The Dangerous Dogs Act: What has Changed?

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In 1991 the UK government passed a piece of legislation called The Dangerous Dogs Act. The act was brought into place to try and help reassure a worried public after a spate of dog attacks, particularly involving children. The Act made it illegal to breed or own a Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino or Filo Brasiliero without specific exemption from the court. Even with this special permission the dog must always be muzzled and on a lead in public, registered, insured, neutered/spayed, tattooed and microchipped. They can’t be bred, sold or exchanged. The Act was widely considered to be hurried and reactive, and owners of these dogs were angry that their dogs were being vilified in the press and in law.

Different breeds of dogs can be easily distinguished from one another based on their appearance. They are all subcategorised by type, like Retriever or Spaniel. You can also make broad assumptions as to some of their character traits such as trainability and energy levels. But can you tell more than that just from a dog’s breed? When it comes to man’s best friend can we judge a book by its cover?

The media coverage certainly seems to support the idea that Pit Bulls are vicious. A quick internet search turns up plenty of stories of people being savaged or even killed by Pit Bulls both in the UK and the US. In many cases the same dog is held responsible for a number of attacks over a length of time. If you take only this information at face value then perhaps the ban on the breed makes sense.

However there have been studies based, not on the severity of dog attacks, but on the frequency. These studies assessed how often a dog bit its owner and strangers, and found that the most aggressive dogs are not Pit Bulls, Rottweilers or German Shepherds. In fact the “most aggressive” dog was not a large, imposing breed at all. The top three were found to be Jack Russells, Chihuahuas and Dachshunds.

So, if that’s the case then why are Pit Bulls banned and not Dachshunds? Well, while Dachshunds are statistically more likely to bite someone they are less likely to inflict lasting damage, meaning that their bites aren’t as widely reported. Pit Bulls and Rottweilers actually placed below average for regular aggression in the study, meaning that they are among the breeds least likely to bite people. The problem is that Pit Bulls were originally bred for muscle and tenacity so, though their attacks are rarer, they are more likely to be dangerous, or even fatal.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers are related to Pit Bulls and are not covered by the ban. They used to be nicknamed “The Nanny Dog” because they are so good with children. But they are the most abandoned dog, with around 50% of dogs in rescue centres being Staffies. One of the supposed reasons for this is that people get a Staffie under the assumption that they will be stoic guard dogs whereas they are rather more prone to being soppy, adoring little love bundles. For the same reason you can encounter out of control Labradors because people buy them knowing that they are relatively low maintenance dogs and, as a result, put too little effort into training and care. In fact, Cesar “The Dog Whisperer” Millan’s worst ever bite was from a puppy-farmed Labrador with food anxiety. The dog, named Holly, bit him so badly that he required stitches and a trip to the hospital. Holly now lives in a special home for dogs who need full-time psychological care.

Really, this is a big part of the problem: training and care. While most people take on dogs and treat them well and give them adequate training and tailored attention, there are owners who will buy a dog with very little awareness of their needs. The Dangerous Dogs Act has been amended twice this year. Changes made in January enabled prosecution for attacks on private land to give legal protection to postal workers as well as lengthening maximum sentences and criminalising attacks on assistance dogs. Today, changes come into effect which mean that if a dog is complained about to the police or local council the owners can be ordered to take a number of measures from mending fences, muzzling, microchipping or neutering the dog and attending behaviour classes, not to mention being liable for up to £20,000 in fines. This law applies to any dog, regardless of their breed, size or age. Following reports in the press that a dog named Killer, who killed an 11-month-old baby girl earlier this year, had already been complained about after killing a cat this move has been welcomed by those asking for stricter, more protective laws surrounding dog ownership.

A dog may exhibit undesirable, even aggressive, tendencies as a result of a number of neglectful behaviours by owners such as sporadic socialisation, erratic training and inadequate stimulation. Even something as simple as too little exercise can leave a dog frustrated and with excess energy that can end up being expended in harmful, even deadly, ways. A rescue dog might have nervous tics and negative reactions towards certain stimuli, and even a puppy from a responsible breeder might have phobias that result in snappy behaviour. My Labrador once got stung by a bee when she stuck her nose into a daffodil. When my mum got given a bunch of daffodils and put them in the house my usually perfectly-behaved dog started chewing furniture and shaking because she associated that smell with pain. Recognising triggers like these, consulting a behavioural therapist and/or positive reinforcement to try and reverse the psychological damage can be all it takes to manage fears and phobias. If a dog is consistently taught how to behave by attentive, compassionate owners they should respond by growing into well-mannered, friendly dogs.

Just as any human is capable of atrocious acts (like the recent arson attack on the Manchester Dogs’ Home) any dog is also able to behave violently and attack other animals and humans. We can’t control how others treat their own dogs and though many dog attacks happen within a household, some victims are unsuspecting bystanders. So, whether you’re looking at a Teacup Chihuahua or a St. Bernard you should never make assumptions about the temperament of an unfamiliar dog. Always approach with caution and with the permission of the owner and be extra careful around dogs on leads as they may feel constricted and nervous. That way whether the dog is an affectionate fluffball or a boisterous beefcake you can do your best to keep yourself out of harm’s way. Ultimately, breed is not a reliable indicator of a dog’s personality, either for good traits or bad, because dogs are individuals, just like people.

Animal Friends Visits Dogs Trust Salisbury

Dogs Trust

On Tuesday 7th October two Animal Friends Pet Insurance employees headed over to Dogs Trust in Salisbury to present a cheque for £1,000 and to learn a little more about the work that goes on at the rescue.

 dogs trust

Dogs Trust is the largest dog welfare charity in the UK, caring for around 16,000 dogs a year. Salisbury is one of 19 rehoming centres where dogs are kept and assessed before being rehomed. The charity is committed to never putting a healthy dog down and will do everything they can to help a dog find a home, regardless of the state they arrive in. No task is too big and no dog is too small. They have a fantastic network all over the country and are extremely committed to what they do. (more…)

Are Dogs Like Their Owners?

Girl with dog

A question that is often discussed throughout the canine world is ‘are dogs like their owners?’ You’ll often hear people say that dogs take after their owners. It’s difficult to disagree with this in my house; you’ll often find my dad asleep on the sofa of an evening with Buffy the Labrador lying upside-down on the floor next to him, both snoring like a pair of chainsaws. The debate really lies in whether dogs simply mimic their human family or if it’s a little more complex than that. (more…)

Guilty Dogs: Can Canines Feel True Guilt?

Guilty Dog

You’d be hard pressed to find a dog owner who doesn’t believe that their dog is an emotional animal. Though we can’t communicate verbally, there are physical cues that make us aware of what our pet is feeling: a wagging tail when they are happy or excited, a baleful look when they are gloomy or a head on the lap when they’re feeling loveable. (more…)

Dog Mess and Irresponsible Owners

dealing with dog mess some novel approaches

For the third week in a row I have found myself stepping in dog mess and I can’t begin to talk about my frustrations with this bugbear. Whilst I am fully aware that there are far more urgent and greater issues going on throughout the world, my job is to talk about those in the pet world, and for me, dog owners who do not clear up after their pet are just plain irresponsible.

I believe that part of what it takes to be a good dog owner is consideration; we should have it for our own dogs, other people’s dogs and for each other. Believe it or not the great outdoors is not our dogs’ private toilet and it shouldn’t be treated as such. Granted, I am quite clumsy and don’t have the best spatial awareness, but that shouldn’t mean that I am punished by stepping into dog mess three weekends on-the-trot. (more…)

Man’s Best Friend: An Introduction to ‘Dog Month’

Dog & Woman

It seems that not a day goes by without a story concerning dogs appearing in the news, they are a constant thought in the media’s mind and it is no wonder, after all they are man’s best friend, and you’d be hard pushed to find an animal that is more loyal to us humans.

Just this week there have been some canine stories of note from around the world. In India a local animal rescue centre went to great lengths to save a dog covered in tar and frozen in place after he fell into a hot tar pit. The team had to remove the tar very slowly using vegetable oil, which took up to 3 hours over the space of two days as the dog was clearly in pain. (more…)

‘Animal Welfare Month’ Recap and Resource Hub

Over September we were looking at issues that concern the animals across the world for our Animal Welfare Month. We’ve explored our oceans, jungles, islands and ice caps as well as examining welfare issues affecting animals closer to home.

There were a lot of animal welfare stories in the news over the course of the month. The Badger Cull’s second phase started, despite fierce opposition and the abject failure of the first attempt. Last month also saw the tragic fire at the Manchester Dogs’ Home. Animal Friends Pet Insurance (along with thousands of others) donated to help get the shelter back on its feet, though it is little consolation for the volunteers and employees who know the canine victims of this senseless crime.

Though September was our official Animal Welfare Month, animal welfare is at the heart of what we do. To read more about some of the news stories and issues mentioned above click some of the links below!

Are laws regarding animal abuse tough enough?

Behind bars

We have been having an ongoing debate here at Animal Friends Pet Insurance headquarters over the past few days regarding animal abuse and the punishment that awaits anyone who commits such an offence.

A member of our staff is looking into adopting a dog and through his research he has seen and met some poor dogs that have suffered abuse at the hands of their previous owner; one unlucky dog had taken an axe to the head but thankfully survived and is now looking for a new home. We started to talk about the fact that many psychologists and criminal profilers believe that harming or abusing an animal (particularly at a young age) is a sign that an individual could, in theory, inflict hurt, abuse or worse on another human being. With this in mind, I thought I would take a look into the current laws and punishments for abusing an animal. (more…)

The Cost of Owning a Pet

Animal Rights Awareness Week Article Part 1

Throughout September we are running ‘Animal Welfare Month’ and placing our focus upon topics such as endangered species, animal welfare charities and environmental issues that affect billions of animals around the world. Owning and raising an animal is something that falls under the label of animal welfare and we thought we’d take a look at the cost of owning a pet. (more…)

The Manchester Dogs’ Home Fire: And the Two Sides to Human Nature

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Upon hearing the news that Manchester Dogs’ Home was set alight last night (Thursday 11th September) killing 60 dogs (at the time of writing), everyone here at Animal Friends Pet Insurance is in a state of shock. When you think that literally millions of people in the UK alone dedicate their everyday lives to helping animals in need, this just intensifies the sadness around the destruction of a charity that carries out vital work in helping the dogs of Manchester. (more…)