All dog-owners should have to earn a licence
I DESPAIR when I read proposals for dog control as outlined in last week's Comment column (Will review of laws bring dangerous dogs to heel?).
When are those who make our laws going to understand that introducing Draconian punishments which only apply after the event will never prevent or reduce the number of biting incidents?
What is needed is legislation which ensures dogs are brought and kept under control before anyone is bitten by them.
I would like to see dog control laws which parallel the laws relating to that other thing which causes countless injuries and deaths every year when not controlled responsibly: the motor vehicle.
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Firstly, you should not be able to own one without a licence which certifies your competence to control it, and records the dog's microchip number – just like your driving licence and your vehicle registration document.
To obtain a licence you would need to demonstrate the competence to train a dog to a minimum of the bronze level of the Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen Scheme.
This would ensure that you understood the basics of communicating with and controlling your dog, which even many well-meaning dog-owners do not appear to know.
You would also need to demonstrate a knowledge of its welfare needs and of your legal responsibilities.
Secondly, I would like to see more proactive use of control notices for when dogs are regularly observed to be out of control or poorly controlled, with owners required to attend remedial training.
Although I would not advocate compulsory muzzling of all dogs in public, I would like to see a change of attitude so that it is seen as a sensible precaution while a dog is being trained and not an indication that the dog is aggressive.
Thirdly, I would like to see a public information campaign ensuring that everyone, whether a dog-owner or not, understands how to behave around dogs, and teaches their children how to do so, just as we all have to learn how to behave around motor vehicles whether we drive one or not, and even when we are too young to do so.
Most biting incidents are not "attacks"; they are the dog's defensive response to what it perceives as a threat to itself or its territory or "pack".
I was horrified to read that a small child had been allowed to "cuddle" a large, powerful dog; dogs do not understand "cuddling" and often find being held extremely threatening.
I train my dogs to be comfortable with going in a crate when an unfamiliar person is in the house, and would certainly do so if small children were visiting.
Similarly, I was horrified that Jade Anderson (a 14-year-old who died after a dog attack in Wigan in March) was allowed by the family she was visiting to walk into their house unaccompanied.
Did the owners not understand that this would make their dogs see her as an intruder and defend their territory?
People say to me that I cannot expect those who are not dog-owners to understand what a dog may perceive as a threat, but I beg to disagree.
I have never owned or worked with farm livestock, and was a "townie" until my early fifties, but now that I live somewhere I encounter them on an almost daily basis, I have made sure I know how not to behave in ways that might panic or threaten them.
Finally, I would like to point out that there is another side to this story which is seldom told and that is aggression and abuse towards dog-owners.
Every time there is a dog "attack", owners of that type of dog (even if perfectly controlled) find themselves verbally and even physically abused.
If you have a dog which does not like being touched by strangers and ask them to leave it alone, or keep their children away from it, you are often disregarded. There is a scheme for owners whose dogs need space for any reason to indicate this by a yellow jacket or bandana; this is an excellent idea, but will only work if it is recognised and respected.