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Dog owners could be brought to heel instead of their pets to prevent attacks

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 10/12/2021 Helena Horton
Left to right, the pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, are currently banned in the UK © Provided by The Telegraph Left to right, the pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, are currently banned in the UK

Dog owners could be made to undergo compulsory training to prevent attacks as a new government-commissioned report concluded that owners, not breeds, are to blame.

This could mean that it will no longer be illegal to own “fighting dog” breeds, including pit bulls and Japanese tosas.

A government spokesman confirmed ministers were “carefully considering” the recommendations of the report, which would rip up the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and put the onus on irresponsible owners rather than particular breeds.

The report, by the University of Middlesex, states that dogs including Jack Russell terriers, Labradors and German shepherds have been involved in biting incidents.

It adds: “Participants almost unanimously cast doubt on the idea that breed was a cause of dog attacks, noting either that dogs are not inherently dangerous if properly socialised and engaged with using appropriate behaviours, or that all dogs could be dangerous if placed in the wrong situations and handled inappropriately.”

Illegal to own a dog without a licence

Instead, it recommends that owners are given compulsory training as a condition of purchasing a dog, and those who have animals that bite or attack humans or other dogs are forced to attend lessons similar to Speed Awareness Courses for drivers. 

Owning a dog without a licence would become illegal. 

Banned breeds © Provided by The Telegraph Banned breeds

Those who purchase a dog could also have to face a test of their knowledge of responsible ownership. 

If adopted, these regulations would be enshrined in law, meaning criminal sanctions for those who owned a dog without a licence.

The report found “dog ownership is insufficiently regulated”, adding: “The majority of research participants indicated that it was ‘too easy’ for people to have a dog without understanding its behaviours, characteristics and needs. 

“As a result, owners and those responsible for dogs unwittingly put dogs in situations where dog attacks were likely to occur and lacked the skills to deal with these incidents when they happened.”

A source at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said they would be “looking at the recommendations carefully”. 

Campaigners back recommended changes


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The move has been welcomed by campaigners. 

Dr Samantha Gaines, of the anti-breed specific legislation coalition group and an RSPCA dog welfare expert, said: “This research adds even more weight against breed-specific legislation and confirms the belief of many in the welfare and veterinary sector that [the legislation], which brands certain types of dogs as a greater risk to public safety, is flawed.

“This report found data around dog bite incidents to be lacking and record-keeping to be inconsistent across the country, also casting significant doubt on the evidence that the UK Government has been using to justify Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act, which incorrectly labels certain types of dogs as inherently aggressive and dangerous to public safety.”

The Kennel Club, which registers dog breeds, has also backed calls to focus on the actions of owners rather than the breeds of dogs.

Dr Ed Hayes, head of public affairs at the Kennel Club, said: “This research is extensive and we, alongside dog experts, welfare organisations and vets, hope the Government repeals breed specific legislation based on this evidence, and carries out a full review of existing dog control laws, which are failing dogs, owners and victims of attacks. 

“Clearly the UK’s breed specific legislation is deeply flawed - it places a misguided focus on how a dog looks and demonises certain breeds, while diverting attention away from their behaviour, temperament, and importantly, their owner’s actions and conduct.”

The 1991 act was considered to have been rushed in after public outcry over the mauling of six-year-old Rukhsana Khan. 

That same year, MPs banned the keeping of four fighting dog breeds, which are still illegal to own today.

Despite this, biting and deaths from biting still occur annually, with many incidents from dog breeds not on the list.

Labradors most likely to bite 

A 2016 study found that labradors are the dogs that most commonly bite - though researchers conceded this could also be because they were one of the most popular breeds to keep as pets. 

However, no death from a labrador bite has been recorded.

A police officer who contributed to the study said bites were usually the fault of owners’ inappropriate attitudes towards their pets rather than the breed of the dog.

The officer said: “I have a lot of dog owners who have never owned a dog before. And all of a sudden, they’ve got a dog and they’re not understanding how they should be controlling it. A lot of people down here use this horrible phrase of ‘fur babies’. It’s their fur baby and they treat it [like] a child.”

Another added: “I don’t think it’s dangerous dogs, it is ill-informed owners and a lot of my dog bites come in from people who have not got a clue about dog training. 

“Quite a few of my dog bites come in from dogs that have been rescued from other countries.”

Another recommendation from the report is a searchable register of problem owners, available to all dog rehoming charities and breeders, so they could refuse adoption or sale.

A spokesman for Defra said: “Dog attacks can have horrific consequences, which is why it is a criminal offence to allow any dog – not just banned breeds – to be dangerously out of control.  

“Defra has published research which examines measures to reduce dog attacks and promote responsible dog ownership. We welcome this report, and its recommendations will provide the basis for consideration of further reform in this area.”

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