Canine Behaviour: What exactly IS a ‘dangerous dog’?
An interesting venture came to my notice recently. What appears to be a dog vigilante group, intent on naming and shaming dogs and owners for alleged dog attacks.
The organiser claims to be looking our for public interests by keeping a publicly available list of local 'dangerous dogs' and their owners deemed irresponsible.
Apart from huge concerns about the legality of such a list, we do have an existing legal system for reporting dogs and owners that injure or may injure people, along with other civil laws regarding dogs that may hurt other dogs. I have written assessments of dog behaviour for legal cases as well as recommendations to help a court decide what may be appropriate action within the law. Often it was a lapse in judgement, a poorly dog or owner, or a sudden, unexpected thing known as an 'accident'.
However, these incidents can and do still happen, and need prevention, so perhaps the issue lies in definition, and perspective. All dogs can injure humans. So can cats, so can cows, so can cars! The differences lie in who is in control (and indeed, do they have control).
We are all responsible for our own dog's behaviour, and I strongly advise you all, as dog owners, to check the laws which refer to you. More recently, control orders can be issued which include referring the dog's owner for specific help with a registered ABTC behaviourist. This is a great move forward in recognising that help is out there and we can make changes to our dog's behaviour.
Rather than just punishing owners, those with dogs they find hard to control can be ordered to seek proper, qualified help.
Naming and shaming groups could focus on a mistaken area of risk. The tabloid press tend to focus on specific breeds, fatal incidents with dogs, and skims over the mass of dog bites and injuries that occur from family pets. By far the majority involve family dogs and children who are reasonably familiar to the dog. By exaggerating rare incidents, we miss the genuine and real risks, that of the dog next door, the grandparent's dog, our own dog and our own kids who when together may not get along as nicely as we would like.
My colleagues and other professionals in this job struggle against sensationalism to spread the useful safety advice to those that need to know. As you have now read this column, please go ahead and share.
A 'dangerous' dog is not one that looks a certain way, or is always roaring and snarling. They are someone's family dog, a beloved pet, who is usually perfectly happy most of the time. If your dog makes a decision that may be unsafe, a warning growl, a snap, or even a lunge, don't ignore it. The danger is in thinking that a 'dangerous dog' could never be your own.