Dog Control and Welfare
Written evidence submitted by the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology's Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers
Are the approaches proposed by DEFRA sufficient to ensure there is a reduction in the number of attacks by dogs on people and animals?
No. The consultation document covers questions to do with;
1. compulsory microchipping
2. The extension of the dangerous Dog Act to private property
3. The need to seize suspected prohibited dogs
4. The fee for exemption application.
While 1 and 2 are valid, 3 and 4 are not. Attention needs to be on all dogs, all owners, all breeders and a much more ambitious programme of community and educational approaches to support responsible dog ownership. A more fundamental overhaul of dog legislation (including breeding) and its enforcement is necessary.
Action on dogs being raised as status dogs remains largely in the hands of charitable organisations.
Compulsory microchipping of all dogs on change of ownership should be instituted immediately with a 2 year period given in which to microchip all dogs.
The Dangerous Dog Act should be extended to include offences committed on private property: the exception being persons entering the property unlawfully.
Wider community and educational approaches to support responsible dog ownership should be underpinned by the law and resources given. Prevention, rather than seizure and prosecution of 4 proscribed breeds, should be the thrust of governmental action.
With respect to dog welfare, further national controls are needed for dog breeders and those who sell and import dogs, both to ensure the welfare of bitches and puppies and to stem the irresponsible breeding of temperamentally, unsound dogs.
· Need for a fundamental overhaul of legislation and enforcement
1. The DEFRA consultation document does not address the core fault in the Dangerous Dog Act, which is the naming of specific breeds – all 4 of them – which, in and of itself, has contributed to the rise in the numbers of status dogs on the streets of the cities of the U.K in the hands of those members of society which pride themselves in being outside conventional societal norms and/or the law and are using these dogs as weapons.
The staffie/pitbull types have proliferated and their owners take pride in owning a prohibited type dog, which seem both to enter the UK overly freely from both the continent and Ireland as well as to be bred, despite the legislation, freely. All too often these types of dogs are bred for and used as weapons.
DNA testing is not yet advanced enough to identify breed type to an acceptable standard. Instead, police and community resources, as well as court time, are taken up in the painstaking measurement of suspected dogs, their seizure and confinement for lengthy periods in kennels, to their welfare detriment, ending in prosecutions in court; all for 4 breeds. Dog legislation officers are relatively few in number. Large numbers of suspected prohibited dogs spend months in kennels on suspicion of being banned rather than because of dangerous behaviour.
CAPBT members come across these types of dogs in the hands of the more irresponsible dog owners. All too often they are kept in environments that are not conducive to their welfare in terms of the Animal Welfare Act.
Instead of naming breeds, any dog deemed to be dangerously out of control should fall under the gamut of the Act and the owner held to account.
We believe that using a dog of any breed as an offensive weapon should be a criminal act and liable to prosecution under the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. This Act should make this clear.
Breed does not predict behaviour, but there is some evidence that individual behavioural predisposition (personality) made up of the interaction of the dog’s genetics and experience, does influence behaviour. This can be assessed to some degree. That said, any animal will express species-specific behaviour in response to appropriate environmental triggers and dog species-specific behaviour includes aggressive defence to perceived threats eg burglary. This is a biological given that applies to all dogs of any breed and one that society needs to take into account if we are to have dogs living amongst us.
A common standard of assessment can be developed from the work done in collaboration between re-homing charities and universities to develop assessment procedures to screen dogs up for re-homing. Such assessment should be by speciality assessors (a potential money-making role for the big charities who have such people) or registered and experienced animal behaviourists.
In addition, the assessor needs some protection should they deem a dog to be a low risk to public safety and it goes on to cause serious injury - again the owner also needs to be assessed and if an owner is deemed unfit they should be banned from keeping further dogs.
There would need to be a mandated source or sources for the courts to call on for expert assessment of dogs so prosecuted.
2. The Act needs to be extended to involve more than just the agencies of the police, courts and Crown Prosecution Service.
Other agencies include Local Authorities (Environmental Services Technician (Dog Warden) Service and Social Services) and the RSPCA. Although our members with this level of expertise believe that the Police should be the lead agencies in the investigation and prosecution of a dangerous dog’s case, it should be done in closer liaison with partner agencies. As stated previously, Social Services already have new Safeguarding rules for children and vulnerable adults, but are left high and dry where their concerns relate to a dog within a home. The Environmental Services Technician and/or professionally registered Animal Behaviourist should assist Social Services in determining when they should be insisting on the removal of a dog from a home - thereby avoiding the need for Police involvement. Where the physical and emotional needs of the dog are not being met the Environmental Services Technician (Dog Warden) and/or a registered Animal Behaviourist and RSPCA can prevent problems from occurring by working with the owner to ensure the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act are being met - also preventing a problem without the involvement of the Police, CPS and Court Services.
It also should be recognised that police officers are most likely not to have the requisite knowledge, understanding or expertise in dog behaviour. There is a need to establish regulation in the area of dog behaviour so that there is a pool of recognised and appropriately qualified dog behaviourists who can be utilised.
Some animal charities are now offering an "outreach" service where they send trained staff into homes (particularly where status breeds reside) to work with the families with training, nutrition, neutering and health advice. Not only does this help to increase the hedonic budget of these dogs, it reduces the numbers handed in for re-homing. If these schemes were promoted as part of the changes to legislation, the financial impact would be reduced.
3. Only dogs that are deemed to have displayed dangerous behaviour should be held to account under this Act. Only dogs that present an ongoing danger to the public should be seized.
An assessment of the owner and their attitude towards their dog's misdemeanours is as important as the assessment of the dog. A responsible and remorseful owner is more likely to take immediate steps to prevent a reoccurrence than one who makes excuses for their dog and blames the injured party.
There is scientific evidence that kennelling is stressful, which backs up the consultation’s reported anecdotal evidence.
Where a dog has caused injury, and the owner does not present as being responsible or having the ability to manage or modify their dog's behaviour then kennelling is absolutely necessary. Kennelling is likely to be more stressful on these types of dogs because the kennel staff have to handle them with extreme care so they are less likely to be walked and groomed as it is simply not safe for them to do so. HOWEVER people are more important than dangerous dogs and rather than not seizing the dog, we should concentrate on reducing the amount of time to get the case to court.
A control order can make provision for the owner to seek the advice of a registered animal behaviourist, but many owners will not have the means to do this.
In bringing the case to court more quickly, the dog owner's means should also be assessed to see if they are financially able to comply with a likely court order. An example of this from one of our members who works in this area: 2 Cane Corso were seized, who were kennelled for 6 months and Roger Mugford assessed them for the defence, The Control Order stated that the defendant needed to complete a 6 month training course with Roger Mugford and that the dogs would remain in custody until the first training session. What the Court did not consider was that the defendant did not have the means to pay for the training course and didn't have the transport to travel regularly from Cambridge to Surrey with his dogs so they ended up staying in kennels for a further 6 months before being destroyed.
Enforcement alone will not solve this issue. Care must be taken to ensure that kennelling a dog does not run the risk of failing to meet the welfare needs as outlined in the Animal Welfare Act; namely the ability to practice normal behaviour in interacting with people and other dogs.
Currently seized dogs are boarded for up to 6 months following seizure. It is necessary to seize the most dangerous dogs, and therefore clear guidelines need to be given to police forces with tight deadlines for completing the investigation and getting the file to CPS, and deadlines for CPS to look at the file and apply to the Court. This will significantly reduce the cost of kennelling both in financial and welfare terms.
A two-tier penalty would also reduce the financial impact. Currently the dog is kept in the kennels until the court case and subsequent appeals have been concluded. If a dog owner has the dog destroyed, or signs the dog over to the authorities for destruction, he should be offered a lesser penalty. Currently the only incentive to do this would be that s/he will receive less costs should he be found guilty of the offence.
· Status dogs
Concerted efforts at community level are required in ensuring that the welfare needs of such dogs are met at the same time as reducing their impact on the community. This would require all agencies working together and having sufficient resources. The volunteer and charitable arms have valuable expertise and experience to offer. The removal of the banned breeds would immediately affect a positive result. Plentiful research exists to show the negative impact of prohibition of a product; in this case a dog.
Microchipping of puppies alone is too limited and will mean an overly long time before all dogs are microchipped. Instead, the compulsory microchipping of all dogs, including puppies, on change of owner should be instituted. Then, within a period of two years, all dogs should be microchipped (option c of the DEFRA consultation). The average cost for microchipping is £15; a minimal amount. Licensing would be more onerous for all involved.
We need some means of effecting the mandatory registration of all dogs in order to be able to identify and deal with irresponsible owners and their dogs; to effect more immediate return of strays, thereby reducing their number with a concomitant reduction in local expenditure. 2 years gives a more manageable lead in time for the micro chipping companies and to ensure all relevant authorities and bodies have scanners and use them. Policing the change of ownership requirement needs attention.
· Extension of DDA to include offences on private property
The offence of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control should be extended to all places, including where a dog has the right to be (inside and outside the home). The exception, which needs to be stated in the amended Act, addresses persons entering the property unlawfully.
Fairly recent events make a good case for the DDA to be extended to include all places, including where a dog has a right to be. Several children have been seriously maimed and killed by out of control dogs in the home. In the mid 90s, the elderly mother of a pit bull owner was killed when the dog, with which she and her son had lived happily, turned on her in what was described as an unprovoked attack. So children and vulnerable adults do need some level of protection from family pets, and extending the legislation would strengthen current safeguarding guidelines brought in following the Baby P enquiry. Our members with this expertise do not see that this would necessarily increase prosecutions against dangerous dogs, but would motivate professionals visiting the homes of children and vulnerable adults to report any concerns they have regarding the dog, and would give Social Services additional powers in relation to dogs when a Safeguarding referral has been received.
Furthermore, extending the Act to include "inside" the home, would give additional safety to the hundreds of work men and women whose jobs cause them the need to enter people's homes. Currently some employers give their employees the jurisdiction to walk away from a job if a dog owner refuses to shut a dog away, but some arrogant dog owners take the view that their dog can do what it wants in their own home. The threat of prosecution under the DDA should encourage these dog owners to be more responsible before inviting people into their homes.
The current Act states that "a public place means any street, road or other place (whether or not enclosed) to which the public have or are permitted to have access whether for payment or otherwise and includes the common parts of a building containing two or more separate dwellings".
Therefore, by means of example, if a farmer allows a field to be used for camping, he would be covered by the Act should his dog be dangerously out of control on any area of the farm to which the campers may wander. The farm remains the private property of the farmer, but in opening a field to campers he is permitting members of the public to have access to that land.
One area needing clarity, is the front garden of a house. There has always been a question mark over front gardens of a single house (a private place to which the public have access), as delivery people, and members of the emergency services have a deemed right of access to call at the front door of the property without hindrance. This certainly needs clarity (and inclusion) as it is currently open to interpretation.
Since the implementation of the Act, the problem has shifted. In the late 80's the serious reported dog attacks were in public places. The Act has, unfortunately, raised the profile of status dogs and caused an explosion of different status breeds. The physical and emotional needs of these dogs are simply not being met and therefore the dogs are performing breed specific behaviours with gruesome consequences.
The Act therefore needs to be tightened to include private places to give additional protection as described.
There needs to be an exemption where an intruder is injured by a dog when she/he enters a property. Section 3 of the current Act states;
"For the purposes of this Act a dog shall be regarded as dangerously out of control on any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure any person, whether or not it actually does so, but references to a dog injuring a person or there being grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will do so do not include references to any case in which the dog is being used for a lawful purpose by a constable or a person in the service of the Crown."
This section could simply be extended to read .......or where a person has unlawfully entered any premises"
· Promoting responsible dog ownership
With respect to the additional proposals outlined by DEFRA, CAPBT believes that preventative and educational measures are the proven routes to changing opinion and encouraging positive responsibility with respect to dog ownership.
CAPBT supports the following DEFRA proposals and believe they should be given more prominence in terms of legislation and resources.
· Evaluate and disseminate best practice in community based projects to encourage responsible dog ownership.
· Train more dog legislation officers (police officers specialising in dangerous dogs legislation).
· Revise the guidance to the courts on dangerous dogs’ offences.
· Work with the Home Office in reforming anti-social behaviour tools and powers (where this involves dogs).
· Dog breeders and veterinary profession’s response to report of poor welfare
The response has been of limited effect. There is no national standard of healthy dog breeding by which to measure and inspect. The Kennel Club’s accredited dog breeding scheme does not inspect nor demand veterinary certificates of health.
· Government actions
There needs to be legislation that specifies breeding guidelines, linked to health issues and inbreeding. The medical effects of inbreeding are well documented. More controls are needed to increase the stringency of guidelines, the inspection of licensed breeders and importers and increase the penalties for not following the more stringent guidelines.