The Sentencing Council has just published new guidelines for courts in England and Wales sentencing people convicted of dangerous dog offences.
These include harsher punishments for owners of dogs that injure or kill someone or that injure an assistance dog, and the new guidelines allow courts more flexibility when it comes to sentencing and dealing effectively with a range of offending behaviour; from the odd 'nip' to more severe biting incidents.
The Kennel Club broadly welcomes this move. With 8.5 million dogs in the UK, according to well-trusted stats from the PFMA, it is crucial that there is a means for courts to dish out appropriate and consistent sentences for those who allow, or even encourage, their dogs to be out of control or aggressive, both to humans and other dogs. Owners need to take responsibility for adequately training and socialising their dogs. Focus is often placed on the wrong end of the lead when we see so-called 'dangerous' dogs.
The new guidelines should help to further deter irresponsible owners from allowing their dogs to harm people or other dogs if they know their punishment could be severe. Whilst this is a positive step, we also need to consider how we can ensure that incidents of dogs being out of control are avoided in the first place.
The new guidelines allow for harsher punishments for those who own a banned breed of dog. The current law on dangerous dogs bans four specific breeds or types of dog - the Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, the Pit Bull Terrier and their types and the Fila Braziliero. The Kennel Club, along with other dog welfare organisations, does not believe that breed specific legislation is effective in reducing dog bite incidents and the flawed Dangerous Dogs Act has done very little to protect the public and has actively worked against the welfare of dogs.
Over the past few decades, we've seen various breeds unjustly coming under fire for being 'bad' breeds. Breeds such as the Rottweiler and Dobermann have both been flavour of the month for those looking to blame the dog for their owner's anti-social behaviour, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is now experiencing the same thing. No dog is inherently bad and any dog can make a wonderful pet if trained and socialised properly.
Genetics plays only a small part in the temperament of a dog, with breeding, socialisation and environment having a far greater influence. The majority of dog bite incidents are a result of the irresponsible actions of owners who have either not taken the time and trouble to train their dog properly, or have in fact trained them to behave aggressively.
There is overwhelming evidence that whether a dog is dangerous or well behaved is down to the owner. The priority must be to crack down on irresponsible owners who fail to train, care for and socialise their dogs, rather than wasting already overstretched police resources seizing banned breeds and their lookalikes simply because they are of a certain type.
Furthermore, anyone convicted of allowing their dog to be dangerously out of control should be educated on dog behaviour and how to train and behave around dogs, particularly since they would not necessarily be banned by the courts from keeping dogs in the future, which is a big concern.
We are glad that courts have more power now to sentence owners who allow their dogs to be out of control or aggressive, but we fear that by the time said owner appears in court the damage will have been done, when it could have so easily been avoided.
More information on the Kennel Club's views on dangerous dogs can be found here.