ABC NEWS Ashley Hall Aug 15 2012
The peak body representing vets in Australia is calling on governments to ditch bans on dangerous dog breeds.
The Australian Veterinary Association (AWA), which has launched a new strategy to deal with dog bites, says the latest research shows banning particular breeds does nothing to address aggression in dogs, and nothing to increase public safety.
The vets say a focus on registration, education and temperament testing would be more effective.
But a critic says they are advocating a risky strategy that allows every dog at least one free bite, and that bite could be fatal.
In the past five years or so, each of the Australian states has moved to ban a selection of dog breeds considered to be dangerous.
Among them, the American Pit Bull terrier and the Japanese Tosa.
In each case, the ban followed a ferocious attack, and a brief debate about whether the dog or its owner was to blame.
Veterinary behaviourist and AWA spokeswoman Dr Kersti Seksel argues breeds-specific legislation is not the answer.
“It hasn’t decreased the number of dog bites,” she said.
“Regardless of breed, dogs are capable of biting, just like people are capable of fighting regardless of our origin either.”
Size does not matter
Dr Seksel says all dogs have the potential to cause serious harm.
“If you’re a Great Dane and you bite someone, the sheer size of you is going to make more damage than a Chihuahua will,” she said.
“But there are three kilo Yorkshire terriers that have also killed human beings. So it’s not just about size.”
The AVA points out the vast majority of dog bites are caused by family pets that are known to the victim.
And that victim is usually under 10 years of age.
“Not all aggression is actually always the dog’s fault,” Dr Seksel said.
“You know if the dog hasn’t been fed for 24 hours and someone gives the dog a bone and then tries to take it away from it, then that would be… some would consider to be perfectly appropriate behaviour.
“If you’re hungry and you take the bone away well the dog is going to react in some way and the dog can’t say ‘please don’t do this’.”
The vets are proposing an alternative framework to dog breed bans.
They want to see all dogs identified and registered; a national mandatory reporting system for dog bites; temperament testing when a dog is sold; and a community-wide education campaign on bites for pet owners, breeders, parents and children.
“We know that owning pets and owning dogs is good for us,” Dr Seksel said.
“There’s been lots of studies to show that they decrease blood pressure, decrease cholesterol and there’s even been studies showing that we could save millions of dollars in the annual health budget in Australia if people actually owned pets.
“And dog bites, on the other hand, do cost the health budget a lot of money so in fact the way that I would see one way of getting it on the national agenda is to get the Federal Minister for Health on board.”
RSPCA Victoria president Hugh Wirth was once a supporter of banning dangerous dog breeds.
He advocated for the breeding out of the American Pit Bull Terrier, saying they were “lethal” and “time bombs waiting for the right circumstances”.
But not anymore.
“The truth about breed-specific legislation is that it doesn’t work, you don’t decrease the numbers,” he said.
“In fact you send the breeding of that particular breed of dog underground.”
The old system of ‘deed not breed’ is a system that allows dogs one free biteGraeme Smith of Victoria’s Lost Dogs Home
Mr Wirth says his change of heart was brought about by the latest veterinary and dog behaviour research.
“What I believed years ago, when I made those statements… was the common approach that even the veterinary profession was using,” he said.
“Now that this research has been done and it’s quite widespread we’ve discovered that our understanding of dogs and their behaviour was completely wrong.”
Graeme Smith of Victoria’s Lost Dogs Home says the AVA’s recommendations are a backward step.
“The old system of ‘deed not breed’ is a system that allows dogs one free bite,” Mr Smith said.
“In the case of American Pit Bull terriers one free bite can often be a fatal bite.
“Ten years ago I wouldn’t have been a breed specific person myself but I’ve seen what American Pit Bull terriers do and people are fearful of them and we need to protect the community from these dogs.”
The AVA will send a copy of the new strategy to each level of government in an effort to have the plan adopted nationally.