How do we stop dogs being “dangerous”?

8 October 2014 13 Comments

This week we went to the Galleria Dell’ Academia in Florence to see a statue of Dave by one of the Ninja Turtles. I can see why he named it after me, because some of the physical attributes are clearly modelled on mine (no, I was thinking of the feet). Anyway, go see it if you can – it’s brilliant.
Ferdinando
But imagine my concern when, in the exhibition of music, I saw an 1685 oil painting of “Grand Prince Ferdinando with his musicians” in which you can clearly see a pit bull terrier type dog!

Grand Prince Ferdinando was evidently either a drug dealer or indulged in clandestine dog-fighting. His family and the general public must have been at great risk from his irresponsible dog-ownership. Thank goodness the UK 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act solved all that by prohibiting pit bull types.pit bull

What? It didn’t solve it? Surely seizing all these pit bull types and taking the owners to court must have done something to deter irresponsible dog ownership and make the country a safer place? But no, deaths and injuries from dogs continue unabated. Why does the law not help to make families and the public safer from pets?

The law as it stands is trying to address disparate issues with varying degrees of success, including those of dog welfare (fighting dogs), using dogs as weapons (so called “status” dogs) and the protection of humans (and other dogs) from dogs that pose a danger to them. Whilst at first sight these three may seem to be similar, they are in fact very different problems.

The first two are crimes that should be dealt with using the full might of the criminal law to prosecute the humans who perpetrate them – not by discriminating against the dogs, who remain innocent pawns manipulated by idiots. Ban pit pulls and they’ll use Akitas (for example) to fight and/or protect their stash. Banning types of dogs does not stop idiots using other types.

The last issue, dogs that pose a danger to people (and dogs), is one of education and engagement. Many of us know why dogs bite people and why deaths occur. We know the risk factors and how to avoid them – and they do not include that some “types” are inherently dangerous. It is not the dog that is dangerous; it is what you do with it.

Broadly speaking the risk factors are:
• poor breeding practices, including a lack of knowledge of breeding by some breeders
• poor “socialisation”, which is often linked to poor breeding
• newly acquired adult dogs that have passed through many previous homes
• a lack of understanding by the owners of how to treat and/or understand a dog
• vulnerable people are much more likely to be bitten, including children and babies, who because of the size disparity are much more likely to die from a dog attack than is an adult.

Every single risk factor can be mitigated against through educating the public:
• don’t buy from a “back street” breeder (or a “respectable” breeder who churns out pedigree dogs by the kennel-load)
• only adopt from a responsible rescue who have trained staff who assess their dogs
• learn how to socialise and educate your puppy/dog (not “train”, which is different)
• teach your children (and yourself) how to relate to dogs in general and your own dog in particular
• NEVER LEAVE ANY CHILD ALONE WITH ANY DOG – and the same applies to other vulnerable groups.

We are trying to educate where we can – there are some great programmes out there – but they seem only to preach to the converted (as I am sure I am here, too). We don’t seem to be getting to the target audience. So what can we do? Well, individually we can only try to continue to educate and to engage the right people but, if we had politicians with vision, we could really make some progress.

Where? In schools – all primary schools. It wouldn’t take much, and the programmes are mostly already written. We just need to get to our target audience with them – the potential victims. Half an hour a week of “Animal Studies” built into the national curriculum.

Forget the adults – you can’t tell an adult how to treat a dog because “everybody knows that” – but the children will learn. And it won’t even take a generation to cut deaths and injuries, because these same children will educate their parents. There’s nothing better than a five year old for showing their parents where they are going wrong.

And all the organisations and charities that all have their own educational resources, that are all currently not working? What could they do? Put aside their own differences for once and lobby for the political change required to save lives.

How do we stop dogs being “dangerous”? Through the education and engagement of children – now there’s a political solution I’d buy into.

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13 Comments »

  • Aussie Owner said:

    Great article and I agree with many of the points made. I also feel that rehoming of dogs through rescue organizations that do not have the proper personnel to evaluate is a big source of the problem. I know many backyard breeders or as I prefer to call them “home breeders” who are as educated in breeding as any other breeder, for structure and conformation, health and temperament! The desire to breed for the betterment of the breed is their common goal not to produce pups to sell for profit! Backyard breeders should not be confused with puppy mill breeders. It is the puppy mills that are more of an issue! And there are bad breeders everywhere who are out for that one perfect pup! It is no wonder hundreds of grade pups are available with issues. It is a breeding issue not a breed issue! Education for breeders and owners is the key!
    I have always followed a socialization chart for my breed when buying a pup and always from a reputable and responsible breeder! My dogs are obedience “trained”,and have a strong bond with me. Children in my home and visiting children are taught how to handle and interact with our dogs. Children are always supervised even though I am confident that my dogs are child proofed! Animals are unpredictable and although you do all the right things, you never know. I am thankful this has not happened to any of my dogs past or present. But if you own a dog there is always a chance…..

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Definitions sometimes need to be explained. I would differentiate “backyard” breeders, who are small-scale puppy-mills (and not good) from “home-breeders” who are small scale and quite often as good as you describe. “Backyard” breeders is a recognised term in the UK for people who do not know what they are doing. But I guess the point is that breeders simply divide into good and bad, and there is not scale in between. If you aren’t good, you are bad 🙂

  • Pat Sears said:

    How right you are David. We welcome children (with their parents) at our dog training school. The children are always eager to learn about their dog, and follow through with instruction quite easily, whereas adults, often have preconceived ideas of what their dog “should do”.
    It’s a classic that we often hear “Oh but he/she knows they’ve done wrong” when in fact the dog has not received the correct instruction, and sometimes been corrected using punitive correction methods.

    We sometimes get children just watching the parents training their dog, and they learn as much, if not more than the parent, and often when we have corrected a parent during an exercise, you will often hear their child tell them what they should have done.

    Education in schools is obviously a great way of educating future dog owners.

  • Sally Jones said:

    I’m just impressed that you managed to get tickets to see Dave. We are there on Saturday and not a hope! Seriously though, great points. Breed driven legislation has not and will not work. Licensing is pointless. Education is probably the only hope and even then there will be the minority who want a dangerous dog. I just pray that the message gets through that no child should ever ever be left alone with any dog.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Booked in advance Sally. Us Daves are very popular 🙂 Thanks for the feedback

  • Nicola said:

    Yes, yes yes! Schools! Grass roots!

    Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare module in Biology – 11 years and upwards.

    Primary Schools would benefit from visits from professionals as yourself.

    The kids could then go home and educate the parents 🙂

  • Nadine Pearce said:

    Sally Jones, you said:

    “Education is probably the only hope and even then there will be the minority who want a dangerous dog.”

    NO dog is born dangerous.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Nadine, I think Sally’s point is that some people will continue to choose to make dogs “dangerous” intentionally. That sadly it is the choice of some humans.
    Regards,
    David

  • Hope Welch said:

    I agree with most of this article. Learning “dog Language” is a must too: how to read a dog’s body language, etc. That is very important. The comment made about the risk factors (for dangerous dogs?): newly acquired adult dogs that have passed through many previous homes Would deter people from adopting a dog through a shelter. I “acquired” a dog who had been through many homes. And She is the best dog I have EVER had. Yea, she’s a pit bull who is a Sweet, Loving dog who adores children, people, and other dogs. She had 6 homes before mine. I wouldn’t hesitate to adopt a dog who had been in multiple homes ever. They are wonderful dogs. So, I disagree with that. You are wrong with that statement.

  • David Ryan (author) said:

    Hi Hope,
    Risk factors are those that can be identified as posing some risk. They are not absolute in every case, as your experience shows. However dogs that have had multiple homes have done so for a reason. If we can identify that reason and it is benign, then it can be assigned less risk. If we cannot, or the reason is not benign, the average pet owner is less likely to make a success of that dog. Sometimes we succeed despite the risk factors, but we must take them into account because we have nothing else to go on.
    Regards,
    David

  • Annie Macfarlane said:

    Fantastic article that I feel really gets to the heart of the problem. We need to start with children. I find it’s very difficult to re-educate adults and, let’s face it, the world is full of “dog experts”. Agree with your definition of BYB too. I do think that stronger legislation on dog breeding would help insomuch as, if the breeder was responsible for the puppies they breed throughout their entire lives, many would think twice about having them. Having said that, we all want the same thing. It’s just a pity that parliament doesnt listen to the people who work at the front line.

  • Nicola said:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-29627491

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2159418/Barking-mad-Beauty-student-scared-leave-home-pet-pooch-eats-way-laptops-mobile-phone-entire-ARMCHAIR.html

    It would help if the media had a better grasp of the root cause of problems too wouldn’t it?

    Another understimulated, bored, socially isolated dog behaving probably ‘normally’ although tragically, entirely inappropriately.

    Breed is not the issue here is it?

    She just had to keep ‘shouting at her’ to make her understand. Heartbreaking all round.

  • Michaela said:

    Fantastic article, I agree wholeheartedly and have been preaching a similar education scheme for children for years! I believe that should such a system take off it would be revolutionary in the field of educating the public.

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