Changes in dog bite law hoped to reduce dog bite injuries
The Dog Control Bill will reach the final stage in the House of Lords after the summer recess and will then go to the House of Commons for further consideration. The Bill will make changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which focuses on banning certain breeds. Under the new Bill, notices will be issued to dog owners at an early stage of problematic behaviour. The focus will shift more to responsible ownership and the idea that any dog can be aggressive if not properly controlled. It is hoped that the new Bill will result in fewer dog bite injuries.
A crown court judge was arrested earlier this month after a man claimed that he had been bitten by one of her two Alsatians. She had previously been fined £2,500 in December for failing to keep her dogs under control. They had attacked her neighbour’s son as he sunbathed in the garden. In April, a postman was bitten on the leg and Royal Mail suspended deliveries to her house. The dogs have been removed to kennels and a decision will be made as to whether to press charges.
In another incident, two men, aged 19 and 20 were sentenced to five years imprisonment last year. Their two dogs attacked three police officers. One police officer suffered bite wounds to his right leg, knee and arm. He has been left with permanent scarring. Two other officers who came to his assistance were also bitten. The judge who sentenced the two men said that, “this is a type of offence which is causing increasing, legitimate concern in the public.” The two men were banned from keeping any dog for 10 years, in addition to their prison sentences and the two dogs in question were put to sleep.
Dog bite law is currently undergoing changes. The Dog Control Bill passed the report stage in the House of Lords earlier this month. Under the new Bill, dog control notices will address problematic behaviour at an early stage, no matter what breed the dog involved is. The notices will focus on owners’ responsibility rather than particular breeds. The Bill will reach the final stage in the House of Lords after the summer recess and will then move to the House of Commons for further consideration.
Current dog bite law bans certain breeds as dangerous. These breeds include the Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero. It is illegal to breed from, sell, abandon or give away a banned dog. A dog that is suspected to be a banned breed can be seized by the police or dog warden. It is possible to have a dog that is a banned breed put on the Index of Exempted Dogs as long as certain conditions are met, including that the dog is neutered and insured against injuring other people.
A spokesperson from the Kennel Club has said of the new Bill, “Bull breeds and Pit Bull Terriers in general are the very victims of their own loyal nature. These dogs are used for fighting because of their extreme loyalty and willingness to do anything for their owner… This loyalty also means that in other countries pit bulls and other bull breeds are used as search and rescue dogs, assistance dogs and guide dogs – yet in this country they can be destroyed just for being of a ‘type’.”
Lord Redesdale, who introduced the Bill said, “Banning the Pit Bull Terrier in 1991 was a huge mistake… Doing away with breed specific legislation would remove the ‘cachet’ that these dogs currently have and focus on the real problem at the other end of the lead.” Any dog, no matter what breed, can be well behaved and safe to be around or can be dangerous and at risk of biting. A major factor in dog behaviour is owner behaviour and whether the dog is properly trained and controlled. Being violent towards a dog is likely to encourage the dog to be aggressive, as well as encouraging the dog to be violent towards others.
Some dogs, particularly Staffordshire Bull Terriers, are often used as weapons, particularly in gang conflicts. Because of the width of their jaws, Staffordshire Bull Terriers can exert a huge amount of pressure in their bite. Certain breeds, such as the Mastiff, can exert nearly as much pressure in their bite as a lion. When trained to attack on command, a dog like this can prove a dangerous weapon. Around 225,000 people attend a minor injury or A&E department every year as a result of dog bites. Most of these attacks are from dogs that they know. Admissions to hospital as a result of dog bites stood at 5,800 in 2009/10 and in 2008, there were four fatalities.
There are different types of dog aggression. Dominance aggression is a struggle for dominance. Careful and firm handling from an early age can combat this. Territorial aggression can occur when a dog sees a certain area as his territory. This can cause particular problems for postmen, who may be seen as strangers entering this territory. Fear based aggression can either be as a result of temperament or mistreatment and occurs when a dog is frightened. Predatorial aggression occurs when a dog perceives something as its prey, which could include a running child.
It is hoped that the new Dog Control Bill will address some of the issues of dog handling that lead to dog bites and that incidents will be reduced.