July 18, 2007

Most politicians don't know why dogs bite

I recognize that some people encourage human aggression in their dogs, including training them to intimidate or attack people.

I recognize that some people encourage dog aggression in their dogs, including training them to fight each other.

I recognize that some people allow their dogs to run loose or escape and thus create fear in their neighbourhoods.

I recognize that some dogs are owned by drug dealers, thugs, and gangsters and are used for protection or intimidation.

I recognize that, in some parts of North America, there may be a dog overpopulation problem, although I'm not convinced that it is the epidemic that it's often made out to be.

Each of these is a problem and needs to be solved.

It is important to remember, however, that NONE of the above issues are the primary cause of dog bites and, as such, solutions to the above problems should not be touted as being implemented in order to reduce dog bites. They have nothing at all to do with dog bites.

Yes, we need to prevent people from overbreeding their pets, fighting them, using them as weapons, allowing them to run loose, etc. And we should have programs that target those specific problems.

But don't list the above reasons when you're trying to reduce dog bites.

Look instead at the statistics from the Center for Disease Control, from the Canadian CHIRPP program, and from the Canada Safety Council. They all clearly show that the vast majority of dog bites (including those that cause death or serious injury) are perpetrated by the family dog to the family child in the family home or a neighbour's home or a relative's home.

These were generally NORMAL dogs in NORMAL families, placed into stressful situations. These situations may have included children pressuring the dogs (such as riding, hugging, pulling tails or ears), resource guarding, pack hunting or defence behaviour (in a very few cases), territorial defence, and other behaviours that the dogs may have seen as entirely appropriate and normal.

I am certainly not defending the dogs in every situation, because a well-bred and/or well-socialized dog shouldn't fall into a default behaviour of all-out aggression when pressured. But many of these incidents were, and are, the result of normal dog behaviour.

The failure in almost every situation resulted from the lack of awareness of dog-child interaction by the dog owner, the parent, or both. Lack of knowledge, lack of experience, lack of supervision, lack of training (of both child and dog), lack of common sense.

Unfortunately, because 99 (or more) out of 100 times, a dog will endure such stresses without biting, many families become complacent. "Rover is used to Johnny" or "Rover knows that Johnny is just playing" become mantras, until the day that Rover decides to teach Johnny a lesson.

My own dogs have permanent marks on them from one getting tired of the other being a pest or from one trying to take the other's bone or from any one of myriad other possible "argument causers".

With dogs, that's part of life. However, those same teeth, when used on a human child's skin, may sometimes cause permanent, disfiguring injury.

Parents and dog owners need to be more aware of this, primarily through education.

But legislating things like breed banning and mandatory spay/neuter are not going to reduce dog bites. They may reduce the number of dogs of a popular breed or, in the case of mandatory spay/neuter of all dogs, they will reduce the population of all dogs. But they don't target the reasons why bites occur.

Some of the people who implement these programs may have their hearts in the right place, but they're not using their heads.

Even laudable programs that target animal abuse, dogfighting, and loose-running dogs are still not going to reduce dog bites because they're not looking at the real issue, which is dogs and kids not being managed properly together.

All the laws that try to micro-manage every dog owner (or, even worse, only owners of certain types of dogs) sound good to the average voter, but they don't accomplish the STATED OBJECTIVE, which is to reduce dog bites. Instead, they end up simply hurting responsible dog owners and discriminating against people with certain types of dogs (or against all dog owners in general), without taking a single step in the direction of harm reduction.

As I have said in numerous other articles, there is a simple two-part solution to encourage responsible dog ownership:

1. Educate. Similar to the campaigns against drunk driving, speeding, etc, you must get your message to the general public. It must be simple, possibly harsh, and definitely to the point.

2. Punish. When someone is stupid with their dog, either through deliberate misuse of a dog's capabilities or through negligent inattention, then the punishment should be big. It should be harsh enough that it makes the rest of the dog-owning world sit up and take notice.

As long as dogs and people live together, we will never eliminate dog bites. It is my personal opinion that, in most urban centres, the number of serious, injuring dog bites is about as low as it's going to get without getting rid of all dogs.

I think there's some work to do in some of the rural and northern areas of the country, but the cities who have dog legislation in place are basically managing the public actions of dog owners, not what happens inside the home.

Since it's really difficult (and, in some cases, perhaps even unconstitutional) to legislate the actions inside the home, you will eventually reach a plateau where the only way left to improve the bite ratio is through education.

The number of bites is probably as low as it's going to get because there will always be be people out there who ignore common sense and screw up what they have out of laziness, ignorance, or malice. This doesn't just apply to dogs, but dogs are one of those possessions, just like children, that some people shouldn't have, but are allowed to so that the rest of us can.

If someone is determined to be an idiot, you generally can't prevent it through legislation. All you can do is let people know the right way to act, let them know the consequences of those actions, and then bring down that hammer when they ignore you and something bad happens.

-- END --


JM and the gang said...

Well said!
It would be so easy to implement some of the ideas that have been suggested by the real experts.
Dog education in schools.
TV spots similar to the MADD ads etc.
They could be humerous but educational targeting both kids and adults.
Substantial fines that will really make the dog owning public sit up and pay attention!
Are the solutions too simple?
Has BSL become a make work program for some politicians?

Dash said...

Heck, Chico, I'd go further and say most dog owners don't know why dogs bite.

Good post.

By the way, I don't see every dog bite as a big deal. It's the only way a dog can protect himself. A little nip can go a long way towards smartening somebody up.

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