Behaviorist shares 3 tips for navigating the XL bully ban in the UK

American XL Bully sitting down on grass
(Image credit: Alexandre Bauer/Getty Images)

This month, it became illegal to own, breed, give away, sell, exchange or abandon an American XL bully in the UK - punishable by six months in jail, an unlimited fine or both.

The ban came into effect on the 1st February and owners need a certificate of exemption if they already have the breed. They also need to muzzle their dog and use the best dog leashes in public places. 

The controversial ban has impacted thousands of dogs, and more than 30,000 registered for an exemption certificate in January.

If you're an XL bully owner, you might be feeling frustrated, and concerned and want some guidance on how to navigate the ban. We spoke with Will Atherton, canine behaviorist and founder of the Will Atherton Canine Centre, to hear his thoughts. 

He says: “As we know, this ban has posed challenges not only for XL bully owners but also for those whose dogs may be labeled as a dangerous breed, putting them at risk of potential bans. I too have been personally affected by this; my rescue dog Puppy meets the criteria to be labelled as a dangerous breed. Despite this, I’ve taken it upon myself to become a positive example for dog owners across the UK.

"To ensure they are well informed on the measures they can take to implement control within the constraints of the ban and still be loving leaders while fostering a sense of responsibility and awareness. Amidst the confusion, it's easy to feel angry, especially at the thought of losing your companion. That’s why to move forward effectively I'm putting the control back into the owner's hands by providing them with the skills and training to keep them, their dog, and other people safe with my free muzzle training masterclass.

"I hope my resources inspire owners to become shining examples for their dogs and communities under the ban. By flipping the stereotype on its head, we can collectively show that responsible training can transcend breed labels. Ensuring XL bullies and their owners can have a fantastic quality of life under the circumstances.”

Will says that with the right training, XL bullies can "thrive" under the ban. Here are three of his top tips:

Will Atherton with dog
Will Atherton

Will Atherton is a canine behaviorist and the founder of the Will Atherton Canine Centre. He has helped hundreds of thousands of dog owners through his online dog training platform and is the author of 'Raising and Training Perfect Puppies - The Missing Secret to Success'.

1. Obedience training

When it comes to training, it's super important that you have strong communication with your dog, and Will explains that they should always be looking to you for guidance. 

If your dog understands how to sit and stay patiently, this will help people around them to feel more comfortable, as well as keep your dog safe. If you're wondering how to teach a puppy to sit, our guide can help you out.

If it's leash pulling that you're struggling with, Will advises practicing loose leash training to give you control and demonstrate that the dog isn't threatening. This enables your pooch to move freely while adhering to the rules. 

XL bully sitting down

(Image credit: Alena Ivochkina/Getty Images)

2. Muzzle training

It's now illegal to take an XL bully in public places without a muzzle - something that might be tricky for some owners. However, Will assures that there are safe and positive ways to muzzle train your dog, and you can even make it a fun experience. 

Whilst muzzle training might not be the easiest thing for your dog, using treats and getting them used to wearing one will make things simpler at walk time. If you're interested in learning more, Will is offering a free online course to help.

3. Clear boundaries

Will explains that as a dog owner, you have a duty of care for your pet and the people around you. It's super important to ensure your dog understands clear boundaries you put in place and knows that you are the one in control. 

If your dog tends to jump up, one method that Will likes to use is 'Four on the Floor'. As the name suggests, this training technique encourages your dog to keep all their paws on the floor instead of jumping up. Will likes to use this three-step process to help the dog understand what you want from them:

1. Interrupt the behavior to prevent it from getting worse

2. Redirect the dog to a desirable behavior (like sitting when they see someone)

3. Reward the good behavior with attention or treats

What about if your dog lunges or barks at other dogs while on walks? Will has some great advice for you to practice at home. Whenever your dog focuses on you (as opposed to zoning out into a distraction), reward them. This will help if they tend to get distracted and reduce uncomfortable reactions.

XL bully walking in nature

(Image credit: Alexandre Bauer/Getty Images)

Will says that these tips are not exclusive to XL bullies and that they can be applied to any breed with aggressive tendencies. He wants the XL bully community to "lead by example" and "show what the breed is capable of with the right care and guidance."

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said: "The Prime Minister pledged to take quick and decisive action to protect the public from devastating dog attacks with measures in place by the end of 2023. We have met that pledge - it is now a legal requirement for XL bully dogs to be muzzled and on a lead in public. It is also now illegal to breed, sell, advertise, gift, exchange, abandon or let XL bully dogs stray.

"All XL bully owners are expected to comply with the law and we will continue to work closely with the police, canine and veterinary experts, and animal welfare groups, with further restrictions on XL bully dogs coming into force on 1st February."

Megan Milstead
Staff Writer

Megan is a Staff Writer on PetsRader, covering news, features and buying guides. She has a wealth of experience looking after animals, having grown up with dogs, cats and horses all of her life. She’s particularly interested in pet happiness and behavior, which she loves to research in her spare time. You’ll often find her watching webinars on reactivity in dogs or researching cat body language. She loves going the extra mile for her cats Chilli and Nala (who also help out with testing the best products for our buying guides). 

Megan studied BA Journalism at the University of Westminster, where she specialized in lifestyle journalism and was editor of Smoke Radio’s online magazine. She also graduated from West Herts College with a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Journalism. Before joining the PetsRadar family last year, she worked on the editorial team at Harrods and has spent most of her career writing for specialized titles, like RunningShoesGuru, Licklist and Mr. After Party. 

Megan works alongside qualified vets and accredited trainers to ensure you get the best advice possible. She is passionate about finding accurate and helpful answers to your pet-related questions.