Over the years, we have all seen various media reports on TV and in newspapers about tragedies that have occurred as a result of dog attacks, and it’s a sad but inevitable fact that more will undoubtedly take place in the future. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to assume that all dogs are therefore dangerous, but every responsible owner would dispute that.
There are millions of dogs in the United Kingdom, and almost all of them are owned and cared for by responsible people who go to great lengths to ensure their pets are well-behaved both in the home and outside. September has been declared Responsible Dog Owner Month in the USA by the American Kennel Association in a bid to raise awareness of this emotional issue, and in the UK the matter is just as emotive and just as sensitive.
Many people become understandably upset when the issue of dangerous dogs is discussed, but it’s important to separate the emotion from the facts. In legal terms, a number of breeds have been banned by the UK authorities, such as the pit bull terrier, but there are many more breeds which are perfectly allowable here, even some of those which have featured in the more high-profile incidents. Other breeds which appear on the banned list include the Japanese tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro.
It’s the people, not the dogs
In many cases of dog attacks, it’s often the owner that has caused the issue by encouraging aggressive behaviour, which is why many of them are prosecuted by the courts when incidents occur. The breeds that are involved aren’t necessarily illegal at all. A good example is the Staffordshire bull terrier, which usually has a very pleasant nature when in the hands of the more responsible owner, but can prove overly aggressive when encouraged to do so by a less diligent person.
Since 1991, being in charge of a dog that is out of control in a public place has been a criminal offence, and there have been several occasions in recent years where an owner has been sent to prison because of a specific incident. It’s worth pointing out that, contrary to some people’s perceptions, the owner of any breed of dog (not just a specifically dangerous one) can be prosecuted and found guilty of such an offence.
There are pieces of relevant legislation about dangerous dogs dating back to at least the 1830s, designed to punish owners who neglect the safety of other people in public places, such as streets, marketplaces and squares. And in all cases, both old and new, the responsibility for the behaviour of a dog lies firmly with the owner.
This issue affects us all
The fact that there are so many dog-related incidents occurring nowadays (6,000 in-patient hospital admissions in England alone in 2010, for example) means many of our lives have been touched by this issue. For those who are concerned about the behaviour of dogs in their local area, it’s perhaps at least a little reassuring to know that legislation is applied actively by police forces and local authorities.
Without doubt, the best and most effective strategy in dealing with dangerous dogs is to prevent them ever becoming dangerous in the first place. And the only way to do that is to encourage responsible ownership and to educate the general public in ways to maintain a healthy relationship with a well-behaved dog. To this end, the national and local governments, police forces and animal welfare organisations are working together to make our streets a safer place for everyone.
If you are a dog owner and you have concerns about the best way make sure your pet behaves properly, you should speak to your local authority specialists as soon as possible. There is plenty of useful advice to be had, so there’s no need to ever feel you have to cope with this issue on your own.