Dog Attacks and Breed Specific Legislation

Government Approved Dangerous Dog Sign

The issue of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) has again come under the spotlight in Victoria after a young child was sadly mauled to death by a neighbours dog. A few days later another attack on an elderly lady by two dogs was also widely publicised.

BSL started in Australia more than 70 years ago with a ban on German Shepherd dogs after fear broke out that these dogs would mate with Dingo’s and threaten livestock. This ban has since been overturned. However, BSL was again introduced in 1991 and still largely remains the same. BSL stands to restrict certain dogs based on breed. The rational being; to protect people and animals from harm from dogs considered to be a risk to the community.

The topic of BSL is hotly contested. People who are in favour of it believe that some dogs are more dangerous than others and that such dogs have no place in our community. On the other side are people who argue that all dogs have the potential to do harm, and that legislation should be based on a case-by-case scenario.

So, what are the statistics on dogs and dog attacks? Research on dog ownership in Australia finds that we have the largest rate of dog ownership in the world and that most of our dogs are cross breeds of various kinds. In 1998 The Victorian Bureau of Animal Welfare found that breeds involved in attacks in public places (in order) were; German Shepherds, Cattle Dogs, Rottweilers, Kelpies, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, Cross Breeds, Labradors, Dobermans, Boxers, Jack Russells, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Border Collies, American Pitbull Terriers. The last death in Victoria from a dog attack occurred in 2007 with an infant’s death from a pet Rottweiler.

My initial stance on this issue was in favour of BSL, although after much research and thought, I believe it is not the magic bullet our Government wants us to believe it is. There are a few inherent flaws in BSL;

– Owners and breeders of restricted breeds are unlikely to register their dogs.

– BSL increases the likelihood of ‘underground’ breeders with no accountability.

– People who purchase these dogs may not be aware of the kind of dog they are adopting.

– Restricted dogs that are registered are done so under different breeds, or are registered as cross breeds.

– No amount of legislation will ever eradicate a breed from society.

In 2010 The Minister for Agriculture, the Hon Joe Helper, noted that an estimated 40% of dog owners fail to register their dogs. He also stated that as at January 2010 there were 335 restricted dogs in Victoria, however microchip numbers suggest that the number is at several times this.

BSL is supposed to protect the community from dogs that are dangerous by preventing attacks. The Government cannot possibly do this if most of the restricted dog breeds are unregistered. I would think that the start of any preventative program would be supervision. Supervision of husbandry and breeding. If the Government is unaware of these dogs’ existence how can they supervise and/or enforce BSL?

An approach that may work better, all be it, much less ‘sexy’ than BSL is education. There was a wonderful study/project (the first of its kind in Australia) by Van de Kuyt conducted in Victoria between 1997-1999 on dog attacks in public areas. Van do Kuyt found that most attacks happen as a result of dogs not being properly confined to their yards and/or houses. With information from this research, eleven Victorian Councils responded to the call to begin a dog attack prevention campaign for one year.

Campaigns revolved around cost effective, innovative and creative community education on legal rights and obligations in regards to dog ownership and dog attacks.  The study also recommended that council rangers devote more time to ‘cruising’ streets, rather than parks as this is where most dog attacks are likely to occur.

After one year of implementing their campaigns, the result was that people felt safer, more dogs ‘at large’ were captured, and reporting of dangerous dogs increased, meaning these dogs could be monitored.

The city of Calgary, in Canada had implemented an extremely successful education model to prevent dog bites. The result has been a fall in dog attacks (lowest in 25 years), and a 90% registration rate. All the while the canine population in Calgary has been increasing. Perhaps one of the best aspects of Calgary’s model is that all money raised from pet registration and fines, goes directly back in to education and maintenance of animal laws.

BSL will do nothing to change the behaviour and knowledge of dog owners, and does nothing to encourage a community to work together. Preventing dog attacks should be everyone’s responsibility, weather you own a dog or not. Education for the entire community needs to occur so that we can develop a system of high registration, supervision, voluntary compliance, and enforcement.

Katarina

References:

Prevention of Dog Attacks in Public Places. A local Government strategy adopted by 11 Victorian Councils

Parliament of Victoria: Domestic Animals Amendment (Dangerous Dogs) Bill 2010

City of Calgary Animal Services: http://www.calgary.ca/CSPS/ABS/Pages/home.aspx

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10 Responses to Dog Attacks and Breed Specific Legislation

  1. Dandy says:

    Great article!

    I think everyone has a lot to think about. Banning ‘these’ dogs isn’t going to fix anything. Imagine the outcry if they banned Lab’s? But they have attacked before just like the pits so technically (according to the way pibulls are being treated) they should be! This issue SHOULD be more about education rather than eradication. If we have learned anything from our governments it’s that knee jerk reactions and so called “solutions” don’t work.

    Loving your blog Kat, keep up the good work :)

  2. KF says:

    SO, SO, TRUE.

    Totally agree that BSL is not the answer.

    Go to http://www.berwickk9iq.com.au/insider-tips.html

    There is GREAT posts there also and the more rational posts there are, more the government needs to take note. Lets stand together as one day they may ban YOUR breed of dog, be it the lab, the fluffy lap dog or the roti.

  3. Jessie Marie says:

    Blame the owner not the breed!
    ALL pet owners should be trained,as well as the pet.ALL pet owners should be registered and licensed.

    There needs to be more education on the topic – rather than a media hype on the negative aspects – there is a lot more to these animals than people know,but the media aren’t showing the positive!

  4. Kymmy says:

    The issue is with the owners and not any specific breed. People who own dogs should have to apply for a licence for the privilege. There are too many irresponsible owners out there who do not socialist, train and walk their dogs.
    As an owner of two large breed dogs i understand the work involved to care for these dogs but the reward of unconditional love more than out weighs the work. If people only knew what the unconditional love of an animal of any kind was like, i am sure they would be more responsible pet owners.

    • katarina says:

      A licence for dog owners would be great! I have to have one for my Bearded Dragon. Problems happen when people make poor breed choices, do not socialise their dogs appropriately and have a lack of education regarding canine husbandry, and it can happen with any breed- i see it all the time.

  5. proper legislation says:

    A person wanting a vicious dog doesn’t buy a Labrador, they get what media propaganda states as vicious. Many breeds to choose from (as if the same person owned another breed the attack wouldn’t have happened), clamping jaws, lock up people for owning a breed/dog that’s done nothing wrong & kill it yet blame dogs of other breeds that attack & let the owners of, where do BSL supporters get such knowledge whats their experience & knowledge with breeds & dog behaviour, are they worthy of consideration for a legislation base? Some dogs like people are wrong in the head, whats led to this behaviour, how has it gone unnoticed before the attack or did it, rarely, (why doesnt every dog from the same litter or parents go around killing people if its genetic?) when it has its from neglect or a lack of knowledge of how to train a dog &dog behaviour. Have u EVER seen an owner admit the dog was vicious after an attack its ALWAYS turned without warning, regardless, stating knowledge is to take the blame? Blaming breeds negates ownership responsibility draws councils $ & attention from truly dangerous dogs & bad owners & targets breeds of which the majority will never attack. Why 10 yrs ago was it only pit bulls in the media attacking yet now we have these stats released, weird, biased reporting to make a story perhaps, before the pit bull it was the rottie, before them the bull terrier before that the german shepherd in the media spotlight, shame on the media for hood winking the public at our expense $ & stitches. Double shame on the politician’s that DID know better & enacted knee jerk flawed laws that have failed every country to try them. Breed based laws have & will always fail at their stated objective reducing dog attacks proven fact.

  6. smilingjack says:

    all dogs are viscous. Anyone who owns a dog knows this. All dogs have the ability to inflict serious damage. Open their mouth and have a look inside. Those massive canines arent for eating Pal. Any dog can have a bad day and be grumpy.
    The answer is simple – your dog barks constantly – barking collar. Your dog is aggressive on your property and charges fences barks at people walking on public land – fine the owner. It happens again remove the dog and prevent the owner from having a dog and heavily fine them. A dog attacks someone its a criminal charge and a massive fine. Its sad world when you cant have a chook or a sheep in your backyard but your neighbour can have a dozen killing machines. we have laws to prevent people being attacked yet dog owners seem to think dogs should be exempt. strange.

    • katarina says:

      I read your comment with interest. To say all dogs are vicious is a gross generalisation. Not all dogs are vicious. In fact I believe only a tiny proportion are truly vicious and that is why when these dogs attack it makes headlines. Human beings are more vicious than dogs, many more offences are committed by humans against dogs (and other people and animals) than vice versa.
      Actually, those canines are for eating Pal, when the dog evolved it did not evolve as a fighter (in fact most dogs prefer to keep the peace because a fight could mean serious injury or death and this goes against every living things instinct to survive). Dogs use these canine teeth primarily to hold and eat prey.
      Yes, if behaviour problems present in any form (either through another persons perception of your dog or your own discomfort) then something must be done to address the problem.
      I think most dog owners feel exactly the same as you, that owners of dogs that cause serious damage or kill through attacks should be held accountable.

  7. Jack says:

    viscous
    /?v?sk?s/
    adjective
    adjective: viscous1. having a thick, sticky consistency between solid and liquid; having a high viscosity
    My dog isn’t viscous, but his poo sometimes is!!!

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