The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) has added its voice to the growing chorus of concern over the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA), 1991. The Act bans four types of dog, judging them by looks alone, rather than taking their behaviour into account, and the RSPCA, the Blue Cross and Battersea Dogs Home have brought out reports calling for change to the legislation.
Those who have witnessed the process of assessing dogs in connection with the DDA have expressed unease over the way dogs are assessed, and the fact that are frequently condemned to extended periods of isolation. This can cause the dogs severe anxiety problems, which may contravene the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Rosie Barclay, the chair of the APBC, explains, “There is no behavioural evidence to suggest that these dogs are any more ‘dangerous’ than any other breed of dog, as our own members’ ‘Annual Review of cases’ have shown.”
She adds, “The trauma for the owners and the welfare issues for dogs that are seized just because they look a certain way is simply inexcusable in this day and age”.
The RSPCA’s recent report showed that dog bites have not been reduced in the twenty five years that have passed since the DDA was introduced.
TV vet Mark Evans, who broadcasts regularly about dogs and dog welfare issues, and is a patron of the APBC warns, “Labelling all members of any dog breed or type as 'dangerous' is unscientific, unjust and unacceptable. It's also incredibly unhelpful in dealing with antisocial dog behaviour and damaging to the welfare of dogs.
“The way dogs behave in any situation is not just the result of their genetics. It's also critically dependent on their life experience. For owned dogs, that is massively influenced by the way they are nurtured by the people who share their lives. Dogs and their owners should be judged by what they do, not who they are. It's about deed NOT breed. Dogs deserve better.”
Dr. Kendal Shepherd a regular expert witness in cases involving Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). She is also a veterinary surgeon, a certified clinical animal behaviourist and a member of the APBC. The DDA worries her too; “Breed Specific Legislation has done nothing to prevent dog bite incidents and is unjustified and unscientific. However, we are at present ‘stuck with it’.”
Dr. Shepherd further states: ”In the interim, until such a time as UK legislators accept the overwhelming evidence that the law has not achieved what it set out to do, we should, at the very least, be ensuring that those dogs suspected being of a Pitbull type, are accurately assessed.”
Although authorities involved seem to assume there is a standard assessment in place, Dr. Shepherd is at pains to point out that this is not the case at all. Dr. Shepherd strongly asserts that a universally agreed method of assessment must be arrived at, both in terms of anatomy and behaviour. Without such an agreement, Dr. Shepherd states that courts will not be able to rely on assessments presented to them – and neither will the general public. She believes that standardizing assessment will reduce the number of dogs seized, killed or put on the Register of Exempt dogs.
David Ryan was a police dog handler, as well as being a Home Office accredited instructor and an expert witness in BSL cases. He is also ex chair of the APBC, and he too expresses concern, “A dog of any breed can become 'dangerous' (as defined by section 3 of the Act) but it is always as a result of how the dog is brought up or treated. Therefore it is both unscientific and unnecessarily prescriptive to label particular breeds as dangerous’.
Further information can be found at www.apbc.org.uk.