It’s been 10 years since I first owned a dog on a restricted breed list. This means that the law decides certain breeds cannot be credited with the same levels of freedom that other breeds might, for whatever reason they deem relevant. In Ireland, German Shepherd dogs are a restricted breed. They must always be on leash & muzzled in public. My decision at the time was that the only way to help change the public’s perception of German Shepherds, was to ensure my dog was the best possible PR for his breed. This could only be achieved through training him to be sociable & under control at all times and I’m so grateful to those who helped to get me there.
A couple of weeks ago, I was approached for the first time by an owner who wanted help to train her dog. In itself, there was nothing different about this query to the multiple emails I receive every week. This owner wanted her dog to partake in the Kennel Club Good Citizen Award, to be well behaved & under control in public. She was doing what every responsible dog owner should do, seek help from a qualified professional to help her train. The only difference in this case is that her dog is an exempted dog. This means a dog who is considered of a ‘type’ to be banned in the UK, but having been through the courts & behaviourally assessed, is deemed of sound enough temperament not to be euthanised. Regardless, the restrictions placed on such a dog for the rest of their life include compulsory neutering, tattooing & being leashed & muzzled in public at all times.
Determined to help this owner & her dog, I set about organising the practicalities of taking an exempted dog through the Kennel Club Good Citizen scheme. Certain exercises would require off leash time, for example during recall testing. In that case, I needed to find private property to train on, as in any public place, exempted dogs can’t be off leash. Other dogs would need to be present & who would be willing to join a class with a muzzled dog in it? I needed to inform the Kennel Club in writing what allowances I was prepared to put into place, in order to fulfill Good Citizen test rules without breaking the rules pertaining to exempted dogs. Finally I spoke to several trainers who have previously worked with exempted dogs within the UK. All plans were progressing well until one final stumbling block, or rather a very large impassible concrete wall with barbed wire fence, was put in front of me.
Public liability insurance is recommended for all dog owners & exempted dog owners are legally obliged to carry such insurance. Professional trainers & behaviourists must carry insurance to cover the advice they offer & the outcome of acting on such advice, known as professional indemnity insurance. Combined, these two forms of insurance should cover any potential legal challenges when working with dogs. The insurmountable problem it seems, is that no company in the UK will insure a trainer whilst working with exempted dogs, none, not one!
Like most dog professionals, vets and dog charities, I’m vehemently against Breed Specific Legislation. Some dogs are of bad breeding & have inherited their aggressive tendencies from their parents because certain breeders don’t feel that questionable temperament should outweigh good looks. Some dogs have achieved such great success with prior aggressive behaviour that they have become dangerous. However, the breed has nothing to do with it.
Breed traits exist, no question about it. Some breeds are more challenging for inexperienced owners, true. But through training & socialisation, every dog deserves a chance to learn how to function in our world & enjoy a certain quality of life. This right should be open to all dogs regardless of breed type. By removing their opportunity for professional training & socialisation, exempted dogs have been set up to fail, before they have even been given a chance to succeed. It seems getting help to train a dog, in order to prove to society that he is not a ‘Dangerous Dog’ is a luxury that exempted dogs are excluded from. Sadly this offers no opportunity to remove the label society has put on them in the first place. The ultimate canine conundrum.