BSL doesn’t address owner actions that create dangerous situations.
In Canada, sled dogs—Malamutes, Huskies, and others—are implicated in most attacks, both on people and other dogs. Alaska, where sled dogs are also common, shows similar dog bite data. In fact, over 70 percent of fatal attacks in Alaska over the last thirty years have been the result of an unsupervised child wandering too close to a sled dog.
Owner (mis)management is one of the most common elements seen in dog attacks. Dog bite researcher Karen Delise has found three major elements that correlate to almost all fatal dog attacks:
- Function of the dog – Dogs implicated in attacks are often used for guarding, fighting, and breeding
- Owner (mis)management and (lack of) control – Dogs implicated in attacks are often improperly contained or not contained at all; unsupervised; chained; and/or not being watched while interacting with a child
- Reproductive status of the dog – Dogs implicated in attacks are overwhelmingly unlikely to have been spayed or neutered
In northern territories, sled dogs are not house pets; they are a form of transportation, especially in rural areas. Consider that many sled dogs suffer from a lack of socialization. Further, sled dogs are typically tied out on chains, and are easily accessed by children or animals that may wander too close to the dog’s territory.
Considering the mismanagement practices of such sled dog owners, it is therefore no surprise that sled dogs are responsible for so many attacks. The much higher population of sled dogs in these areas is also likely a factor.
Any breed or type of dog can be dangerous; it all depends on the owner.
BSL Contributes to Mismanagement
Ownership factors contribute most significantly to serious and fatal dog attacks. Serious and fatal attacks by contained, socialized, trained, responsibly-managed pet dogs—no matter the breed—are exceedingly rare.
Socialization and training creates safer dogs. Unfortunately, the socialization and training of targeted breeds can be exceedingly difficult under breed-discriminatory laws. The Australian Veterinary Association issued the following warning about Australia’s strict breed-discriminatory laws:
“Unfortunately, we believe the banning and over-regulation of dogs in our communities could be part of the problem as this leads to poor socialisation and increased risk of attacks.”
Individuals who have a breed-discriminatory mindset may also contribute to the creation of dangerous situations. For example, Waukesha (WI) alderman Roger Patton proposed that all “pit bulls” should be legally restricted to commercial use as guard dogs in junkyards. This kind of misuse not only results in animal abuse and neglect, it also ensures that targeted breeds are forcibly placed in situations where they endanger the public.
Breed-specific legislation does not tackle the real causes of dog bites. It does not punish the irresponsible ownership practices that lead to dog bites and attacks. It is concerned with a dog’s appearance, not the unsafe ownership practices that pose a threat to public safety.
Owners Mismanage Dogs
Dangerous owners have no problem moving on when their current breed of choice gets banned or restricted.
In the U.K., since the passage of the 1997 amended Dangerous Dogs Act (which bans four breeds of dogs and their crossbreeds), dog bites are up by 50 percent. Most of these attacks were carried out by “legal” breeds of dogs.
What’s more, according to the RSPCA and other groups, the popularity of Rottweilers and Staffordshire Terriers—two “legal” breeds—has increased dramatically. The RSPCA notes that these are now becoming the breeds of choice for young toughs. As these breeds’ popularity increases among irresponsible owners, the number of attacks attributed to these breeds has also increased.
Focusing on one or a handful of breeds via BSL misses the point—dangerous dog owners are out there, and they’re not fixated on a single breed.
- Some dog owners want a dangerous dog—hence the reason demand for Presa Canarios went up shortly after the fatal mauling of Diane Whipple by a Presa Canario (sensationally described by the press as a “pit bull on steroids,” a description that no doubt attracted many thugs).
- Or they may believe that dogs are supposed to be used for protection, not as pets.
- Or they may not have the money, time, or interest to devote to the proper care of their dog.
- Or they may simply be uneducated or unconcerned about the dangers posed to the community by their inept management of their dog.
Dangerous dog legislation should properly be called dangerous dog owner legislation, because the focus of legislation should be on human (mis)behavior, not canine (mis)behavior. Humans ultimately determine what they want their dog to be like, where it will live, what kind of training and socialization it will have, and when and how it interacts with other people and animals.
Breed-specific legislation is backward in this regard because it punishes dogs for things that dogs have no control over. Dogs do not have a say in the manner in which they are raised, handled, trained, or kept. They do not have the intelligence to know “right” from “wrong.” They cannot distinguish between the trash man and a thief. They can’t learn “good” manners if they aren’t taught these manners by loving, caring, involved owners. And, like people, dogs don’t get to choose their appearance before they pop out of the womb.
And while BSL is targeting dogs based on the shape of their head or the width of their chest, the human who allows his or her mismanaged non-targeted dog to threaten public safety gets off the hook simply because the dog doesn’t look “bad.”
Sources and Resources
AAP. “Vet’s warning on banning dangerous dogs.” The Australian, August 19, 2011.
Associated Press. “Dog Maulings Worse Than Bear Attacks In Alaska.” Nov. 6, 1994.
Lakhani, Nina. “Dog bite victims up by 50 per cent in 10 years.” The Independent Online, Dec. 30, 2007.
Millard, Sarah. “Waukesha Alderman Wants Anti-Pit Bull Legislation.” Waukesha Patch, July 9, 2011.
National Canine Research Council. 2009 NCRC Final Report on Dog Bite-Related Fatalities.
National Canine Research Council. Dog bite-related fatalities in Canada.
Raghavan, Malathi. “Fatal dog attacks in Canada, 1990–2007” Can Vet J 2008;49:373–378.
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