Blogs on dogs

Criminalising owners will not prevent dog bites, but education can…

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On the day when the law changes to criminalise the owners of dogs deemed to be dangerously out of control on private, as well as public, property it is interesting to note that the 2013 NHS figures for hospital admissions as a result of dog bite (or strike) show another an annual increase of 6%

They include the sobering statistics that children under 10 continue to be group that suffers most, with 1160 bitten: 862 on the face or head, 526 requiring plastic surgery, 376 requiring special oral/facial surgery and 3 amputation of the hand/wrist.

It is interesting to note that for the first time the figures have been broken down into the most and least deprived regions of England, and Surprise-Surprise! You are three times more likely to be bitten by a dog if you live in one of the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived.

This is clearly NOT a “dog problem” or a “criminal problem” as parliament would have us believe, but a society problem. People don’t want their dogs to bite them (or anybody else) and the vast majority would prevent it if only they knew how. The answer is emphatically NOT to criminalise people in their own homes, but to educate.

Criminal prosecutions are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted and do nothing to address the problem. There are some great resources and templates out there, but we need a joined-up government-led national programme of education about dog ownership, starting with children in schools, but also aimed at all potential and current dog-owners.

It has to be backed up by a solid licensing system that includes identification (compulsory microchipping comes in in 2016), a national database, annual renewal, health checks, insurance, and a realistic cost that operates on a sliding scale, reducing on a no-claims basis each year. Breeding too needs to be regulated. To prevent mass-dumpings on introduction, it could be phased in over five to ten years, staring with a voluntary system and working towards the compulsory.

Until that is in place, we are just tinkering at the edges and will fail to achieve significant improvements (it’s getting worse at the rate of 5% each year!) You can’t buy a gun, a knife or even glue without jumping through hoops; you have to have license to use a TV, and a test, licence, tax and insurance to drive a car, but you can go out and buy or adopt a dog for little or no cost, with no idea how to look after one, and turn it into something with the potential to injure or even kill a person; not intentionally, but through lack of care or knowledge.


I’m told Politicians don’t want to be the ogre that brings in the dog licence (“another tax”!). Well, it is about time one of them grew some and grasped the nettle. Okay, if you want to see it as a tax, it is a tax on irresponsible dog ownership. It is a tax we are all currently paying (cost to the NHS is estimated to be well over £3million each year – cost in strays, rehoming, police time, killing dangerous dogs – incalculable, but certainly tens of millions). I’d rather be up front and say, “It costs society for you to own a dog, and if you aren’t prepared to pay, don’t have a dog”. 

It also costs dogs, as individuals and as a species. By my back-of-a-fag-packet calculations reckon that in the region of 20,000 dogs are killed each year because of their aggressive behaviour. We bred them, brought them up and trained them to be like that. We owe them more, and we are failing in our responsibility.

6 replies on “Criminalising owners will not prevent dog bites, but education can…”

We have a fairly good system here in Switzerland. New owners are required to attend a 6 to 8 hour theory course before buying a dog and an 8 hour practical course with the dog within 1 year. Microchipping is compulsory, as is a dog licence which can cost up to 300 SF a year depending on where you live ( urban dogs cost more than rural ones 🙂 .) You have to be fairly committed to get a dog in the first place and I feel this helps reduce the number of dog related injuries substantially.

I feel that there should also be some kind of 3rd party insurance that should be compulsory in the pet insurance industry, as from my experience in a veterinary practice many responsible dog owners are cost huge sums of money on their own insurance when their pet is randomly attacked by untrained or unsupervised dogs in public places.

Agreed Daniel. I should have expanded what I meant my “insurance” to mean public liability.

it would help if the police would actually do something when a dog show’s the first sign of aggression and the dog is allowed to be out of control in a public place i am a dog trainer i was out with my dog who was on lead turned the corner on a street and a dog no lead no collar grabbed my dog’s neck this was on a road with a school a few feet away police weren’t interested, i got the dog off mine and the owner got hold and as i tried to get away the owner let go of her dog and it attacked again, a few people rang the police and they refused to come out just said it was one of those thing’s this dog was loose on a public street near a school it’s that kind of attitude that causes this owner has been allowed to get away with allowing her aggressive dog to roam near children

Hi Lindsey, yes the actions of the police are very variable; there seems to be little consistency in their approach across areas and incidents. However, you should be aware that there is no reason why a dog is showing aggression towards other dogs should necessarily be a danger to children. Aggression is context specific and aggression towards dogs does not correlate with aggression towards people.
However, the point I am trying to make is that I am sure that the lady in question did not want her dog to behave in that way, she just lacked the education to prevent it. Rather than prosecuting her, educating her would be a better way to deal with the problem.

We need to get the basics of animal learning principles into schools. Biology lessons from the age of 11 upwards should include a module on companion animals such as dogs and cats. Some solid grounding and assessment would be truly useful in understanding that familiarity with another species does not equal behavioural understanding. We need grass root education here to enable the next generation to make better choices and to empower them to ask questions to motivate change regarding dog policy.

There is no human right to own a dog. It should be a privilege. Some dogs make better pets than others too. Particularly when most owners have no requirement to understand how dogs learn and what their responsibilities are in keeping other people, dogs and wildlfe safe. Therefore, some owners make better dog handlers than others. Yet, anyone can go and buy a couple of high drive Mallinois, Huskies, GSDs regardless of former experience. Of course, it’s a matter of deed not breed but we need more joined up thinking here….It’s setting both dogs and humans up for success.

I like the sound of Switzerland’s policy. If you are really dedicated to owning a dog, then there will be a substantial investment required before committing yourself to owning one. I would imagine that they also do not have as many issues with dogs relinquished to shelters for rehoming too.

Breeding should be regulated, I agree. But the KC seem to be stuck in the 19th century along with their breed standards….

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