What is an XL bully dog and why are they being banned?

As Rishi Sunak promises to ban American XL bully dogs by the end of the year after a series of attacks, Yahoo UK examines the breed in detail.

Front close up view of an XL bully dog
A spate of attacks has fuelled calls for American XL bully dogs to be banned. (Alamy)

American XL bully dogs will be banned by the end of the year following a series of attacks, Rishi Sunak has said.

The Prime Minister made the promise after it emerged a man has died after being attacked by two dogs – suspected to be bully XLs – in Staffordshire and following a video of another incident that went viral when an 11-year-old girl suffered serious injuries in Birmingham.

Downing Street denied the Government has taken too long to ban American XL bully dogs.

Within minutes of Mr Sunak announcing the ban, a man was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter over the attack in Main Street, Stonnall, on Thursday afternoon, Staffordshire Police said.

The 30-year-old, from the Lichfield area, was previously arrested on suspicion of being in charge of dogs dangerously out of control causing injury.

One of the dogs died after being restrained and the other died after an injection was given by a vet, the force said, adding that both were believed to be XL bullies but further tests are being carried out to determine their breed.

Three campaign groups welcomed the Government’s announcement on banning American XL bully dogs by the end of the year.

In a joint statement, Bully Watch, the Campaign for Evidence Based Regulation of Dangerous Dogs (CEBRDD) and Protect Our Pets claimed the breed was a “a clear and present threat to public health”.

What is an American XL bully dog?

The American bully is a relatively new dog breed from the US, with its first official breed registry, the American Bully Kennel Club (ABKC), founded in 2004.

As it is not registered as a recognised breed by the UK Kennel Club, it is unclear how many of the dogs or breeders are currently in the country.

It comes in a variety of sizes, including pocket, standard and XL, the latter of which has become a cause of concern.

To give an idea as to why, out of the 10 fatal dog attacks in the UK during 2022, six involved an XL bully, the Guardian reported. The breed is responsible for killing nine people, including three children, since 2001.

male American Bully XL
Not all campaigners are in agreement about the approach to dealing with American XL bully dogs. (Alamy)

Bully Watch, an organisation set up to monitor attacks by breed, believes American bully XL and bully mix breeds have been behind 45% of attacks on humans and other dogs.

However, it accepted its statistics aren't perfect, as someone who'd been attacked by a smaller dog would probably be less likely to report it.

An adult male XL bully can weigh over nine stone and stand up to 23 inches tall at the wither, making some alarmed by the muscular breed's sheer physical power.

Which breeds of dog are currently banned in the UK?

Currently, there are four breeds on the country's banned dogs list, which are: Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro.

Some including Tory former minister Sir John Hayes called for the American Bully XL - closely related to the Pit Bull Terrier - to be added to that list earlier this year.

XL bully dogs: Read more

Speaking in Parliament in June, he cited a number of fatal attacks in recent years involving the breed, including on 17-month-old Bella-Rae Birch, and 10-year-old Jack Lis.

He added: "We need an urgent statement from the government, not to debate this matter but simply to confirm that this bad breed, bred to kill, should be banned."

Meanwhile, Jack's mother, Emma Whitfield, 32, has been calling for tougher sentencing and regulation to prevent people misusing potentially dangerous "status symbol" dogs.

Animal rights charity Peta has called for a ban on breeding American bullies, saying: "No one can pretend that owners are solely to blame."

Why are some against banning them?

Not everyone is in agreement, with the RSPCA arguing: “Dog aggression is highly complex, and taking a breed-focused approach is fundamentally flawed.

“We believe focusing on the type of dog, rather than their individual actions, is a flawed and failing approach. We’re very concerned to see more discussions around adding another type of dog to the banned list.”

While the UK Kennel Club does not recognise the American bully, it too has insisted on a "deed not breed" approach as the best way forward.

Watch: Mum of boy, 10, killed by American bully dog condemns owners who want 'status symbol'

"We believe that breed-specific legislation ignores the most important factors that contribute to biting incidents – primarily anti-social behaviour by irresponsible dog owners who train their dogs to be aggressive or do not train their dogs adequately," it said.

"Consequently, current legislation – which is based on genetics and ignores the influence of the dog's keeper – has failed to prevent a large number of dog-bite incidents and has cost the police millions of pounds in kennelling-associated costs.

"Sadly, it has also resulted in the unnecessary euthanasia of dogs simply because of their breed or type. No breed of dog is inherently dangerous."

A Dogs Trust spokesman said: “Dogs Trust wants to see the current dog control laws replaced with one consolidated law that allows for early intervention with a focus on the prevention of dog bite incidents and includes measures that deter and punish owners of dogs whose behaviour is dangerous.

“We will continue to look for reform in existing dog control laws until we are satisfied that any new measures are preventative, breed-neutral and effective, and ultimately protect both dogs and people alike.”

What has the government said?

Outlining plans to ban the XL bully dog breed in a video statement posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The American XL bully dog is a danger to our communities, particularly our children.

“I share the nation’s horror at the recent videos we’ve all seen. Yesterday we saw a another suspected XL bully dog attack, which has tragically led to a fatality.

“It is clear this is not about a handful of badly trained dogs, it’s a pattern of behaviour and it cannot go on.

“While owners already have a responsibility to keep their dogs under control, I want to reassure people that we are urgently working on ways to stop these attacks and protect the public.

“Today I have tasked ministers to bring together police and experts, to firstly define the breed of dog behind these attacks, with the view to then outlawing it.

“It is not currently a breed defined in law, so this vital first step must happen fast.

“We will then ban the breed under the Dangerous Dogs Act and new laws will be in place by the end of the year.“These dogs are dangerous, I want to reassure the public that we will take all necessary steps to keep people safe.”