Tan XL bully type Steve curled up on a beige rug

Puddle-loving dog punished by cruel law

Tan XL bully type Steve being walked on a lead and muzzle by owner, who is wearing a grey jumper and blue jeans
Steve has been forced to wear a muzzle despite never putting a paw wrong

Life for Steve was once filled with long off-lead walks through woodlands, chasing his ball and greeting other dogs. During visits to the beach, he loved to run along the sand and splash about in the sea.

But this all changed for him overnight on 1 February, when he was legally required to be muzzled in public. Not because Steve had put a paw wrong, but due to an ill-judged law discriminating against dogs based on looks.

As an XL bully type – defined by measurements and characteristics dictated by the government, rather than DNA or temperament – Steve now lives by strict rules, along with 60,000 other innocent dogs like him in the UK.

“Splashing in puddles was probably his favourite thing,” says owner Stuart Trotter, who adopted Steve from our Hertfordshire rehoming centre last summer, before news of a ban on XL bully types emerged.

Stuart was then “shocked and horrified” when he discovered that gentle Steve would need to be added to a list of exempted dogs to prevent him from being seized by police and euthanised.

“I'm just devastated at the stupidity that they [the government] have made. It just seems to be a decision based on votes rather than one that’s well-thought-out, when you’ve got vets, rescue centres and trainers all saying that it’s not the dogs to blame,” he says.

While Stuart, a secondary school teacher from Bedfordshire, admits he would not have chosen to take on a dog of a banned type, he’s now intent on proving how wrong the law – and the negative public perception it induces – is.

He says: “It has kind of made me more determined because it’s not his [Steve’s] fault. Resilience is just to try and educate people. And as much as people have a go, the more it makes me more determined to take him out in more public areas just to show what a docile dog he is.”

And docile Steve, whose name is short for Steve McQueen, is indeed. 

XL bully type Steve lies across young boy wearing black and smiling on the sofa, alongside owner wearing grey jumper and blue jeans who is holding little dachshund
Steve enjoying sofa snuggles with seven-year-old Ollie, his pint-sized best friend Cooper and owner Stuart

The tender two-year-old’s best dog friend – and the one “in charge” – is a miniature dachshund called Cooper, who belongs to Steve’s partner Emma. And her son, Ollie, seven, has also developed a deep bond with Steve.

“Ollie is the chief trainer,” says Stuart. “And when he goes to bed, Steve goes up and jumps on his cabin bed and will just lie across him just to make sure he falls asleep. Then he'll go in and check on him throughout the night.”

Stuart continues: “Steve’s just a big, clumsy oaf, really. Such a friendly dog. He's so people-friendly, child-friendly and animal-friendly. He’s just so happy to be out and about meeting different people – so sociable.” 

Muzzle training has been a challenge for Stuart and Steve, but with the Blue Cross Behaviour Team’s support, they are now able to go out on short walks and are gradually building up this time. 

XL bully type Steve out on walk wearing a muzzle standing on a grassy field, being held on lead by man wearing grey jumper and jeans alongside his dachshund friend who is held by young boy wearing all black
Walks are much different now for Steve, who has to wear a muzzle by law

“It has been a very slow and steady transition into it. Hopefully, he’s getting there, and it won’t be something that’s going to upset him for the rest of his life,” says Stuart.

Inevitably, though, wearing a muzzle has impacted the enjoyment Steve has on walks.

Stuart continues: “He’s now less able to interact with other dogs. I've tried to keep him to shorter walks. We’ve kept away from the woods, and areas where there's a mass population of other dogs.

“It’s a real shame because he's still such a sociable dog. And he was a complete dream on walks [before]. He had really good recall – he would hardly leave your side.”

Holidays will sadly also look very different for Steve.

Tan XL bully type Steve lying on the floor next to young boy kneeling down assisting man in white top with training
Ollie says Steve is his 'best friend' and loves to assist with training

“He loves the sea and was off lead running in and out of the [wind] breaks,” Stuart says of a trip last year. 

And with a big family holiday planned this summer, Stuart is heartbroken at the prospect of Steve being sat on the beach in a muzzle while the three other dogs and five children on the trip run about freely.

“The thought of him just sat on the beach with a muzzle on for six hours is not something I can comprehend at this moment,” he says. 

“And the other impact is within the car – it's a six-hour journey and he's got to have the muzzle on. So, it's that kind of balance of how much you can enjoy a holiday, and how much impact it’s going to have [on Steve], but we'll do our best.”

XL bully type Steve with his nose in a green snuffle mat outside in the garden
Enrichment activities such as a snuffle mat help to curb Steve's access energy since the ban

But while life has its limits, Steve is still a happy dog who relishes the company of people.

“This has created a lot more adjustments. But he's certainly a happy dog. Especially within the household up on the sofa and cuddling. He's very loyal,” says Stuart.

Since having to wear a muzzle, Steve has more energy at home and Stuart is working on channelling this into training and other enrichment activities

He also says that the online support groups made up of other XL bully type owners have been invaluable in sourcing private ‘freedom fields’, where Steve can enjoy time running about off lead and playing fetch again.

Blue Cross strongly believes that good-natured dogs like Steve, who pose no threat to society, should have the freedom to explore and enjoy the world in the same way that non-banned breed types do. 

That’s why we have long campaigned for an end to breed specific legislation and a shift in focus to responsible dog ownership. Find out what we’re doing to support XL bully owners and lobby for change.

— Page last updated 14/05/2024