/Nanny Dogs, Not Nuisances

Nanny Dogs, Not Nuisances

Bundy is a four year old mixed bully breed with a lot of love for his human friends. He attends obedience classes twice a week and easily wins over even the most cautious guests in his owner, Tyler’s, home.

Bundy is dog reactive and as such, one of the classes he attends is specifically tailored to help with this. It is his general obedience class, however, in which Bundy has run into issues. Due to his reactivity, Bundy is kept muzzled both for his protection and for that of the other dogs present. Being a responsible owner, Tyler has no problem with this.

What she does take offence to, however, is that while there are two other reactive dogs present, Bundy is the only one who is actually required to wear a muzzle. Tyler feels that Bundy has been singled out due to his appearance, as one of the trainers went out of their way to point out that dog reactivity is “very common” among Pit Bulls which is what they feel Bundy “obviously is”. To add context, the other two dog reactive animals in the class are a Jack Russell type and a Cavalier type.

Bully breed dogs, and by extension their owners, face this kind of discrimination on a daily basis. They have been vilified to the point where, in many parts of the world, there is legislation in place with the sole purpose of further persecuting dogs like Bundy. Despite this,  bully breeds make up half of the top ten most popular breeds in Australia and anyone who’s ever owned one has nothing but nice things to say, so why do we have such a hate on these dogs? Breed Specific Legislation played a significant role in the moral panic that now surrounds the breeds, but it was far from the instigator. If we look to history, we can see that various breeds have previously faced society’s wrath.

Generally, as a breed’s popularity rises, so does the negativity surrounding it and bully breeds are the latest victims of the cycle. For decades they were considered ‘nanny dogs’, bred and owned specifically to be companion animals for families. They were considered to be especially helpful to those with young or disabled children. Kylie’s little boy Ozzy, is a perfect example of this. Although he is only seven months old, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is “nurturing with children and understands the importance of gentle play with the little ones”. He has a loving and gentle nature and enjoys the company of other dogs as well as that of humans.

These shining qualities, however, haven’t saved Ozzy from society’s ire. He regularly receives dirty looks and derogatory comments purely because of the way he looks. Studies have shown, however, that many bullys are actually among those considered least likely to bite. Skye Squires readily admits that she believed the court of public opinion’s guilty verdict before welcoming Phoenix, an American Staffordshire Terrier, into her family.

When her husband suggested adopting a Staffy, Skye initially refused stating “they’re those violent dogs that attack everything”. Having previously owned Staffies, her husband called her out on her stereotypical view and after doing her own research, Skye fell in love with the breed.

“One thing that never falters is her absolute love and loyalty.”

Like most bullies Phoenix has faced her fair share of discrimination. Skye recalls a time when they were out walking with their trainer only to have a woman, who was out with her older dog and German Shepherd pup, seem rather afraid of the trio.

“It didn’t occur to me she could be fearful of our gorgeous girl as her older dog started aggressively barking at us.” But now, after reading other’s experiences, Skye believes that the woman may have been scared of Phoenix.

In many areas it is illegal to re-home a ‘Pit Bull type dog’, thus leading to any dog labelled as such (most bully breeds) being destroyed. In places where it is permissible to list them for adoption, bully breeds (especially those labelled explicitly as Pit Bulls) spend, on average, three times as long as their non-bully counterparts waiting for their forever homes. This has lead to a small amount of cases in which the truth has been fudged a little, or, in the case of Phoenix, quite a lot in order to get the dogs adopted. People also often overlook the personal toll society’s discrimination takes on owners. Not long after Sarah got her now three year old English Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Norman, she was verbally attacked because of his breed.

It was their very first session of puppy school and Sarah was simply doing the right thing by teaching Norman basic commands and politeness but this turned out the be the opposite of what she received. A man, who was also attending with his poodle, turned to Sarah and declared: “You are a disgrace, that’s a Pit Bull! They’re illegal! How dare you come to puppy training, my wife and kids are here! You and your dog need to leave, they are an illegal breed and you are an idiot for buying one.” Although the trainer stepped in to correct the man and diffuse the situation, the experience was far from pleasant for Sarah and Norman who she says “is the biggest sook in the world and would lick you to death before biting anyone”.       

Generally, however, bully breeds are never even given a chance with the most terrifying implication of this being the violence that can stem from people’s fear. Remember Bundy and Tyler from the start of this article? They’ve been threatened on two separate occasions and the police can’t help because Tyler didn’t even know the individuals involved. During a morning stroll on ANZAC Day of last year, Bundy leaned in to sniff a man. Although there was still at least a metre between the two, the man started screaming at Tyler about her “f*cking feral dog” and how he would shoot him if he ever saw him again. The man continued to scream about how he had “heaps of guns” claiming that Bundy went for his neck. On another occasion, Tyler had gotten up early (about 5am) to walk Bundy. Along the way they encountered a couple who were arguing between themselves, this startled Bundy causing him to bark.

Although Bundy readily moved away following a simple command of “no” from Tyler, the male involved threatened to stab him.

Incidents like these strike fear into the hearts of bully breed owners everywhere, and it is the stereotype and stigma that put them in this perilous position. While all owners hope to be the exception, they live with the reality that this is the rule. With instances like these being as common as they are, the truly dangerous thing about bully breeds is how something as simple as how a dog looks can cause such division and hatred, not the dogs themselves.

Words by Jessica Powell.