American Bully XL dogs are giant ‘mutants’ and not an official breed, says expert – so exactly how will Rishi Sunak’s new ban work?
The banning of American bully XL dogs may just be the ‘tip of the iceberg for the UK’s dog problems, an expert has said.
It came following the news that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has outlawed the hounds today after a blood-soaked week on Britain’s streets that has seen a man die in a suspected XL bully attack in Stonnall, Staffordshire, and an 11-year-old girl mauled in Birmingham.
In a video announcement posted to his X – formerly Twitter – account on Friday, the PM said the breed would be banned following a ‘pattern of behaviour’ that he said ‘cannot go on’.
Mr Sunak said he has ordered ministers to convene a panel of experts, including the police, to define the breed so it can then be outlawed.
However, Stan Rawlinson, a dog behaviourist with more than 20 years’ of experience, has said nailing down the breed will be harder for the government than they might expect.
Mr Rawlinson was called as an expert witness for the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act and specialises in dog aggression and believes that the bully is a ‘mutant.’
He told MailOnline: ‘They aren’t an official breed, it’s impossible to track them. The American pitbull has been banned since 1991 but they are still coming in.
‘That dog is the starting point for the XL Bully and more are being brought in every day. ‘
XL Bullys are usually bred from a combination of several dogs. The main one is the American pitbull terrier, which is banned in the UK.
However, as until today the XL bully was not banned, underground breeders were able to mix pitbulls with other breeds including the American bulldog, old English bulldog and the mastiff, to create the new killer breed and dodge the law.
Despite their relative popularity in the UK, they are not officially registered as a breed by the UK Kennel Club, making it difficult to know exactly how many are in the country.
But Mr Rawlinson, 76, fears all this could just be the tip of the iceberg and that if urgent action isn’t taken to stop the rise of the generically engineered American crosses from reaching Britain’s shores, more people and pets will be killed.
Mr Rawlinson continued: ”These dogs are a danger to women, children and everyone else.
‘They should all be euthanised as a breed. There’s something wrongly wired in these dogs.
‘They can just flip. You’re talking nothing to full on and someone is dead in less than 15 seconds. You just can’t stop them. These dogs can rip people’s heads off. They’re incredibly powerful. They can open up your jugular veins almost immediately.
‘They’re too dangerous to be in the hands of the general public. You wouldn’t walk around with a mountain lion on a lead – because that’s effectively what you’ve got.’
Campaigners have been calling for a ban on XL bullies amid claims that they are involved in an increasing number of attacks on people and other animals.
The cross-breed has become the most seized in London, according to official Metropolitan Police data, surpassing other dogs such as German shepherds, Staffordshire bull terriers and pitbulls.
Concurrently, the number of fatal dog attacks in the UK has risen to record levels in recent years.
Downing Street denied the Government has taken too long to ban American XL bully dogs.
Asked whether ministers had ‘dragged their heels’ on commencing work to outlaw the breed, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘I wouldn’t accept that. I think we’ve obviously been doing some policy work on this and you heard from the Home Secretary recently about how to take this forward.
‘Clearly this breed of dog isn’t defined in law so it’s right to take the time to consider the best way to put an end to these horrendous attacks that we’re seeing.’
The Government has said that the breed will be banned under the ‘Dangerous Dogs Act and new laws will be in place by the end of the year.’
Which breeds are banned by the Dangerous Dogs Act?
This legislation makes four breeds of dog originally bred for fighting illegal in the UK.
These are: American pitbull terriers, Japanese tosas, Dogo Argentinos, and Fila Brasileiro.
Crossbreeds of those four are also prohibited, depending on a judgment of their physical characteristics and how well they match a ‘typical’ description.
American pitbull terriers
These are the dogs most commonly involved in fatal dog attacks in the UK, and were originally bred for sport, where groups of them would be pitted against larger animals.
Despite that sport being outlawed in 1835, they were then bred to fight each other, and the breed developed an aggressive reputation.
According to Purina, this perception is argued by some to be unfairly down to unethical breeding rather than the dogs’ nature.
The Japanese tosa is still bred to take part in dogfighting in Japan, but is illegal in the UK and many other countries.
This breed is supposed to be able to fight in complete silence, in line with Japanese dogfighting rules.
The Dogo Argentino was originally bred for big-game hunting, and its bravery and protective instincts.
Its intimidating and domineering tendencies have also contributed to it being banned in the UK and elsewhere.
More commonly known as the Brazilian Mastiff, the Fila Brasileiro is commended by those in its native Brazil for its loyalty.
However, this breed is also known to often be aggressive with its intuitions to hunt and protect easily being to their detriment when brought up badly.
What to do if you have a banned breed
If you have a well-behaved puppy which you believe to be a banned breed, you can approach the police’s Status Dogs Unit for a certificate of exemption for life, on the condition that the dog is microchipped, neutered, and kept muzzled and on a leash in public spaces.
Otherwise, if someone owns one of the dog breeds explicitly banned by the Dangerous Dog Act, the police or council are entitled to take it away irrespective of behaviour.
A warrant is needed to take a dangerous dog from someone’s private property, but not in a public place.
The dog is either released, or held in kennels, before a court hearing at which the owner must prove that the dog is not a banned breed.
How to control your banned dog in public
The UK Government warns that it is against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control anywhere, such as in a public place, a private place, for example, a neighbour’s house or garden and in the owner’s home.
The law applies to all dogs, regardless of whether or not they are registered as a banned breed.
Your dog is considered to be out of control if it injures someone or makes someone worried that they may be injured by it.
A court could also decide that your dog is dangerously out of control if it attacks someone’s animal or if the owner of an animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog attacking their animal.
You can report a dog that’s out of control to your local council’s dog warden service or your local police force.
What is the penalty for having a banned dog?
Sometimes the dog is a banned breed, but the court rules it to not be a danger to society.
In this case the dog is put on the Index of Exempted Dogs and the same rules as above must be followed.
In addition to those, the owner must be at least 16 years old, take out insurance against the god injuring others, show the exemption certificate when asked by a police officer, and keep the Index of Exempt Dogs aware if you change address.
If the dog is deemed to be dangerous, the owner can receive up to six months in jail, or an unlimited fine, as well as the dog being killed.
THE TRAGIC BRITS KILLED BY AMERICAN BULLY XL DOGS IN RECENT YEARS
THE 10-YEAR-OLD ATTACKED WHILE PLAYING WITH A FRIEND
Jack Lis, ten, died in November 2021 after suffering catastrophic injuries after being mauled by a seven stone dog while playing at a friend’s house in South Wales.
The dog named Beast, was shot dead by armed police officers following the attack on Jack.
After Beast’s death it was found to be an 115lb American Bully or XL Bully. The dog is believed to have been given away for free on Facebook.
Jack’s mother Emma Whitfield has since launched a campaign for a new law that would overhaul the Dangerous Dogs Act. She wants to see stricter penalties and stronger rules to stop illegal and irresponsible breeding and selling.
THE 17-MONTH-OLD GIRL MAULED AT HOME IN FRONT OF HER PARENTS
Bella-Rae Birch was just 17 months old when an American Bully XL mauled her to death at her home in Blackbrook, St Helen’s on March 21.
The dog had been bought by her father ‘for buttons’ just one week earlier and was ‘humanely destroyed’ following the shocking attack, Merseyside Police said.
According to her devastated mother, the family had been given the dog a week before the incident and had made sure that it was safe for the children.
No legal proceedings took place as Bella-Rae was not on her own when the attack happened and the dog wasn’t under the Dangerous Dog Act.
SCOTTISH KENNEL OWNER MAULED, LEAVING HIS FIVE KIDS ORPHANS
Adam Watts, 55, was attacked at the Juniper Kennels and Cattery in Kirkton of Auchterhouse, near Dundee, and was pronounced dead at the scene on December 22 in 2021.
The bully – who was involved in an incident with another dog – had been put into the care of Mr Watts’ kennels by police after being seized under warrant in August.
Tributes were paid to Mr Watts online after news of his death broke, with one dog charity praising his ‘gentle, calm nature’ in trying to gain the trust of abused animals in his care.
Mr Watts left behind five sons, aged between 10 and 18, who lost their mother Eileen Watts in 2013 to cancer, at the age of 46.
FATHER KILLED BY SON’S BULLY AFTER BEING BITTEN ON THE LEG
A two-year-old American Bully dog known as Cookie sunk its teeth into the leg of Keven Jones, the father of its owner, in north Wales in May 2022.
His daughter-in-law Chanel Fong needed someone to help care for Cookie and their other four dogs while she went out, with the son Josh away at Wembley watching a football match.
She came in to the house on Holt Road, Wrexham, on 23 May and heard Keven shouting: ‘He’s got me’.
As she turned the corner, Fong found him laying on the floor, blood gushing from his leg.
He later died of blood loss.
MOTHER-OF-TWO MAULED AFTER BULLY ‘SNAPPED AND WENT MAD’
Joanne Robinson, 43, was mauled to death by her pet American Bully XL dog after it ‘turned mad in the extreme heat’ in July 2022.
Her partner, Jamie Stead, 42, was left with injuries to his hands, stomach and face as he tried to saved her and pull the animal off her.
Joanne had two XL Bully dogs – Rocco who was nearly two, and Lola.
Ms Robinson’s heartbroken son paid tribute to his mother, calling her his ‘best friend’ and a ‘caring mum and the best Nannan to my kids.’
DOG WALKER MAULED BY XL BULLY AS THEY PLAYED
Ian Symes, who weighed 7st 12 lbs and was 5ft 10ins, was walking a ‘powerful’ American Bully XL at a public park in Fareham, Hampshire when it overpowered him.
The Bully XL reverted to its ‘aggressive’ natural instincts and repeatedly bit down on Mr Symes’ neck after he began playing with it.
The dog weighed a massive 8st 3lbs.
It was the first time Mr Symes tried to take it out for a walk, just a day after a friend bought it from travellers over Snapchat
WIDOWED GRANDMOTHER VICIOUSLY ATTACKED IN HER OWN HOME
Retired nurse Shirley Patrick, 83, died in hospital 17 days after suffering ‘life-threatening injuries’ during a ‘hellish’ and ‘violent’ dog attack in Caerphilly, South Wales on December 3, 2022.
She suffered ‘traumatic lacerations’ and significant wounds to her head, body, face and arms during the attack.
Her provisional cause of death was given as ‘sepsis caused by pneumonia and infected scalp wounds’ following the attack.
She was attacked by a large black XL Bully Cross Cane Corso – just half a mile from where Jack Lis was previously killed.
DOG WALKER MAULED TO DEATH BY PACK OF DOGS
The country was horrified after Natasha Johnston, 28, was mauled to death by the eight animals she was walking in a Surrey park in January.
Witnesses to the horrific attack said the dogs turned into a pack of ‘wolves’ when they attacked Natasha at the Gravelly Hill beauty spot in Caterham.
She died from multiple bites to the neck, including one that perforated her jugular vein, an inquest heard. Eight dogs were seized at the scene of the frenzied attack.
Police confirmed last month that Ms Johnston’s dog was the only animal to have been destroyed, which they believe to be an American Bully XL.
FOUR-YEAR-OLD SAVAGED IN VICIOUS GARDEN ATTACK
Four-year-old Alice Stones was mauled to death by a dog in the back garden of her home in Milton Keynes.
The breed of the dog that killed her has not been officially confirmed but is believed to be an American bully.
The tragic girl’s family revealed that the dog was a family pet. It was later put down by police.
Alice’s mother was described as being distraught and ‘completely heartbroken’.
FATHER KILLED BY ‘OUT OF CONTROL’ BULLY
Jonathan Hogg was killed last month by an ‘out of control’ dog just four months after his son’s birth – and three days before his daughter turned two.
The dog was forced into a cabin in a yard next to a static caravan and, when armed officers arrived, the animal was shot dead.
Greater Manchester Police later searched two houses and seized 15 dogs, including six adults and nine puppies, believed to be the same breed as that which attacked Mr Hogg.
What is the Dangerous Dogs Act? Which dogs are banned? And why is it controversial?
WHAT IS THE DANGEROUS DOGS ACT?
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 bans or restricts certain types of dogs and makes it an offence to allow a dog of any breed to be dangerously out of control.
It was introduced 30 years ago by Home Secretary Kenneth Baker ‘to rid the country of the menace of these fighting dogs’ after a string of attacks.
WHICH DOGS ARE BANNED IN THE UK?
It is illegal to own four breeds of dogs without an exemption from a court. They are:
- American pitbull terriers
- Japanese tosas
- Dogo Argentinos
- Fila Brazileiro
The law also criminalises cross-breeds of the above four types of dog – meaning that whether a dog is prohibited will depend on a judgement about its physical characteristics and whether they match the description of a prohibited ‘type’.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE’S A DOG ATTACK?
You can get an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to six months if your dog is dangerously out of control.
You may not be allowed to own a dog in the future and your dog may be destroyed.
If you let your dog injure someone you can be sent to prison for up to five years or fined. If you deliberately use your dog to injure someone you could be charged with ‘malicious wounding’.
And if you allow your dog to kill someone you can be sent to prison for up to 14 years or get an unlimited fine.
WHY IS THE ACT CONTROVERSIAL?
Both the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the British Veterinary Association have protested against the ban, insisting there is no scientific evidence that all individuals of a breed are dangerous.
However, Met Police data suggests that in incidents involving ‘dangerously out of control dogs’, banned breeds account for about a fifth of offences.