FOR EVERY HUNDRED BAD DOGS OUT THERE, THERE’S A HUNDRED BAD OWNERS
This quote from an article about dog attacks in New Zealand seems to concur with research, studies and surveys conducted around the world. Law makers in every country know they have a problem, but none of them have a solution.
Every time a child is savaged by a vicious dog, there’s a media outcry and a knee-jerk reaction from politicians to make our streets safe, leading to legislation like Britain’s Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which outlawed four breeds and x-breeds. In hindsight, it’s viewed as a complete failure.
WHY BREED SPECIFIC LEGISLATION DOESN’T WORK
The implementation of Breed Specific Legislation worldwide has been as unsuccessful as Britain’s attempt for the following reasons:
- If there’s a ban on Pit Bull Terriers, owners just register the animal as a cross-breed of another dog
- Owners substitute one aggressive breed for another, as occurred between Rottweilers and Pit Bulls
- It’s impossible to identify a breed by its appearance. (In one test 87.5% of dogs did not contain the DNA of the breed they were identified as).
BREED SPECIFIC LEGISLATION SUCCESSES
- Spain introduced Breed Specific Legislation in 1999 that applied to 8 breeds and noticed a decline in hospitalisations due to dog bites in a 2012 report
- In August 2005, the Canadian province of Ontario introduced a ban on Pit Bulls. In 2004, the final year before the ban there were 984 Pit Bulls registered in Toronto and 168 bites reported. In 2013, the Pit Bull population was down to 501 with just 13 bites reported. 168 bites down to 13.
STUDIES, DOG ATTACK REPORTS & SURVEYS REACH THE SAME CONCLUSION:
IRRESPONSIBLE DOG OWNERS
Many authors note the profound influence of the owner and the way the dog is raised on its temperament, and the observation that some breeds are more likely to be owned by certain types of people.
While clearly a generalisation, certain breeds, especially Pit Bull-type dogs, are seen as desirable by irresponsible owners and seen as a macho status symbol by young men (Kaspersson 2008).
In a survey of 355 dog owners in Hamilton County, Ohio, owners of Pit Bulls had almost 10 times more criminal convictions (5.9 vs. 0.6) than owners of “low risk” licensed breeds. Convictions included aggression, problems with drugs and alcohol, crimes involving children and domestic violence. “High risk dogs are part of a high risk lifestyle and ownership of high risk cited dogs appears to be a significant marker of general deviance.” (Barnes et al 2006)
A survey of dog ownership by youth gang members in the UK, where ownership of so-called “status” dogs (predominantly bull-type and mastiff-type) was high, revealed that the dogs were owned for a range of reasons. A secondary function was as weapons or status symbols, and in fighting dogs for entertainment. In this context dog ownership makes “a clear statement of aggressive intent and reflects an individual’s status (hard, tough and to be respected)” (Maher and Pierpoint 2011).
Council officers recognise that problem dogs typically come from certain, low socio-economic areas with high rates of general crime and violence. This is the “elephant in the room” for those trying to protect society from serious dog bites.
Three dogs that killed a child were owned by a 21 year old with convictions for domestic assault and aggravated assault. The dogs got out and attacked some teenagers. He was fined and ordered to have the dogs muzzled in public. This did not happen, because he claimed he couldn’t afford the muzzles. Gladwell (2006).
He believed a dog’s upbringing determined whether it was dangerous or not, with a dog’s mannerisms usually reflecting their owner’s. (Stuff NZ 2016).
The above information is sourced from Dangerous Dogs – A Sensible Solution by The Australian Veterinary Association.
RECOMMENDATIONS BY THE AUSTRALIAN VETERINARY ASSOCIATION
Unfortunately, these recommendations are unlikely have much impact on the incidences of dog attacks.
Identification and registration of all dogs (unlike cars, dogs and their owners do not have a number plate and there are no speed or red light cameras to catch law breakers)
A national reporting system with mandatory reporting of all dog bite incidents to the national database (so few dog attacks get reported, one has to question its value)
Temperament testing to understand the risks and needs of individual animals, to help owners make more appropriate choices for their new pets, and to guide breeders to improve the temperament of puppies (is the demographic identified above, really going to take advice on appropriate pet choices?)
Comprehensive education programs for pet owners, dog breeders, all parents and all children (is the identified demographic really going to engage in a comprehensive education program?)
Enforcement of all dog management regulations. Resourcing is often a major barrier to effective enforcement, and this problem needs to be addressed effectively to achieve tangible reductions in dog bite incidents (The police are not interested in pet attacks and council wardens have no authority to enforce anything, even something as simple as asking a person to put their dog back on its lead in a public place)
IS THERE ANY HOPE?
Courses for new dog owners no longer mandatory in Switzerland
Switzerland introduced radical measures in 2008, three years after a young boy was killed by a group of Pit Bulls near Zurich. First time dog owners were required to take a mandatory course before they could own a dog. All dog owners, regardless of experience, were required to take a practical course within 12 months of getting a dog. This course was required for every dog.
All dogs had to be microchipped and registered with the national database and local council. Registration to the national database could only be performed by a vet.
Annual registration fees (for each dog) are CHF 100-200 ($135-$270). Owners of restricted breeds must require a special permit. Most councils require dog owners to have liability insurance cover between CHF 1-3 million ($1.4-$4 million).
In late 2016, the Swiss parliament voted to repeal the obligatory training courses, after a government report found no drop in the number of dogs bites, and no marked change in the behaviour of dog owners who had taken the course. 1 in 5 skipped the course all together.
‘Zero tolerance for dog attacks’: Montreal imposes strict animal rules, focuses on Pit Bulls
Montreal is proposing for all dogs to be sterilised and micro-chipped before Dec. 31, 2019. Citizens will not be able to buy Pit Bull-types, and existing dogs will be taken from people that have criminal backgrounds.
Dogs that have bitten someone more than once or that are responsible for the death of a human or other animal will be considered dangerous and quickly euthanised.
Owners of Pit Bull-type dogs will have to:
- Muzzle their dogs at all times when outside of their homes
- Attach their dogs to a leash that is no longer than 1.25 metres, except for dog parks or in an enclosure that has a fence that is 2 metres or higher
- The animals must be under the control of an adult of 18 years or older
- The dogs must wear a tag distributed by the City of Montreal
All dogs must be on a leash when in public, and those that are 20 kg or more must wear a harness.
Germany regulates dangerous dog breeds with laws that target criminals and require owners to pay special taxes
Of the 16 German states, 15 have breed-specific legislation. 15 states restrict Pit Bulls, 5 states restrict Rottweilers and 1 state restricts Dobermans.
The state of Saxony has very stringent laws relating to dangerous dogs, these include:
- Buying and selling of dangerous dogs is prohibited
- Dangerous dogs must be leashed and muzzled when in public
- Keeping dangerous dogs requires a license which is only granted to adults who fit the legal conditions
- The owner of a dangerous dog must pass a written exam in order to prove theoretical knowledge of how to handle his dog
- Ownership of dangerous dogs is not permitted for people
- Who have once been convicted to more than 60 days in prison with or without probation (= or an equal fine which is calculated according to days in prison) or
- Who have twice been convicted to less than 60 days in prison with or without probation within in the last five years, not including the time in prison itself
- Who are addicted to alcohol or drugs
- Who are mentally or physically disabled
A dangerous dogs tax also applies (much higher than the the normal dog registration), in Nürnberg for example it’s more than €1000 ($1,500) per annum.