U.K. proposes ban on American XL bully dogs, prompting fierce debate

LONDON — The British government wants to ban American XL bully dogs, a breed responsible for a spate of attacks in the United Kingdom in recent years — some of them fatal — prompting fierce debate over who should be held responsible for pet violence: the animals or their owners.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the breed, known for its stocky, muscular appearance, is a “clear and lethal danger” to people, particularly children. She announced Sunday that she was seeking “urgent advice” on banning the dogs and cited an XL bully attack on three people, including an 11-year-old, over the weekend.

There are several variations of the American bully, a breed the American Bully Kennel Club describes as giving “the impression of great strength for its size.” Versions of the breed — which comes from the American pit bull terrier — include standard, pocket, classic and XL; bullies are classified as XL if they are taller than 50 cm (20 inches). XL bully dogs can weigh up to 60 kg (132 pounds) and sell from $1,200 to $12,000, according to experts and online listings viewed by The Washington Post.

Though Britain’s major dog associations don’t officially recognize the breed, XL bullies have gained popularity in the country in recent years, with many perceiving their size and strength as a status symbol.

Of the 10 fatal dog attacks in Britain last year, more than half involved an XL bully, the Guardian reportedFootage of the attack Braverman cited shows an off-leash XL bully running through the streets of Birmingham, England, biting people while others fled in horror. West Midlands Police said the victims were taken to hospital, while the owner was “spoken to by officers.”

The 11-year-old told Sky News on Monday that the dog bit her arm, then her shoulder. She agreed the breed should be banned, adding: “The owner should be in prison.”

Britain has seen at least two fatal XL bully attacks this year alone. In January, 28-year-old Natasha Johnston was killed while walking eight dogs; a forensic report revealed that she died of “multiple penetrating bites to the neck.” Police later said they “put to sleep” an XL bully she owned. In May, 37-year-old Jonathan Hogg was killed by an American XL bully he was looking after for a friend. He suffered multiple wounds and died of his injuries, British media reported, and police killed the dog.

Dog attacks are a worldwide issue, accounting for tens of millions of injuries annually, the World Health Organization reported, noting that the highest risk is among children. In the United States, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, the WHO said.

In Britain, if an owner is believed to be in possession of a banned breed without special court permission, police or local officials have the authority to seize the dog — even if it is not acting dangerously. An expert then assesses if the dog is a risk. In some cases, the dog is killed. Sometimes it is released back to the owner who has to agree to follow stringent rules, including muzzling it at all times in public, and neutering and microchipping it.

It is illegal in Britain to own a dog that is dangerously out of control, an offense which carries an unlimited fine and a prison sentence of up to six months. If your dog injures someone, you may be sent to prison for up to five years; if your dog kills someone, you can be sentenced to up to 14 years.

Experts and social media users were split on whether the recent attacks justify an XL bully ban.

“The XL bully is the most dangerous dog breed I’ve ever seen,” Stan Rawlinson, a dog behavioral expert, told BBC radio on Monday. He expressed support for a ban, saying these dogs have an “enhanced prey drive” and “reactivity that is totally off the scale.” As of Tuesday, a petition urging the government to criminalize selling, owning or breeding XL bullies has garnered over 16,000 signatures.

When asked about the XL bully attack, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement it takes dog attacks and antisocial behavior “very seriously” and is “making sure the full force of the law is being applied.”

Some British tabloids also appeared to back the government’s move: “Ban XL devil dogs,” read the Sun’s front page Monday. “New dog attack chaos: Terror on our streets,” the Mirror’s cover said.

But Adam Spivey, founder of Southend Dog Training, told The Post that he does not support the proposed ban, urging the government to clamp down on irresponsible breeders and dog owners instead. “XL bullies are not the problem,” he said. “Humans are the problem.”

“If you unclip that lead and you know that dog will attack someone, you are deploying a deadly weapon,” Spivey said. He called for more stringent prison terms for the owners of violent dogs, which he said could make people think twice: “People would be quicker to muzzle their dogs, they would take dog ownership and training much more seriously.”

Spivey also said that following an attack, it is the bite victim and the dog — which is usually killed — that suffer, while owners often remain free to buy another dog. “There’s nothing to deter these people getting these dogs and having them out of control,” he said.

If the XL bully is banned, it would join the list of four others banned in Britain under the Dangerous Dogs Act: the pit bull terrier, the Japanese tosa, the dogo Argentino and the fila Brasileiro.

“Banning breeds will not change anything. Say you ban the XL bully, there’ll be another breed after that and another breed after that,” Spivey said. “If you want to see real change, then you need to target the other end of the lead, and that’s the irresponsible dog owners.”

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As many backed the ban, many others, including XL bully owners, defended the breed on social media, posting photos of their beloved pets on social media.

“My XL Bully is the sweetest boy ever, so placid and loves everyone,” one person posted on X, formerly Twitter. “I have 3 breeds in my household and with love respect and ownership these [dogs] are amazing and loving,” wrote another.

Spivey echoed their remarks, explaining that if bred correctly, socialized and trained, these dogs can make great, docile family pets. “They can be gentle giants,” Spivey said.

He also called out some dog breeders who, he said, focus on “pure profit” over responsibility. “Breeding is an art,” Spivey said. “Putting together genetically stable parents that are healthy and have good temperaments is an art. Anybody can put dogs together and produce puppies. But if you’re interbreeding and breeding from dogs who have bad joints, bad temperaments and bad health, you’re asking for trouble.”

A primary way owners can limit their dogs’ risk of violence, Spivey said, is to seek professional guidance and avoid unlicensed breeders.

“If you have problems with your dog, a responsible owner seeks help,” he said. “It doesn’t let their dog off the lead with no recall or if it is a bite risk.”