, the owner of three DogoArgentinos was charged with a number of offences relating to a dog attack on a woman in Gzira. The owner received heavy criticism across social media for being an irresponsible owner and in fact, he ended by declaring in court, that he did not want to be a dog owner anymore.

Robert was called in on this case to assess whether these dogs should be put down due to them being 'dangerous'.

"These dogs were angels, they were scared," Robert said.

Robert explains that it transpires that the person attacked was passing by with another dog and these DogoArgentinos attacked the dog. As a consequence, the woman was injured but it seems the attack 'was not viciousness towards people'.

"Three dogs form a pack, which could be dangerous because they guard their territory. Not against people, in this case, but against dogs, which is very normal."

Guarding territory is normal for dogs but the problem here lies is why the owner let these three large dogs running around outside, Robert exclaims. In fact, the dogs were taken away from the owner but Robert insisted that the dogs should not be put down.

Show dogs: 'I am against conformation shows'

In Malta, Robert explains, dog shows tend to focus only on the physical aspect of a breed but not their temperament.

Giving the example of a Rottweiler, he says there are of course certain physical characteristics which define the breed but then showing a dog which is aggressive is not conforming to the breed's norm. "By standard, a Rottweiler is not aggressive. At the most territorial and protective, but not aggressive."

However, Robert says he has seen Rottweilers in shows which show aggression or are scared. "This is bad breeding. Breeders do not care about temperament as long as the dog's physical features are of show quality. They are ruining the breed."

In Germany in fact for admission into shows a temper test needs to be done to see how the dog conforms.

Poor local dog breeding standards

Robert also commented on poor local breeding practices of certain breeds, which do not take into consideration certain physical ailments the breed may suffer from.

"I have seen Labradors as young as six months showing signs of hip dysplasia (abnormal development). The dog will not have a long life and he will suffer immensely as he grows older. It is horrible for both parties, the owner and the dog."

There should be an insistence on hip and elbow scoring: a test which shows that only dogs which score below the breed average should be bred.


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