Breed-specific legislation

Policy

Legislation to prevent dog bites and to manage aggressive dogs should focus on the individual dog and the owner not the breed. Breed-specific legislation for dog bite prevention has failed to reduce the frequency of dog bites both in Australia and overseas.

Background

Any dog of any size, breed or mix of breeds has the potential to be aggressive and to be declared dangerous so dogs should not be declared dangerous on the basis of breed or appearance. Each individual dog should be assessed based on its behaviour. The role of the dog owner is a critical factor with respect to the animal’s behaviour.

Veterinarians share community concerns about aggressive dogs, but banning particular breeds is not the solution. In 2012 the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) commissioned a report into the causes behind aggressive dogs and an alternative approach to address the issue. The report found that there was little evidence to support banning particular dog breeds as a way of addressing canine aggression in the community. Instead, education of the public and legislative tools that equip animal management authorities to identify potentially dangerous individual dogs offer the best results in reducing incidents with aggressive dogs.1.

The facts about dog bites
Genetic predispositions are an important factor in animal behaviour, however the impact of the environment and learning are also critical. The tendency of a dog to bite is dependent on at least five interacting factors 1,2,3.

  • heredity (genes, breed)
  • early experience
  • socialisation and training
  • health (physical and psychological) and
  • victim behaviour.

Dog bite incidents generally occur either in domestic settings where the animal is known to the victim, or by dogs at large unknown to the victim 5. While dogs at large are responsible for a minority of dog bites,6,7 they attract disproportionate media and political interest. They are the public face of the dog bite problem, and most legislation is designed to control this part of the problem. However, most bites occur in the dog’s own home and involve victims bitten by their own dog.6 Further, most scientific studies report that children rather than adults are more likely to be bitten by dogs. 6,7

Breed-specific legislation

Breed-specific legislation generally refers to laws that target specific breeds of dogs. In Australia there are currently two types of breed-specific legislation:

  1. Under the Commonwealth customs legislation there is a ban on the importation of several specific breeds of dogs; Japanese Tosa, fila Brasiliero, dogo Argentino, perrode presa Canario, and American Pit Bull Terrier. Importantly, this is a ban on importation and not a prohibition on ownership.
  2. Most state and territory jurisdictions have placed restrictions upon the ownership of these breeds such as muzzling in public, desexing, and fence and enclosure requirements. Some states and even some local councils have taken the further step of banning the prescribed breeds of dogs completely.

The failure of breed-specific legislation to prevent dog attacks is due to a number of factors:

  • Breed on its own is not an effective indicator or predictor of aggression in dogs. 4,5,6
  • It is not possible to determine precisely the breed of the types of dogs targeted by breed-specific legislation by appearance or by DNA analysis.4,5
  • The number of animals that would need to be removed from a community to have a meaningful impact on hospital admissions is so high that the removal of any one breed would have negligible impact.4
  • Breed-specific legislation ignores the human element whereby dog owners who desire this kind of dog will simply substitute another breed of dog of similar size, strength and perception of aggressive tendencies.4,5,6

References

  1. Australian Veterinary Association 2012 Dangerous Dogs – A sensible solution. www.ava.com.au/newsarticle/dangerous-dogs-%E2%80%93-sensible-solution
  2. Beaver et al 2001 “A community approach to dog bite prevention – AVMA Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human–Canine interactions” JAVMA 281 (11) 1732 – 1749.
  3. Seksel K 2002 “Report to the NSW Department of Local Government on Breed Specific Legislation issues relating to control of dangerous dogs”.
  4. Snyder J 2005 “Dangerous Dog Management” National Urban Animal management Conference, Canberra; Australian Veterinary Association.
  5. Kixer KW 1979 “Epidemiologic and clinical aspects of animal bite injuries” JACEP 8:134-141.
  6. Overall KL and Love M 2001 “Dog bites to humans-demography, epidemiology, injury and risk” JAVMA 218 (12)1923-1934.

Other relevant policies or position statements
6.16  Importing dogs
6.13   Aggression in dogs

Date of ratification by AVA Board: 4 December 2014

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