The issue of dangerous dogs is in the news once again, not due to another horrific attack on a baby, but because MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee are revisiting its content with a view to amending its provisions where necessary. They are looking at three key areas in the bill; animal welfare, protection of the public and owner responsibility.
When the bill came into law, it was widely regarded as a kneejerk reaction to a public mood of fear, stoked by sensationalist reporting about certain breeds of dogs.
Its lack of effectiveness can be highlighted by the fact that the number of reported incidents where hospital treatment was needed has increased by 76% in the last ten years. This suggests that the bill is not very successful in its aims. However, in its investigations, the committee highlighted figures from the RSPCA which suggested that of the 30 people killed by dogs between 1991 and 2016, 21 had been attacked by dogs that were not banned.
The bill is probably best known for is its outright ban on the ownership of a number of specific breeds, including the dogo Argentino, the Japanese tosa and, notoriously, the pit bull. It acts on the assumption that these breeds, uniquely and exclusively, cause significant harm if they attack another living being. Even so, there is a provision in the bill for owners to apply for a certificate of exemption if they are able to demonstrate to a court their dog is not dangerous.
There are opinions for all colours on this issue. Some may still ask whether some breeds are inherently more dangerous than others, but many breeds of young dogs often show tendencies to nip.
Essentially, the owner is the pack leader, so these traits can be nipped in the bud (forgive the pun) by showing the dog that it is not acceptable. For instance, some owners repeatedly remove their frisky puppy from a room where there are people, to another room.
They can then reward the dog when it behaves appropriately around people. Responsible dog owners recognise this as basic training and positive reward disciplining, (regardless of the breed). Dog owners need to read up about their animal and dedicate training time, so it knows exactly where the boundaries are.
So, perhaps a broader discussion should take place about whether the bill’s intentions should focus more on generic dangers and preventative measures to address these dangers rather than targeting a limited number of breeds.
Many believe no dog is inherently ‘good’ or ‘evil’. Perhaps this legislation needs to address human owners who allow (or can’t prevent) dangerous behaviour by their dogs (be it through negligence, intentional mistreatment or ‘bad’ training). Perhaps we need a bill which better addresses the responsibility of owners to make sure they minimise the risk of their dog being a danger to the public.