Is Breed Discrimination a Thing?

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As a matter of fact, it is. With 189 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, and almost 340 breeds recognized by the world body of dog breeds (Federation Cynologique Internationale), how is it that only a handful is targeted by breed-specific legislation (BSL), commonly referred to as breed discrimination legislation (BDL)? Out of these breeds, none is more targeted in BSL/BDL than the pit bull terrier, which is actually not a breed, but a type that comprises multiple different breeds. Take a look at this web page to learn the difference.

What do you mean there’s a ban? Credit: Petadvisor/Flickr

Here at the Zoo, we got to thinking: Why is it that police K9s have been breed loyal for so many years? What makes one breed more attractive than others? We will answer these questions and others you may have about the many types of breeds that help our Homeland.

Did you know that there is a police K9 in New York that is a pit bull? We did. More on that later. But first, a little history on the police K9.

It is no wonder why Bloodhounds and German Shepherds have become stereotyped as the quintessential police dogs. As far back as the latter parts of the 1850s canines have been used in police work. Tracking murders suspects, crowd control, suspect apprehension we all tasks that canines could perform better than their human counterparts. The Germans and Belgians were some of the first to experiment with training dogs for police work.

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The Germans relied heavily upon the skills of the shepherds and the Doberman Pinschers, whereas some of the very first “Dog Squads” can be traced back to Gent, Belgium. Ironically, the Belgian Malinois is one of the preferred dogs used in modern day police K9 units. Although this is not an exhaustive representation, www.dogbreeds.net lists some of the breeds commonly used in police and search and rescue work.

Credit: Diane Von Arx

So why are there certain breeds that are preferred by law enforcement and search and rescue? As it turns out, much of the modern day police canine methodology originated in the lessons learned at the first dog-training academy in Greenheide, Germany. The London Plan, a commonly-used training strategy for police K9s had its roots in Greenheide. If you want to learn more about how the London Plan works, take a bite out of this scholarly work. The London Police expounded upon Greenheide’s research and began to classify breeds according to their ability to perform certain “police work.” The Alsatian or German Shephard won hands down for the qualities they tested for. Other breeds showed remarkable skill sets for other special needs, such as bloodhounds for tracking, but the shepherds became the overall favorite.

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Today, the Belgian Malinois and Belgian Shepherds have become more ubiquitous that the German Shepards. Many experts will give you varying reasons for this, but some claim that Malinois are faster and more efficient at taking down suspects than shepherds. Others are quick to point out the prevalence of a medical condition in German Shepherds called, hip dysplasia. Although this is not a breed-specific condition (many breeds suffer from hip dysplasia), there is evidence that over breeding throughout the years has made the condition worse in shepherds. Whether this is true or not, how long will it be before the malinois are replaced? And by what breed? Pit bulls? Rescued or shelter dogs? Perhaps, but do they have the temperament or skills?

This article by the Huffington Post introduces us to Kiah, Poughkeepsie Police Department’s pit bull K9 who was rescued from a shelter. A double whammy. We hope to bring you a detailed story about Kiah in the future, but for now, the article shows us how a door has been opened in the police realm for a breed that has been banned and killed because of its name. In another article on Kiah by the UK’s Daily Mail, it throws out the conventional wisdom of the City of London’s studies on police dogs. The article mentions that those involved in Kiah’s training, like Brad Croft, believe, “The breed isn’t important…It’s what’s inside of the dog that is important.” If this statement is true, then why does BSL or BDL exist at all? Some advocates like www.dogsbite.org contend that it is the breed that is the cause of behavioral issues. Others such as www.bestfriends.org advocate for animals and owners and work to change the public’s perceptions of pit bulls.

Our efforts at the HSZ are not to advocate or take sides in the debate of breed specific/discrimination legislation, only to point out that there are many different breeds of animals that support law enforcement and rescue operations. There are many difference organizations that are both for and against legislation, and each has their points. However, placing the debate aside many law enforcement agencies are exploring uses for new breeds as criminal elements are adapting to traditional tactics. And it’s not just canines that are evolving. Birds, bees, and aquatic animals all have their part to play in keeping citizens safe.

Credit: Carla, Working Terriers