Eight people, including six children, have died as a result of dog attacks since 2007; a record 6,450 hospital admissions for dog bites in the 12 months to April 2012; annual costs to the NHS of treating dog attack injuries are around £3 million; and some eight assistance dogs and hundreds of livestock are attacked each month.
Dogs, likes cars, can cause harm if owned by those who lack the knowledge and control to use them safely. Problem dogs need intervention at the first sign of aggression. By the time a dog has seriously injured or even killed a person, there will have been many incidents along the way. If intervention occurs at the earliest stages, serious injury can be reduced.
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (DDA) was introduced following intense media coverage of dog attacks and deaths in the early 90's. The Act prohibits ownership of four specific breeds; Pit Bull, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileia. However, there were no provisions for the police or local authorities to impose sanctions against offending dog owners, except where dogs caused serious injuries or death. But not if the attacked occurred on private property, as 7 out of 10 offences do.
A draft amendment to the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) is currently at the consultation stage with DEFRA. The consultation forms part of the process to amend the legislation which is currently progressing through Parliament, in a bid to strengthen the laws governing dangerous dogs and tackling irresponsible dog owners
However in May 2013 MPs criticised the Government for failing to bring in wider measures, including Dog Control Notices with this latest amendment.
In Scotland dog ownership is treated very differently, and local authorities can issue doggy ASBOs or Dog Control Notices as a preventative measure to curtail aggressive behaviour. In April 2010, the Scottish Parliament passed the Control of Dogs Bill where the focus of the Act concentrates on the "deed not the breed" approach to tackling irresponsible dog ownership.
The Scottish 2010 Act widens the scope for local authorities and the courts to take action against persons in charge of a dog where the dog's behaviour is deemed to be "out of control". This is achieved through the creation of a Dog Control Notice (DCN) regime that will permit authorised officers to issue DCNs to irresponsible owners of any dog that have been found to be out of control.
The DCN can impose a number of conditions on the dog owner including:
1. Muzzling the dog whenever it is in a place to which the public have access;
2. Keeping the dog on a lead whenever it is in a place to which the public have access;
3. If the dog is male, neutering it.
4. The owner and their dog attending and completing a training course in the control of dogs.
Problems often occur when dogs are treated like humans by sentimental owners who don't have a clear routine, leadership or boundaries. Many owners fail to understand that formal dog training is often necessary to ensure control over your pet. Dog attacks are often the result of lack of control and bad communication between a well-meaning owner and a confused dog.
Dogs should never be left alone with children, and children should be taught how to behave around dogs. Dogs are everywhere in this country and basic understanding of them should perhaps be part of school curriculum.
DEFRA's consultation closes at the end of August, so let's keep fingers (and paws) crossed.