A call for pitbull terriers to be banned in South Africa has been made by a leading animal behaviourist, John Faul.

Faul said they were dangerous and a threat to life. He said the pitbull was bred to be absolutely fearless and had a "hair-trigger" attack response.

"The cardinal rule is that these dogs are not pets," he said.

"The only way to keep them is in a working environment."

Faul stressed this point when taking part in SAfm Radio's After Eight Debate on whether pit bulls should be banned in South Africa.

The debate was held in the light of a recent fatal attack by a pitbull in Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, on a 74-year-old woman, Grace Page.

In another recent incident in Johannesburg, a pitbull attacked a two-year-old, who had to undergo reconstructive surgery.

This type of incident showed pitbulls should not be kept as pets in residential areas, said Faul.

Faul, who comes from Ireland originally and now lives in Cape Town, said the pitbull had been bred originally in his home country and had since been adopted by the United States.

"The Irish, to our very great shame, created this dog in Cork," he said.

"We created it for the reason that it must be absolutely fearless."

He said all dogs were good at conflict avoidance, because of their sense of self-preservation.

"In the pitbull terrier we took that out and replaced it with a hairtrigger response."

Faul did not accept the claim that pitbulls were aggressive only towards other dogs and not humans.

"The dog, the horse, the cat and the pig have no idea what a human being is.

"Because we grow up in close association with them, we are seen as tall dogs that walk on our back legs."

He said the only relationship one could have with the pitbull was one of "dominance, sub-dominance", in which the dog was reminded daily of its position.

"The concept of dogs wanting friends is nonsense," he said.

"The dog is looking for a leader."

His views on a ban were rejected by a second member of the debating panel, Jeanette Erasmus, president of the Pit Bull Federation of South Africa.

She said the pitbull was loyal and intelligent, and certainly not a problem if properly bred and trained.

Pitbulls, she said, were bred to fight bears, bulls and other dogs, but they were bought by people who wanted to turn them into aggressive guardians of property.

"People are taking the dogs and making them aggressive and they are not," she said.

"It is not one of the trends of the pitbull. They are not human aggressive."

Erasmus said many of the attacks on humans were by dogs that were not true pitbulls and people should ensure they bought from an accredited breeder.

She said her federation had investigated the dog that attacked the two-year-old.

"It was not a pitbull," she claimed.

Erasmus said she had owned pit bulls for 20 years.

"I have never had a problem," she said.

"If you ban these dogs, what dogs will be next?"