11 October 2023

The American XL Bully Ban ~ Why Genetics Matters

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past month or so, you will know that the American XL Bully is due to be added to the UK’s list of banned dogs by the end of this year. The issue of Breed Specific Legislation is so divisive, but ultimately, opinions are neither here nor there. Evidence and facts are the only things that should matter when decisions about public safety need to be made.

The American XL Bully is a 'natural extension of the American Pit Bull Terrier' (United Kennel Club, 1 July 2013)

The history of the American Pit Bull Terrier and therefore the American Bully is two-fold – the bullbaiting, bearbaiting, horse-shredding, boar-catching, dogfighting bulldog that has existed since at least the fifteenth century, and the American variation on the same theme that encompassed various ‘pit fighting’ bulldog type dogs.

Some breed historians claim that during the early nineteenth century, dog fanciers (breeders) in Great Britain and Ireland began crossing bulldogs and terriers to produce a fighting dog that combined terrier ‘gameness’ with bulldog strength. The result was the ‘Bull and Terrier’, which immigrants brought to America where it continued to be used as a fighting dog, and also by farmers as a ‘catch-dog’ for semi-wild cattle and hogs. Other breed historians contend that no such cross was ever made and that in fact the German bulldog of the time, the Bullenbeisser (bull-biter), was so similar to the modern Pit Bull that it was simply a matter of selectively breeding the most successful fighters. America’s high immigration statistics during the mid-late 1800s were fuelled by large numbers of Irish and German immigrants and so either version of American Pit Bull terrier heritage could be true. However, regardless of whether originally Bullenbeisser or ‘Bull and Terrier’ (or both), these dogs became known less for bullbaiting and more for fighting each other in the coal pits of Staffordshire County, Virginia, eventually being named Pit Bulldogs, or more simply, Pit Bulls.

The first Pit Bull to be recognised as an American Pit Bull Terrier was registered with the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1898 by the club’s founder, Chauncy Z. Bennett. The dog, Bennett’s Ring, was assigned UKC registration number 1. With Bennett's Ring being the first dog of any breed to be registered, one might be forgiven for thinking that recognition of the American Pit Bull Terrier was Bennett’s reason for founding the UKC. As the popularity of dogfighting declined during the early part of the twentieth century, Pit Bull breeders looked for other ways to profit from their dogs. With the rise of new kennel clubs that catered for the upper-class hobby of show breeding, together with a bit of re-branding, some Pit Bull breeders began registering their fighting dogs under different names and in doing so, masked their blood-sporting history.

One of those breeders, John Colby, is attributed to popularising the American Pit Bull Terrier to the general public as a family dog. Colby’s ‘Famous Fighting Dogs’ as advertised in the January 1918 issue of Dog Fancier Magazine, were famous not for their appearance or family-friendly temperament, but for being the gamest Pit Bulls – bred to end a fight or die trying. In 1909, Colby’s 2-year-old nephew, Bert Leadbetter, was killed by one of Colby’s own dogs who grabbed him by the neck and shook him ‘like a rag’ before dropping ‘its prey’ and snapping ‘at other portions of the body, inflicting a number of wounds’ (Boston Daily Globe, 3 Feb 1909). A charter member of the Staffordshire Club of America, Colby was instrumental in backing the forced acceptance of the breed into the registry of the American Kennel Club in 1936 – an acceptance that was conditional on the name ‘Staffordshire’ to distance the American Pit Bull Terrier from its purpose-bred heritage of dogfighting. As a standard for the American Staffordshire Terrier breed, the AKC chose the fighting dog known as Colby’s Primo. As you can see from Colby’s Primo’s pedigree, he was 100% American Pit Bull Terrier:

Between 1889 and 1941, Colby is reported to have bred over 5,000 dogs and established the record of producing ‘consecutively winning pitdogs’ (The Registrar for International Sportsmen, July 1994) or in other words, generations of dog-aggressive, dogfighting, dog killers. After Colby’s death in 1941, his wife Florence continued his breeding programme, working ‘closely with the screening process of the American Pit Bull Terrier into the American Kennel Club under the name Staffordshire’ (The Registrar for International Sportsmen, July 1994). Colby’s breeding programme undisputedly indicates that a) the American Staffordshire Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier are the same dog, b) Pit Bulls have a long history of been selectively bred to win at dogfighting and therefore c) gameness and dog-aggression are genetic traits.

Since the 1930s, Pit Bull clubs have been dedicated to producing slight physical variations on the pit fighting bulldog to claim new Pit Bull ‘breeds’ of their own, including the Irish ‘blue nose’ Pit Bull Terrier, Irish ‘red nose’ Pit Bull Terrier, Irish Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier*, American Bulldog**, Olde English Bulldogge*** and of course, the American Bully. However, pasting a new label on every slight variation of the American Pit Bull Terrier does not change the fact that all originate from the same limited gene pool and retain both the physical and behavioral traits that typify the Pit Bull as a predator and a fighter. 

Breed is the most important indicator of whether a dog might attack

Since the beginning of 2021, Pit Bulls (American Pit Bull Terriers, American Bulldogs and American Bullies) and Pit Bull mixes have been responsible for 15 (75%) out of the 20 human dog attack fatalities in the UK where breed was recorded. Eleven of those killings (55%) were committed by American XL Bullies****. To put this into perspective, the American Bully is estimated to represent less than 1% of the UK dog population. Accurate numbers of dog and other animal fatalities by Pit Bulls in the UK are difficult to come by. However, a peer-reviewed study that used news media articles spanning 4 years from 2016 to 2020 found that 75% of all dog-on-dog attacks were committed by Pit Bulls (including Staffordshire Bull Terriers). In the US, statistics derived from media reports spanning the past 10 years indicate that of dogs that killed other dogs, 90% were Pit Bulls, of dogs that killed cats, 86% were Pit Bulls, and of dogs that killed other pets/livestock, 77% were Pit Bulls. Pit Bulls make up 6% of the total US dog population.

In the words of the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa:

The American Pit Bull Terrier was bred for purpose and that was for dog fighting. We cannot deny our breed's heritage and history. As uncomfortable as these facts make people, we cannot undo centuries of genetic selection and genetic traits that make these dogs what they are [and] no amount of socialisation or love can remove their genetics and their propensity for dog aggression and animal aggression.’

It is a fact of selective breeding that Pit Bulls as a group have an unusually high level of the neurotransmitter L-tyrosine. In mouse studies, elevated L-tyrosine has been evidenced to induce a marked increase in aggressive behaviour in young, non-stressed animals. This is likely due to the three-fold function of L-tyrosine in increasing the neurotransmitters norepinephrine (increases anger) and adrenaline (decreases sensitivity to pain), and the pleasure/reward/motivation hormone, dopamine. Slight breed variations cannot dampen down the fact that American Pit Bull Terriers and their centuries old ancestors have been selectively bred for violent blood sports with a killing bite, and continue to be bred that way today for dogfighting in the context of organised criminal activities such as illegal gambling and money laundering. Pit Bulls have been and continue to be selectively bred for their suppressed behavioural indicators of rising aggression to give opponents and prey no notice of attack. Unpredictable aggression is a genetic trait. Fixating on their intended victim and sustaining an attack (frequently for 15 minutes or longer) for greater success in the fighting pits is a genetic trait.

Other breed groups have different genetic traits associated with different working purposes, each of which are usually an exaggeration of one or more of the prey sequence of behaviours which are: ORIENT > EYE > STALK > CHASE > GRAB-BITE > KILL-BITE > DISSECT > CONSUME. Collies are bred to herd – ORIENT > EYE > STALK > CHASE … and that’s where the sequence stops. A collie that follows through with GRAB-BITE is not used for working or breeding because farmers don’t want injured sheep. On the other hand, GRAB-BITE is a desirable trait in heelers and serves to keep large livestock like cattle moving. Retrievers are bred to bring downed birds back to the hunter. They must look upwards for incoming birds (ORIENT > EYE) and memorise where they fall. The picking up of the bird involves the GRAB-BITE part of the prey sequence, however, a retriever’s GRAB-BITE must be soft enough to not damage the bird. Even my old Labrador, who had a five-generation show-lines pedigree, would retrieve with a soft mouth to hand, often completely unprompted. He had a particular talent for retrieving windfall soft fruits – apricots were his favourite – and would bring them to me completely undamaged. Even though he was show-bred, he retained the soft mouth GRAB-BITE breed trait of a working retriever. In addition to being selectively bred for unpredictable and increased aggression, the Pit Bull's strong GRAB-BITE and characteristic ‘hold and shake’ KILL-BITE is vital to its success at dogfighting. In some of the recent CCTV footage of American XL Bully attacks in the UK, the ORIENT > EYE > STALK > CHASE parts of the prey sequence of behaviours are also clearly identifiable, and when the prey is human, it’s a chilling sight.

Some attacks by Pit Bulls on humans – particularly their owners – occur without warning, for example, the TikTok video of the girl kissing her Pit Bull’s face who then turns towards her and a split second later, bites her face off (the video continues with the girl speaking after having had extensive plastic surgery). Normally, a dog that dislikes human proximity to its face will show signs of stress – looking and/or pulling away, showing whale eye, yawning, panting, lip licking, closed mouth tongue flicks – and may escalate to growling long before a bite (and despite obvious discomfort, many, many dogs remain at the pre-growl, pre-aggression/bite stage).

However, with their genetic tendency for unpredictable aggression, Pit Bulls show none of these signs. Other times, attacks by Pit Bulls on humans, dogs and other animals occur in the absence of any aversive stimuli that could trigger unpredictable aggression. Although these attacks are also without warning, they are often described by victims as being both silent and targeted. Predatory aggression is silent. Predatory aggression is targeted. Studies into dogs that kill babies and children point towards attacks being instigated by atypical predatory motivations as opposed to impulsive, unpredictable, or any other type of affective aggression.

The hypothalamus and aggression

The hypothalamus plays an important role in the expression of aggression. Hypothalamus stimulation studies in rats and cats have evidenced that affective aggression and predatory aggression arise from distinctly different areas – ventromedial and lateral respectively – which are associated with punishment (ventromedial) and reward (lateral). Put simply, predatory aggression is enjoyable. In contrast to affective aggression, which is highly emotional and associated with intense autonomic activation (fight or flight stress response to danger), quiet attack occurs in the absence of visible agitation or sympathetic nervous system activation (no stress response). Additionally, the lateral hypothalamus is involved in the control of violent intraspecific (same species) aggression, particularly fighting, via a causal link between glucocorticoid deficiency resulting from chronic downregulation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenocorticol (HPA) axis (e.g. dysregulation of the HPA axis to continued stress as opposed to post-stress adjustment) and the elicitation of predatory aggression. As such, violent intraspecific aggression resulting from lateral hypothalamus activation is deviant and pathological.

Pit Bull attacks on pet dogs may involve the breed group’s characteristic tendency towards dog aggression. However, many owners whose dogs have been victims of Pit Bull fatalities and maimings, especially small dogs, report that these attacks were unprovoked, silent and relentless – that their dogs were targeted and/or chased down, grabbed, bitten and/or shaken, and due to their small size had zero chance of fighting back – which speaks more of predatory attack than of the Pit Bull's characteristic unpredictable aggression:

“The owners of a chihuahua that was killed by an XL bully in Cornwall have said that their dog was shaken "like a rag doll" during the attack.”
(Chris Tom Matthews for Cornwall Live, 9 October 2023).

Particularly when an attack on a dog involves multiple Pit Bulls, the dogs remain focused on their prey – they don’t turn on each other:

Two Staffordshire cross breeds and an XL Bully set upon the cocker spaniel, with the smaller dog being left with catastrophic injuries as a result. Shortly after the incident on 3 March 2023, the injured dog had to be put to sleep.” (Nottinghamshire Police, 9 October 2023).

However, amongst the many neurobiological findings of aggression studies, the neurotransmitter norepinephrine inhibits predatory aggression whilst at the same time, facilitates affective aggression, particularly fighting. Given that Pit Bulls’ unusually high level of L-tyrosine increases norepinephrine (increases aggression), this could mean that what may start out as a quiet, targeted, predatory attack, quickly shifts into affective and/or abnormal aggression when the Pit Bull experiences irritability or frustration at its prey screaming, struggling to escape or fighting back, or the owner trying to stop the attack or free/protect their pet:

“I scooped Monty (Shih Tzu) up into the air as the dog (a large bully type) smashed into my stomach. Time and time again the dog flew at me, trying to attack Monty, its head often crashing into the wall. Kicking the dog away earned me a split second to hold Monty aloft, high above the wall, determined to keep him out of harm’s way. Suddenly our attacker was jumping up at almost head height before it sank its teeth deep into my arm.” (Tom Bryant speaking to The Mirror, 7 October 2023).

Coupled with the other two effects of high L-tyrosine – decreased pain and increased pleasure – this may explain why Pit Bull maulings are characteristically sustained, and why an attacking Pit Bull cannot be stopped by trying to hurt it.

Pit Bulls have been selectively bred to be unpredictably aggressive. Pit Bulls have been selectively bred to be motivated to fight and enjoy doing it (increased dopamine due to high L-tyrosine + aggression triggers dopamine). Together with enhanced predatory aggression at the GRAB-BITE > KILL-BITE end of the sequence and the capacity to cause catastrophic injuries due to its tooth/jaw size and pressure, tenacity, and its characteristic ‘hold and shake’ bite, are what makes Pit Bull attacks so deadly. Behaviours and characteristics that were functional to dogfighting and bullbaiting are in all other contexts, pathological.

If it looks like a Pit Bull, maims like a Pit Bull and kills like a Pit Bull …

Developed in the 1990s, the American Bully is claimed to be the result of breeding American Pit Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terriers (Pit Bull, if not American Pit Bull Terrier) with various bulldog type dogs such as the American Bulldog (Pit Bull), Olde English Bulldogge (Pit Bull) and English Bulldog (Pit Bull ancestor). Analysis of American Bully pedigrees confirms that every individual dog’s ancestry is traceable to registered American Pit Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Terriers. The American Bully is a Pit Bull. The UKC (1 July 2013) state that the American XL Bully is a 'natural extension of the American Pit Bull Terrier'. Therefore, as a 'dog of the type known as the pit bull terrier [and/or] type to be bred for fighting or to have the characteristics of a type bred for that purpose' (Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, Section 1(a)&(c)) and/or a 'natural extension of the American Pit Bull Terrier (UKC, 1 July 2013), one could argue that it is already banned in the UK. 

It was standardised and recognised as a 'breed' by the American Bully Kennel Club upon its inception in 2004. The European Bully Kennel Club added it to its breed registry in 2008, and the UKC followed suit in 2013. Other Kennel Clubs including American and UK have yet to recognise or accept the American Bully as a purebred dog (incidentally, the American Kennel Club does not recognise the American Pit Bull Terrier as a breed either).

Currently, there are four main types of American Bully. In size order from smallest to largest these are:

  • ‘Pocket’ – the shortest and most compact of the five types standing 40cms (females) and 43cms (males) tall, and weighing up to 10kgs.
  • ‘Classic’ – same size and physical features as ‘Standard’ but with a lighter body build.
  • ‘Standard’ – the original American Bully. Standing 48cms (females) and 51cms (males) tall and weighing up to 27kgs (females)/32kgs (males).
  •  ‘XL’ – the largest of the five American Bully types standing 55cms (females) and 60cms (males) tall, and weighing from 33kgs (5.2 stones) to in excess of 55kgs (8.6 stones).

All four American Bully types follow the general physical characteristics of the ‘Standard’ which include:

  • muscular body
  • heavy bone structure
  • broad chest
  • slightly arched muscular neck
  • prominent skull and cheek muscles
  • wide ‘blocky’ head
  • widely spaced almond-shaped eyes
  • broad, short-medium length muzzle
  • tight skin

Additional variations on the standard include the ‘Micro’, ‘XXL’ and ‘Extreme’ (‘Exotic’), but but these are not recognised by the Bully kennel clubs as legitimate varieties. In terms of behaviour, in its breed standard document for the American Bully the UKC (2013) states that:

‘some level of dog aggression is characteristic of this breed’.


American XL Bully with full ears (left) and cropped ears (right)

UK American Bully (bloody) bloodlines

American Bullies were first imported into the UK in 2015 by breeder, Noble Welch, who claims to have fought several court cases to overturn rulings that American Bullies are Pit Bull type dogs already covered by the Dangerous Dogs Act. Since then, American Bully breeding has reportedly become a multimillion-pound industry, with dogs and semen from certain notorious bloodlines being exported to fanatical breeders all over the world. Stud dogs are rented for thousands of pounds to anyone who wants to breed and sell XL Bullies. Research by Bully Watch discovered that 99.7% of American Bully breeders advertising on Pets4Homes didn't hold the legal requirement of a council breeding licence. The UK’s American Bully breeding industry is completely unregulated and largely illegal.

According to Bully Watch, every single one of today’s UK American Bullies descend from a small handful of bitches and studs owned by an equally small handful of breeders who were active in the 1990s. The result  low genetic diversity across the board, with the majority of American Bully pedigrees showing evidence of inbreeding. The pedigrees of some influential progenitors reportedly display extreme inbreeding coefficients of 40% and higher. To put this into perspective, 5% is considered to be an acceptable coefficient of inbreeding (COI) and purebred dogs should ideally not exceed a COI of 20%. At least half of American XL Bullies in the UK are known to descend from one inbred US dog, UKC registered name UKC’s Most Wanted Kimbo, known by Bully breeders as ‘Killer Kimbo’, registered as an American Staffordshire Terrier despite his UKC verified five generation American Pit Bull Terrier pedigree. The product of extreme inbreeding (COI 31.25%), Killer Kimbo is the ancestral granddaddy of generations of violently aggressive dogs that are documented to carry a rage that is abnormal (in additional to the Pit Bull genetic propensity for dog and animal aggression), with one of two of his notorious bloodlines being known to have sired animals that have killed people.

UKC's Most Wanted Kimbo

A brief glance at Kimbo’s pedigree reveals Colby’s American Pit Bull Terrier ancestry in his paternal lineages (at 23rd generation: Colby’s Galtie (1910) & Colby’s Nancy (1912); at 24th generation: Colby’s Bunch (1909) & Colby’s Monkey; at 25th generation: Colby’s Pincher (1896) & Colby’s Nell; and many, many more). More recently, Kimbo has 
AKC registered American Staffordshire Terriers (CH Estrella’s Black Bear) from at least the 8th generation. His great-grandparents – all with the kennel name prefix Ganghis Kon and all with the PR distinction mark from the UKC (meaning they have at least three generations of UKC ancestors) – are American Pit Bull Terriers. His grandparents (he only has one set because his mother and father are siblings) are also UKC PR American Pit Bull Terriers. His father, Castro’s Bull23, is a UKC registered American Pit Bull Terrier. His mother, Castro’s Diva, is registered as an American Staffordshire Terrier despite being Castro’s Bull23’s full sister and thus sharing his 100% American Pit Bull Terrier pedigree. His notorious son, The Unstoppable Juggernaut, was registered as an American Bully with the Bully Pedex Kennel Club (BPKC #10292). Where Kimbo and his progeny deviate from the American Pit Bull Terrier is in their size. They do not conform to American Pit Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier breed standards. However, genetically, Kimbo and all other American Bullies are Pit Bulls, if not American Pit Bull Terriers, through and through.

The problem with Breed Specific Legislation

Pit Bulls as ‘any dog of the type known as the pit bull terrier’ (Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, Section 1(a)) or a type appearing 'to be bred for fighting or to have the characteristics of a type bred for that purpose' (Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, Section 1(c)) have been banned in the UK since 1991. Those who are against Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) argue that identifying a dog as a Pit Bull type based on how it looks is discriminatory because a) it risks dogs who are not Pit Bulls being wrongly identified as such, b) it penalises responsible dog owners whilst doing little to punish irresponsible ones, and c) not all Pit Bulls are dangerous. However, argument a) could be helped by changing the assessment criteria (which includes assessing a dog's demeanor as well as appearance) to include breed DNA testing as part of type identification. Currently, breed DNA test results are not permissible in court, and there are certainly clarifications that would need to be made in law if breed was to be used to help identify type (see 25/10/23 post edit below). However, Wisdom Panel, the least expensive of the two main dog breed DNA testing companies, has over 370 breeds on its register including American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bulldog and Staffordshire Bull Terrier, making it a readily available and trusted resource that could be used to add a genetic component to type identification. Breed DNA testing dogs in rescue would also be a quick, easy and inexpensive way to ensure that Pit Bull types and Pit Bull type crosses are not labelled as 'Lab' or 'Boxer' mixes to unsuspecting adopters (particularly common in the US to get rid of them due to breed specific regulations and restrictions placed on Pit Bulls by housing associations and landlords) and Staffordshire Bull Terrier (and other) crosses in the UK. 

A few of the 'cross breeds' currently available for adoption through Dogs Trust (October 2023).
It's doubtful enough that the top three dogs are Staffordshire Bull Terrier crosses,
but seriously Dogs Trust, Border Collie cross and Chihuahua cross?
Stop lying to adopters about what these dogs are.
Stop trying to sidestep the upcoming ban.
(see 18/10/23 post edit below for update).

The ‘deed not breed’ argument is harder to find favour with because of the genetic predisposition for unpredictable aggression characteristic of the Pit Bull breed group, and the fact that breed is the most important indicator not only of whether a dog might attack (as opposed to bite), but whether it might kill (the statistics speak for themselves). Is it okay to ignore genetics and hope that ‘deed’ never occurs, while at the same time risking that ‘deed’ could occur at any time resulting in another person being maimed or losing their life, and consequently, the Pit Bull also losing its life, not to mention the additional psychological trauma caused to those having to deal with the aftermath? The answer is no, it isn't okay, because punishing deed only would not have prevented the recent deaths of the eleven victims of American XL Bully attacks. The bottom line is that the purpose of BSL is to protect people from being injured and killed by dogs belonging to a particular type and of particular breeds that have been deemed too dangerous to live without restrictions in a civilised, modern society where dogs selectively bred for fighting and killing simply no longer have a place. Its purpose is not to discriminate against ‘innocent’ Pit Bulls.

The real problem with BSL though, as with all legislation, is that laws are made for the law-abiding – criminals will simply ignore them. Dogfighting in the UK was banned in 1835, yet it has continued illegally since and 'is still so rife' today (Muttitt, 12 July 2023) with cases reported to be on the rise from an average of 19 per month in 2019, to 31 per month in 2023. The responsible, law-abiding American XL Bully owners who want to keep their dogs will apply for exemption, will neuter and microchip their dogs, will muzzle them and keep them leashed in public, will take out third-party insurance. The irresponsible ones will simply ignore the law. Additionally, banning any Pit Bull 'breed' based on appearance risks opening up the door for breeders elsewhere in the world to carry on the tradition of creating slight variations of whatever the Pit Bull breed is to ensure that it continues to fall outside of BSL type measurements. Therefore, prohibiting the importation of banned dogs and their semen must happen also, and breed DNA testing at customs to ensure that no more Pit Bulls or Pit Bull crosses pass into the UK would be one way to enforce this regardless of what an individual dog looks like (because Pit Bull breeders are well known for falsifying pedigree paperwork (known as paper hanging) and therefore cannot be trusted to produce genuine breed DNA test results). 

Banning the American XL Bully should help to reduce the number of maulings and fatalities to the general public by dogs whose owners apply for exemption and comply with restrictions. However, it will not necessarily reduce the number of maulings and fatalities of American XL Bully owners. Banning the American XL Bully will make it unappealing for future responsible dog owners to own. But where banning the American XL Bully should have the most impact is in giving law enforcement agencies the power to seize dogs that are suspected to be American XL Bullies belonging to owners who have failed to exempt them (i.e. the irresponsible owners and Pets4Homes breeders who undoubtedly are to blame for the majority of dog attacks, there is a link between ownership/backyard breeding of high-risk dogs and deviant behaviour) and by doing so, protect the wider public from harm. However, the welfare of seized dogs needs to improve dramatically because currently, seized dogs are suffering whilst being kept in kennels waiting for their cases to go to court. There are numerous reports in the media of seized dogs spending months, even years, isolated in small kennels, without exercise, without any form of mental stimulation, being later returned to their owners in poor body condition, severely underweight and with untreated medical conditions. If a member of the public did that to a dog they would be hauled up on animal cruelty charges, but the Police are getting away with it on a daily basis. No dog should be made to suffer, not even 'guilty' Pit Bulls. Using breed DNA testing in addition to identifying suspected Pit Bulls and American XL Bullies on appearance could greatly reduce the time that seized dogs have to spend in kennels, regardless of assessment outcome. Additionally, the financial savings to the criminal justice system would be immense. Whether or not you agree with banning the American XL Bully, whether or not you agree with BSL, I hope that for the well-being of any seized dog that you will agree that the way in which BSL is enforced needs to improve before the American XL Bully ban comes in. 

Before I get shouted at that I'm a Bull breed hater, in the early 90's, I owned a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He was black brindle in colour, but being the runt of his litter and having a slight overbite, he was considerably cheaper than his siblings. When I and my boyfriend at the time collected him from his breeder, he didn't come with a UK Kennel Club pedigree. Although he was the runt, he was quite long-legged. The breeder was an interesting character. He was built like the proverbial brick-built lavatory, and in addition to breeding Staffordshire Bull Terriers, he bred birds of prey and also kept cockerels. I don't remember much of what he told us about his own dogs but with regards to our pup, he said that we should get him a rolled leather collar because these were better than flat collars in the event that we needed to choke him out to get him 'to release' another dog. He then proceeded to demonstrate how to do this by placing a broom handle through the collar of one of his own dogs and twisting it. Thirty-plus years later and I have met many short and stocky UK Kennel Club breed standard Staffies. I know that our dog was the runt and had a slight overbite, but he didn't look like the breed standard. If anything, in overall appearance he looked more like the American Pit Bull Terriers of the late 1800s. The photo on the left is him at around four/five months old with our other dog, Buffy, a Rottweiler X GSD. In the photo on the right, he's probably around a year old. I split with my boyfriend shortly after Buffy stayed with me and the Staffy stayed with him – and so I don't know what became of him.


Whether he was actually a Staffy or was just sold as one, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was included in the Dangerous Dogs Act until 1997*. We were completely oblivious to this at the time (pre-internet, no TV). Additionally, I believed that Staffies had not been bred as fighting dogs. I also believed the Pit Bull myth that Staffies were known as 'nanny dogs'. 

Don't believe the myths!

Whilst being na├»ve and uninformed is no excuse, it serves as a lesson for responsible dog-owners to educate themselves about a breed – any breed – before embarking on ownership. Don't just believe what kennel clubs, breeders and shelters say on their websites and adverts about a breed's/dog's temperament and history. Instead, make like a dog and do some digging of your own. Find out about breed-specific health issues too. For cross breeds and mixed breeds in rescue, look at the dog and decide for yourself what breed or breeds it might be. A month ago, Dogs Trust had numerous American Bullies and American Bully crosses available for adoption. The ones that have yet to be adopted have since been relabeled as Staffordshire Bull Terrier (or other breed, or 'unknown') cross breeds (see 25/10/23 post edit below). If you fall in love and decide to adopt, do a breed DNA test . Knowing what breeds a rescue dog is can be really helpful to understanding their behaviour and needs, and Wisdom Panel include genetic health screening for the MDR1 gene mutation (sensitivity to multiple pharmaceutical drugs) at no extra cost. Don't get a dog of a size that you know you will struggle to restrain. If you get a large or heavy dog, buy collars, leads and harnesses that are wide enough and strong enough not to snap, and always have two points of leash control (e.g. collar and harness). Educate your children about canine body language and how to interact safely with dogs. Never leave babies and children alone with a dog – not ever, not even for a second. Make sure that your garden/yard is secure – escape-proof for your chosen breed and size, and intruder-proof so that nobody can enter your property unannounced. Keep your dog on a lead around people, traffic, farm animals, cats, wildlife and other on-lead dogs. If you own a Bully breed or choose to do so in the future – any Bully breed, or any Mastiff breed for that matter (including Rottweiler, Cane Corso, Presa Canario)  don't be in denial about their capacity to inflict catastrophic injuries to humans and other animals in comparison to smaller, less powerful breeds. Keep your head out of the sand. Don't believe the myths. Accept and take responsibility for your dog's genetic breed traits.

What to do if a Pit Bull attacks you, another person or your dog

You – As proven with many of the recent deaths and maulings by Pit Bulls, you cannot rely on Pit Bull owners (or anyone else) to help you. Try and stay calm – it won't stop the attack, but will help you to think. If you have time before the Pit Bull makes contact, find something that you can use as a shield such as a wheelie bin – basically get behind something because if nothing else, this will buy you some thinking time. If the Pit Bull is biting you, try to stay upright and try to stay still. If the Pit Bull has grabbed hold of a limb, resist the instinct to pull away because this will result in ripping and tearing injuries rather than puncture wounds. Struggling or yelling, or punching or kicking the Pit Bull will make it angrier and bite harder, or progress to its 'hold and shake' kill bite. Assess which parts of your body you have free and do what you can to cut off the Pit Bull's air for the best chance of getting it to release its jaws and not immediately bite you again. You want the Pit Bull to pass out. If you are dragged to the floor, to be honest, at this point it's unlikely that you will survive a Pit Bull attack unless you have the means to cut off its air, but you could try curling up into a tight ball, face down. See the dog attack protection aids below. 

Another person – With your help, the other person has a much better chance of surviving the attack. You may or may not get bitten yourself. If the Pit Bull is already biting the person and you have the means and are able to, first secure the dog to something that it cannot free itself from, and then either use something to open its jaws or cut off its air to make it release its grip. Struggling or yelling, or punching or kicking the Pit Bull will make it angrier and bite harder, or progress to its 'hold and shake' kill bite. If you choose to open its jaws, the Pit Bull will likely try and bite again and so before attempting to get it to release, tell the other person to be ready to move away quickly. Be ready to get out the way yourself. If restraining the dog is not an option, find something that you can get between the Pit Bull and the person such as a wheelie bin before attempting to get it to release. The best way to get a Pit Bull to stop biting is always to cut off its air supply. See the dog attack protection aids below. 

Your dog – If you have time before the Pit Bull makes contact and your dog is small enough (same applies to children), pick it up and hold it high or even better, get it to safety over a wall or fence. If the Pit Bill is already biting your dog, do not grab your dog and pull it because this will turn the attack into tug of war and result in ripping and tearing injuries as opposed to puncture wounds for your dogStruggling or yelling, or punching or kicking the Pit Bull will make it angrier and bite harder, or progress to its 'hold and shake' kill bite. The only thing you can do at this point is to try and get the Pit Bull to release its bite by either prizing its mouth open or cutting off its air. If you have the means and are able to, secure the Pit Bull to something that is strong enough to keep it restrained before attempting to free your dog from its mouth. When you walk your dog, go prepared  see the dog attack protection aids below. 

UK legal dog attack protection aids 

K917 Dog Deterrent Spray 

First Strike K9 Dog Deterrent Spray

Farbgel

Balacoo Pitbull Breakstick

Steel cable sliplead

N.B. The dog attack protection sprays listed above probably won't stop a Pit Bull attacking, but anything that you can utilise in the event of an attack to interfere with a Pit Bull's sight or breathing is always worth a shot. Aim the spray jet directly into the Pit Bull's eyes, nostrils and/or mouth. Breaksticks are used to break up dogfights by inserting the stick behind a biting dog's canines or rear molars and twisting. In reality, insert it hard and as far through any gap left in the Pit Bull's mouth and then twist it as hard and as fast as you can to force its jaws apart. However, be ready for further bites if you do manage to get the dog to release its bite while it is still breathing. A breakstick can also be used to choke a Pit Bull if it is wearing a collar. Insert the breakstick under the collar at the back of the neck, grip both ends of the breakstick and then twist it round like a two-handed handle to tighten the collar and cut off the dog's air and blood supply to its brain.

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Post edit 18/10/2023: On 17 October, a six-stone American XL Bully named Denvor, adopted from Dogs Trust towards the end of September 2023, attacked its 60 year old female owner in her own garden before escaping and running into the carpark of a Primary School. The owner was taken to hospital with multiple injuries. The dog was shot by police. Read the full story here. Note: this dog was adopted as an American XL Bully days before Dogs Trust relabeled all its other American XL Bullies and American XL Bully crosses as different breeds. Dogs Trust makes no secret of the fact that it doesn't believe that breed influences behaviour, however, its logic is based on research methodologies that can never indicate the possibility that certain breeds are predisposed to unpredictable aggression. An excellent commentary piece by Reed Berowitz that examines a recent and influential but also misinterpreted and misquoted study on breed-related behaviour can be found here. Just today, Dogs Trust have changed their tune and announced that they will no longer re-home XL Bully-type dogs (story here). Within the last 24 hours, the three supposed 'Staffordshire Bull Terrier' cross breeds and the Chihuahua cross breed in the photo collage above have been removed from its adoption pages. None had 'reserved' on their profiles yesterday and so being adopted is highly unlikely to be the reason that their profiles have disappeared. Proof that Dogs Trust knew that these large Bully cross breed descriptions were a lie? The supposed 'Border Collie' cross breed is still listed. Maybe Dogs Trust missed that one.

Post edit 25/10/23: I came across a social media page post today clearly in favour of banning BSL and arguing the lack of science behind it  that typing based on measurements not breed DNA testing is wrong and inaccurate. The page post contained a shared post from a well-known typed-exempt dog to prove its point. A reply comment accompanied by a screenshot of the typed-exempt dog's Wisdom Panel breed DNA test result stated that the dog had absolutely no Pit Bull in it. The dog's test result was as follows: 37.5% American Bulldog, 25% Staffordshire Bull Terrier, 12.5% Bulldog, 12.5% American Staffordshire Terrier and 12.5% Bullmastiff. The dog is therefore between 12.5% (American Staffordshire Terrier (UK banned Pit Bull type breed)) and 75% Pit Bull (American Bulldog (Pit Bull type but not a UK banned breed) + Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Pit Bull type but not a UK banned breed) + American Staffordshire Terrier (UK banned Pit Bull type breed)). Does this make the dog a Pit Bull type cross and therefore subject to Section 1a and/or 1c of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991? A cross is generally taken to mean a dog with purebred parents of two different breeds ... but Pit Bull is a type, not a breed. However, going by the 50:50 cross breed rule (as in a Labrador/Poodle cross would be 50% Labrador/50% Poodle) it makes sense that a Pit Bull type cross should be any dog that is made up of (at least) 50% Pit Bull type breeds. Supporters of the breed DNA tested typed-exempt dog above are incorrect  it does have Pit Bull in it including a banned Pit Bull type breed  however, whether the dog is a Pit Bull type cross is open to interpretation. According to UK banned Pit Bull breeds it is not. But according to Pit Bull type, arguably, it is. That it was identified as a Pit Bull type using American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) measurements confirms this and illustrates the close and recent connections between Pit Bull type breeds – that they are largely indistinguishable from one anotherIf breed DNA testing were to be introduced as part of Pit Bull type/cross and/or American XL Bully/cross identification, these descriptors absolutely would need to be clarified in law in terms of breeds and breed percentages. The typed-exempt dog above is a case in point because at 12.5% American Staffordshire Terrier + 37.5% American Bulldog + 12.5% Bulldog, it could actually be viewed as an American Bully cross (62.5%) according to the breed's creation story.

Post edit 31/10/23: It was announced today that American XL Bullies will be banned in Britain from 31 December 2023. New laws prohibiting the breed were formally laid in Parliament today under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Anyone who defies the ban will face up to 14 years in prison, could be disqualified from ownership, or their dogs may be euthanised. Under the same legislation, breeding, selling, advertising, rehoming, abandoning and allowing an American XL Bully to stray will be illegal. Existing American XL Bullies have been given an amnesty, but from 31 December they must be muzzled and leashed in public. Owners can also choose to have their dogs euthanised by a vet. From 1 February 2024 it will be illegal to own an American XL Bully unless it is on the Index of Exempted Dogs. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have informed breeders they must stop breeding American XL Bullies as from now, ahead of ownership being a criminal offence.

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* In the UK, the banned Pit Bull Terrier refers to any type of dog that looks like the American Pit Bull Terrier, Irish ‘blue nose’ Pit bull Terrier, Irish ‘red nose’ Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier or Irish Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Although historically the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a Pit Bull, in 1997 a coalition of breeders and animal charities prevailed upon Parliament to exempt the Staffordshire Bull Terrier from the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act definition of a Pit Bull. To date, there have been 64 dog attack fatalities since the exemption – 12 (one fifth) of those fatalities were victims of Staffordshire Bull Terriers (10) and Staffordshire Bull Terrier crosses (4).

UK Kennel Club Staffordshire Bull Terrier

** Some argue that the American Bulldog is not a Pit Bull, others argue that it is. It is said to have descended from the Old English Bulldog through breeding programmes set up by John D. Johson and Alan Scott. However, the first dog was registered as the American Pit Bulldog by Johnson in 1970, who later changed its name to the American Bulldog to avoid confusing it with American Pit Bull Terriers. The very fact that the breed initially had ‘Pit Bull’ in its name implies a recent dogfighting and American Pit Bull Terrier history. Neither of the two foundation dogs ‘Dick the Bruiser’ (Johnson’s) or ‘Mack the Masher’ (Scott’s) have any pedigree information to suggest that they were the progeny of Old English Bulldogs. Both dogs are devoid of pedigrees. However, there are visible differences between the two lines – Johnson’s dogs were ‘bullier’ looking and had a slight underbite characteristic of the English Bulldog (it is suggested that Johnson crossbred one of his early dogs with a Northern English Bulldog), whilst Scott’s dogs resembled the American Pit Bull Terrier. Either way, names like ‘Dick the Bruiser’ and ‘Mac the Masher’ (pictured below) smack of two foundation dogs who were fighting Pit Bulls.


*** In 1971 a breeding project that used a linebreeding scheme developed by Dr. Fechimer of Ohio State began to rapidly achieve a purebred dog, the goal of which was to return the health-compromised bulldog’s appearance to that of the athletic Old English Bulldog. Said to be a mix of the English Bulldog, American Bulldog, American Pit Bull Terrier and Mastiff, the result was a dog that matched the look of the original bullbaiting dog of the mid-1800s. Renamed the Olde English Bulldogge to differentiate it from the modern English Bulldog, this new breed was recognised by the UKC in 2014.

**** In the UK between 5 February 2021 and 4 October 2023, there were 22 human dog attack fatalities involving a total of 27 dogs. For 20 attacks, the breed of dog was recorded (25 dogs). On a case-by-case basis, one of these attacks was committed by a banned American Pit Bull Terrier. A further 14 attacks involving 16 dogs were committed by dogs falling under the umbrella term, Pit Bull. That’s three-quarters of attacks where breed was recorded (15 of 20) that were committed by Pit Bulls, of which 11 (73.3%) were committed by American XL Bullies.

References

Anderson, B. (Spring 1999). Scared of pit bulls? You’d better be! City Journal.

Barnes, J., Boat, B., Putnam, F., Dates, H. & Mahlman, A. (2006) Ownership of High-Risk ("Vicious") Dogs As a Marker for Deviant Behaviors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21 (12): 1616-1634.

BBC News (23 January 2023) Inside the world of organised crime and extreme dog breeding.

Bini, J., Cohn, S., Acosta, S., McFarland, M., Muir, M., Michalek, J. & TRISAT Clinical Trials Group (2011) Mortality, mauling and maiming by vicious dogs. Annals of Surgery, 253 (4): 791-797.

Boston Daily Globe (3 February 1909) BULL TERRIER KILLS CHILD. ProQuest Historical Newspapers, Boston Globe (1872-1927).

Bully Pedigrees (2023) Pedigree for UK’s Most Wanted Kimbo.

Bully Watch (1 August 2023) Finding Kimbo.

Bully Watch UK, Protect Our Pets UK & Campaign for Evidence-Based Regulation of Dangerous Dogs (August 2023) Breed Specific Violence and the American Bully: A Report on the Science and Regulation of Breed and Dog Attack Risk.

Clifton, M. (6 January 2023) Dogs killed 63 Americans & three Canadians in 2022: pit bulls killed 42. Animals 24-7.

Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

D’Ingeo, S., Iarussi, F., De Monte, V., Siniscalchi, M., Minunno, M. & Quaranta, A. (2021) Emotions and dog bites: Could predatory attacks be triggered by emotional states? Animals, 11 (2907): 107.

Diver, T. & Buncombe, A. (14 September 2023) Half of all XL Bully dogs in Britain descend from ‘Killer Kimbo’. The Telegraph.

DogsBite.org

Duffy, D., Hsu, Y. & Serpell, J. (2008) Breed differences in canine aggression. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 114 (3-4): 441-460.

Game Dog Forum (2005) Paper Hanging!

GoPitBull (2010) What is paper hanging?

GOV.UK (31 October 2023) XL Bully type dogs to be banned.

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Harnarayan, P., Islam, S., Ramsingh, C. & Naraynsingh, V. (2018) Pit Bull attack causing limb threatening vascular trauma – A case series. International Journal of Surgery Case Reports, 42: 133-137.

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Lindsay, S. (2000) Handbook of Applied Dog Behaviour and Training – Volume Three: Adaptation and Learning. Blackwell Publishing.

Lindsay, S. (2001) Handbook of Applied Dog Behaviour and Training – Volume Two: Etiology and Assessment of Behavior Problems. Blackwell Publishing.

Matthews, C. (9 October 2023) XL bully kills chihuahua in Falmouth leaving owners heartbroken. CornwallLive.

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Nottinghamshire Police (9 October 2023) A court has placed strict restrictions on three dangerous dogs that caused the death of another animal on a public park.

Pedigree Online (2023) CASTRO’S BULL23 PEDIGREE

Pedigree Online (2023) CASTRO’S DIVA PEDIGREE

Pit Bull Federation of South Africa (21 August 2017) Pit Bull Attacks on Other Animals.

Ragatz, L., Fremouw, W., Thomas, T. & McCoy, K. (2009) Vicious Dogs: The Antisocial Behaviors and Psychological Characteristics of Owners. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 54 (3): 699-703.

Schilder, M., van der Borg, J. & Vinke, C. (2019) Intraspecific killing in dogs: Predation behaviour or aggression? A study of aggressors, victims, possible causes and motivations. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 34: 52-59.

Semyonova, A. (2006) Heritability of behavior in the abnormally aggressive dog. The Carriage House Foundation.

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The Registrar for International Sportsmen (July 1994) Dedicated to the American Pit Bull Terrier.

United Kennel Club (1 July 2013) American Bully: Official UKC Breed Standard.

Wisdom Panel (2023) Dog Breed Library

The following websites and social media pages raise awareness of the Pit Bull/American Bully threat to public safety

BullyWatch (UK website)

DogsBite.org (US website)

Pitbull Watch UK (facebook)

Pitbull Attacks: Most Don't Make The News (facebook)