George Barrett of Dalesman Dog Psychology shares his views of a common misunderstanding.
There have been many media sensationalised stories of late in national newspapers concerning ‘dangerous dogs.’ I have always resisted writing the column about this subject but feel many things need to be explained fully. In my role as a radio consultant on dog behaviour I have had many conversations with the general public, many who were completely taken in by the stories, even the
presenter was very naïve.
For the benefit of the readers these are my views:
Micro-chipping and the banning of certain dog breeds is currently being put forward for debate and a change to the law to include responsibility on the owner’s premises, especially for service people going about their lawful business delivering mail etc.
Any legislation needs to be worded carefully otherwise a dog protecting its owner from someone making unlawful entry, say in the act of stealing, would be punished and the owner would be punished for having a ‘dangerous dog’.
My strong opinion is there are no ‘dangerous’ breeds of dog (despite the media frenzy about bull-breeds). Just recently a Jack Russell killed a baby. A Labrador attacked its owner in France who then had to have a full face transplant. A recent case involved sheep killed by two cocker spaniels and another of a Labrador killing a sheep single-handed. A greyhound also killed a poodle and nobody would seriously suggest banning these breeds. And there would be no media reaction. Any dog can be dangerous and many more breeds have committed horrendous attacks.
There are people who have the completely wrong breed of dog for their lifestyle and experience.
There seems to be a fad at the moment for ‘Wolf Hybrids’ usually Alaskan Malamute X Wolf. The dog we have taken about 15,000 years to evolve into the pet we have today, steadily reducing the wilder unwanted characteristics, we have bred for colour/size/herding/guarding but for pet dogs the number one criteria is temperament and this is what anybody breeding should consider above all other traits. What would possess somebody to try and go back to the original wolf and destroy all that breeding is beyond me. There are also breeds of dog made dangerous by man’s intervention both by breeding for and encouraging aggressive behaviour towards strangers and other dogs, or by lack of early socialisation and training in the critical period of their life (up to about 16 weeks old) after this period dogs naturally become suspicious of strange people, objects and places.
It is just too easy for anybody to get any breed of dog they fancy when they are clearly not up to the task. Many ordinary people are just naïve and are not aware of this until it is too late.
I also recently saw an advert in a dog magazine for trained ‘attack dogs’ which were selling for thousands of pounds. This to me is totally ridiculous and should definitely be against the law and in my opinion is akin to selling firearms. Only the police and armed forces need ‘attack dogs.’ An ordinary person who wants a trained ‘attack dog’ is either completely naïve or up to no good. The legislation trying to be made into law will not affect the type of owner who owns the most dangerous dogs but is really the type of people who the government is trying to target.
These type of people would quite enjoy owning a banned ‘dangerous’ breed- it would give them more status and intimidation factor. In my opinion any breed of banned dog would be immediately worth more money and just bred more secretly.
Micro-chipping, insurance, or a licence would not have been done by these people. Many do not have a car licence or insurance, so would not worry about their dog. They would just immediately disown it and get another if caught. I do think the micro-chipping and licencing of dogs could help ordinary people and would enable strays to be identified and returned to their owners. I also do think some scheme to encourage people to pass a basic requirement of a dog’s welfare and understanding of its instinctive behaviour before owning any breed of dog and a requirement of passing a basic training test.
Sensible, responsible breeding and education of the general public is needed, especially in schools. The whole thing is a difficult subject with many pitfalls and any new laws need very careful planning. Whenever a tragedy occurs in a seemingly ordinary household there are always some of these connecting factors and clues to the possibility of this happening;
- The dogs are usually never or rarely walked and if they are, are allowed to control the walk.
- They have been poorly socialised in the critical period of their life, if at all.
- The owners do not understand behaviour patterns and how to spot early problems.
- The actual owners are rarely present when the incident occurs.
- Training is sporadic or non-existent.
- The common “motivators” that control the dogs are always given free.
The whole thing is very frustrating for me because I know for certain that dogs are entirely ‘what man has made them’ either by breeding or training for the right or the wrong things.