New law changes mean dog owners are now legally responsible if their dog hurts someone on private property, but this alone won't stop attacks says Blue Cross public affairs manager Rachel Cunningham...
Earlier this year the coalition government announced some long awaited changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act.
Blue Cross has campaigned for some twenty years for dog control legislation to be updated, however we only cautiously welcomed the changes.
The extension of the offence of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control to cover all places, increased penalties, and the outlawing of attacks on assistance dogs, are all important and vital steps forward.
However, what was missing was a holistic approach. A misunderstanding of what is really needed in order to change human behaviour, and therefore ultimately reduce the number of dog bites, remains.
The key to understanding the problem of dangerous dogs is to understand that this is actually about dangerous owners.
With a focus on breed specific legislation and penalties only after a dog has exhibited dangerous behaviour, the law just doesn't address the dangerous behaviour of the owners.
It also does nothing to change the way society responds to irresponsible dog ownership.
We all hate the consequences of 'bad' owners, from the irritating - dog poo on the pavements, dogs being used for 'status' purposes or to look 'tough' - to the terrifying - dogs killing other animals and sadly, human beings.
But the legislation doesn't insist on 'good' ownership, it simply penalises the 'bad'. By that time it really is too late; the dogs have been overbred, sold on many times, and have missed out on socialisation, training, veterinary care, attention, affection, and good welfare - all the things a well-controlled dog in a happy home needs.
By the time the Dangerous Dogs Act is of any use, the outcome for everyone concerned (both humans and dogs) is pretty negative.
Responsible dog ownership
Blue Cross believes that irresponsible dog ownership is antisocial behaviour.
We have been pushing that message to the government and to the public for a long time. We were the first organisation to employ dog behaviourists and we fully understand that it is the owners, and the way they behave, that actually make a dog what it is.
One size doesn't fit all
The government has recently introduced a number of new 'orders' to address problems of antisocial behaviour. It claims that these can and will be used by enforcers to deal with irresponsible and dangerous owners before a dog attack actually occurs.
But they will also be used to deal with all manner of antisocial behaviour, the majority of which does not include dogs.
We wanted to see a dog specific order introduced - a code of conduct for owners that insists upon certain standards of behaviour in the person and specified treatment of the dog.
This needs to be properly enforced, resourced and applied consistently by authorities and enforcers across the UK, coordinated centrally, and prioritised by the government.
Better measures to tackle dangerous owners
The voluntary sector does provide key education and behaviour services. We champion responsible dog ownership and mop up the mess left by the 'bad' owners when animals are abandoned or abused. But it can't just be left to the animal welfare charities.
We need the regulatory framework to help us out. We need our children to be taught about animal welfare and staying safe around dogs in schools, as a mandatory part of the national curriculum.
We need penalties for those owners who allow their dogs to attack and kill other dogs, cats, and other animals.
We need better controls on dog breeding, advertising and sales.
Only when we insist on better behaviour from the person on the other end of the lead will we be able to address the dangerous owner problem.
Sick, injured and homeless pets have relied on Blue Cross since 1897. Visit the Blue Cross blog to read more from Rachel here.