Background to the issue of pet safety in Australia
Welcome to the first issue of Training about Pet Safety (TAPS) a blog started to help educate the Australian public in the issues of preventing dangerous dog attacks on both humans and other companion animals. This first posting explains some of the background behind the issue of dangerous dogs in Australia, the scope of the problem and recent events that have ignited the debate here in our country.
Recently may thousands of Australians were horrified to hear of the death of a 4 year old child in a Melbourne suburb as the result of an attack by a dog. (read story). Then only a short time later an elderly woman was attacked in her backyard by two dogs and shortly after a pug was killed by another dog in yet again a further attack.
An article in the Herald Sun on the 30th August contains data from the Victorian Government’s Dangerous Dog Registry showing a horrifying number of dog attacks and hospitalizations over a very short time period. Google dog attacks in Australia and you see an alarming number of reports of people and pets attacked each year. These are the attacks that are actually reported, the total number would no doubt be very much greater.
In an article in the Medical Journal of Australia by Peter G Thompson titled The public health impact of dog attacks in Australia. (1997) the author states:
“Dog attacks are a major cause of human injury in Australia. In 1991, it was estimated that there could be up to 30 000 people presenting to hospital annually as the result of dog attacks in Australia. Injury records from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in South Australia show that dog attacks are the fourth most common reason for children being taken to hospital, after accidents from playground equipment, bicycles and motor vehicles. Studies from other States also report a high level of childhood injuries related to dog attacks, and a recent South Australian report confirmed that dogs were a significant cause of injury at all ages, including the elderly.” http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/aug4/thompson/thompson.html.
It is clear from just minimal research that dog attacks on humans are common in Australia. Dogs attacking and seriously injuring and killing other animals are also at record levels. The statistics on these attacks are almost impossible to document as so many attacks are never recorded outside of individual veterinary practices. As a pet care professional working in a smaller country area I hear of approximately 6-10 life threatening dog on dog attacks each year. The number of attacks by dogs on cats is almost impossible to quantify. Most owners do not attempt to take the legal route to obtain compensation for the pain and suffering to their animals or the costs involved in seeking veterinary care. Those that do are often confronted by owners who deny owning the dog involved (the dog having been removed to another premise) or they deny that their dog was the culprit or they just assume that their dog attacking another animal is something that just happens.
Australia is not alone in this problem. Figures show that 5,221 people were treated during 2008-09 after dog attacks in England – up from 3,137 ten years earlier. (Nick Jones@ukdogtrainer via twitter. http://www.alphadogbehaviour.co.uk
There has been a great deal of debate over the last few weeks about how to reduce the incidence of dog attacks in Australia. There has been calls for the banning of more breeds of dogs, calls for the banning of any breed of dog that has ever been involved in an attack and considerable debate in the pure breed dog world about the labelling and identification of dogs. Footage briefly seen on news breaks show that generally dogs labelled as American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers or Rottweiler are are in fact cross breeds bearing little resemblance to their pure-breed labels. Knee jerk reactions by governments stating that any breed involved in an attack should be added to the list of dangerous dogs are just that ,.. knee jerk reactions not based in fact. Ask any dog groomer, trainer or veterinarian and the list of dogs that they have been bitten by or have seen exhibiting aggressive behaviour and you come up with a list as long as the list by the Australian National Kennel Council of all registered dog breeds with the addition of others not officially recognised in Australia such as American Pit Bulls and Bull Arabs They are unanimous in the fact that many cross breeds of no determined parentage are involved in aggression in more cases than pure breed dogs as cross breeds make up a larger percentage of the dog population in Australia than pure-breeds.
When the banning of dogs via breed is used as the criteria to determine legislation the term Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)is used. In NSW the breeds declared dangerous are:
(a) American pitbull terrier or Pitbull terrier;
(b) Japanese tosa;
(c) Dogo Argentino (Argentinean fighting dog);
(d) Fila Brasiliero (Brazilian fighting dog);
In other states the list is almost identical but you are advised to check with your local council for the restrictions applying in your area. Breed specific legislation has worked to keep breeds (b), (c) and (d) out of Australia as it was applied when these breeds were not already in the country. However in the case of American pitbull terrier there were already many in Australia as pure breeds and cross breeds when the legislation was enacted. It has only served to have owner relabel the dogs as Staffordshire bull terrier or American Staffordshire bull terriers (both breeds that are not currently banned). BSL works on stereotyping certain dog breeds and has nothing to do with the fact that the dog may not be dangerous or vicious based on their individual temperament. It also fails to address the issue of irresponsible pet owners who are capable of turning any breed of dog into a dangerous dog due to their poor management of the dogs environment and training needs. BSL has been found overseas to have not reduced the incidence of dog attacks on humans and in many areas is been rolled back as an appropriate way to address dog aggression.
Punish the deed not the breed is the catch cry of those trainers, behaviourists and veterinarians that are in a position to make an educated comment on how to deal with the issue of dogs who attack humans and other pets. It is also widely accepted by these professionals that pet education is what is needed. This education comes before, during and after the dog is chosen:
- What type of dog best suits the home environment you have available
- How to read dog body language and assess the personality of the dog you own
- How to teach children to approach and behave around dogs
- The importance of dog training when dogs are puppies and adolescents
- The importance of life long dog training for your pet.
- How to understand when a dog is not suited to the situation it is in
- How to protect other dogs and other pets that your dog may encounter
- How to discipline your dog when it growls or exhibits the minor stages of aggressive behaviour
- How to keep yourself safe around a dog that is aggressing towards your or a child.
- What to do if you find yourself with a dog exhibiting moderate to major signs of aggression.
It is these topics this blog will attempt to provide education on, building week by week into a resource that pet owners, potential pet owners and those who interact with dogs daily can access FREE to learn how to keep themselves safe. Hopefully it will also aid in preventing what the dog community is concerned about and that is the widening of BSL to include most breeds of dogs with the result being that man’s best friend is no longer welcome in our future societies.
Until next week………….
Stay safe and remember to Kiss the dog, hug the cat and tell your goldfish you love them.
The Pet Care Magician
Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming pets. Her innovated pet care magic subscription program helps pet owners and pet care professionals Australia wide to provide the best possible care for their pets and pet owning clients.