Picture a dog. The image of a cute little puppy might spring to mind, or perhaps a biting menace for those with phobias. Of course, there are many breeds, and their behaviours all vary between them – but in the eyes of the law, there are some breeds that are just too volatile and dangerous to humans to be safely owned, and recently the XL Bully was added to that list. Though the name brings forth a fearful premonition of a huge, muscle-bound machine, the question is still argued over – is any dog suitably dangerous enough to be banned, and is it the dogs or just their owners?

As of the 31st December 2023, the XL Bully was officially added to the list of banned dog breeds in the UK under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act. The selling, giving-away, breeding or even abandoning of the breed was made illegal, stemming from the alarming figures over recent years of dog-related deaths – a 21% increase from 2022. The XL Bully is in itself a large dog, ranging from anywhere between a tame 20kg to a weighty 60kg, and it is expected to have a naturally high aggression – maybe not exactly something you’d want your children playing with. You may think, “Oh, so banning these alleged hellhounds will probably reduce deaths, right?”. My response would be: well, what good is getting rid of the dog if the owner will only raise another Cerberus-like mutt in their next project?

And therein lies the issue; how can we tell if it is merely the dog’s natural aggressiveness, or is it purely poor ownership? When a football team’s players begin to lose flair and get relegated, the onus is rarely on them to improve or be sold and instead on the manager to be sacked. So, what’s different? From personal encounters with big dogs on countless walks with my own Labrador, it is rarely the dog’s fault. Some owners are uptight and nervy and terrify themselves with what their dog might do to others, some never reprimand bad behaviour – but still the dogs are still expected to be perfect role models to all up and coming pups. In this light, it seems preposterous to suggest that the dogs themselves are the problem.

Despite the criticisms of the owners, the point remains – the XL Bully breed was responsible for 10 of the 19 deaths caused by dogs from 2021-2023. Irrespective of the cause of this violence, the government deemed it severe enough to effectively ban the dogs from being owned without an exemption certificate from the 1st of February onwards. And so I pose this question to you: is it right to muzzle, ban or put down so many dogs simply for their breed? Or should it be the owners being evaluated, taught correctly or sanctioned?