Dangerous dogs and dog bite prevention

Periodically the community is faced with horrific dog bite incidents, and sadly the victims are often children. These incidents tend to attract extensive media attention, accompanied by simplistic ‘solutions’ to the problem of dog aggression. These events are devastating for the families and naturally draw emotional responses from the community, putting politicians and governments under pressure to address the issue in a public way.

Policy responses to dog bites have increasingly turned to banning or controlling particular breeds of dogs (breed-specific legislation or BSL). Under pressure from the media, governments have established regulatory responses that give the community a false sense of security, allowing them to believe that they are safer from aggressive dogs. However,because these measures do not actually solve the underlying problems, similar dog bite incidents continue. 

Most dog bites take place in homes with familiar family pets, and most people bitten by dogs are children under 10 years of age. No bite prevention strategy can be successful without taking steps to reduce these incidents, numerically far greater than bites taking place in public places and caused by unknown dogs.

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) has released a comprehensive report, Dangerous dogs – a sensible solution which sets out the scientific evidence about dog bite incidents, and explores the factors that influence a dog’s tendency to bite. It demonstrates the ineffectiveness of breed-specific legislation in addressing aggressive behaviour in dogs, explaining that this approach does not increase public safety and is unworkable. 

The report highlights a scientific evidence-based policy alternative that combines recognition and control of ‘potentially dangerous dogs’ along with ‘dangerous dogs’. But regulation alone cannot reduce dog bite incidents. It must be combined with a strong system encouraging socially-responsible pet ownership, enforcing compliance with pet identification, registration and restraint rules, while educating the whole community including children about safety around dogs. The report also emphasises the importance of a national register of dog bite incidents and mandatory reporting of incidents to provide a solid evidence base for future policy decisions.

Dangerous dogs – a sensible solution - policy and model legislative framework August 2012

Policy briefing paper on dangerous dogs - 6 August 2012

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