Can Humans Silence Wild Dogs?
Should we ban dangerous dogs or breed them out altogether, asks Evelyn Yamine
Little Tyra Kuehne never stood a chance. Savagely mauled by three hunting dogs, the four-year-old yesterday died just hours after being attacked in a neighbour’s backyard.
Her death has again thrown open the debate on whether dogs are natural born killers or trained to attack.
The State Government has banned five breeds of dogs considered to be the most dangerous, with laws put in place to stop the breeding and sale of these animals.
Pit bull terriers, American pit bulls, Japanese tosas and Argentinian and Brazilian fighting dogs are classed as dangerous dogs but these breeds were not involved in the two dog attack fatalities in NSW this year.
The long-term plan is to eradicate these breeds, thereby reducing the number of serious or fatal dog attacks.
Many canine groups have spoken out against the breed-specific legislation (BSL), arguing it does not work.
So the question is, how do we prevent, or at least minimise, the number of dog attacks?
Veterinarian behaviourist Dr Linda Beer believes BSL is not the answer because it has not worked anywhere in the world.
Dr Beer, who works for the Sydney Animal Behaviour Service in Seaforth, said the behaviour of dogs is shaped by a combination of genetics, prior learning and environment.
- “You can’t say it’s all genetics. If you take a dog with a fearful temperament who has had bad experiences with children into a kindergarten, you’re asking for vicious behaviour to occur,” Dr Beer said.
“But if you have a dog with a fearful temperament who has a confident nature who has only been treated nicely by children, you won’t get that behaviour.”
Dr Beer said current legislation does not work because there were bad dogowners who were likely to ignore the laws.
She believed responsible dog owners were being penalised because of the actions of irresponsible ones.
Dr Beer said education and parental supervision were the most important factors in preventing dog attacks.
Master dog trainer Bryan Edwards agreed. Mr Edwards, from Bark Busters dog training company, runs educational programs for students to help them learn how to act around dogs and to promote dog safety.
- “Education, not legislation is the answer,” Mr Edwards said.
“All dogs are potential biters. Dogs are simple thinking creatures and will always rely on instinct.”
Dogs NSW (Royal NSW Canine Council) president Keith Irwin said owners were responsible for moulding their pets’ temperaments.
Dogs NSW deals with more than 180 breeds and its primary code of ethics was to breed “sound temperament” dogs.
- “Owners then have the responsibility of ensuring the dogs are well fed and housed and treated with humanity and kindness and love,” Mr Irwin said.
“The responsibility of an owner is to ensure that their dog behaves in a responsible manner.”
Mr Irwin said adding more dogs to the banned list or trying to eradicate the “dangerous” dog breeds would not prevent further dog attacks.
Endangered Dog Breeds Association of Australia president Linda Watson said aggression was normal canine behaviour and could be shown by a dog of any breed or type.
- “It’s not about breeds. It’s all about ownership and people understanding dog behaviour,” Ms Watson said.
“When a dog attack occurs, people start clamouring to ban that breed but that’s not the answer. Breed-specific legislation engenders a false and dangerous perception that breeds not included will not show aggression” she said.
Ms Watson said owners could shape their dogs by ensuring they were well fed, exercised, taught to socialise with other dogs and children and treated with care instead of violence.
“To reduce the incidence of dog aggression, all dogs should be socialised, obedience trained, understood and managed competently by their owners. People determine whether dogs will be useful inhabitants of a community or nuisances,” she said.
“It is the people who, either intentionally or unintentionally, foster viciousness in dogs who legislators must endeavour to control.”
Stephen Wisby has had to watch his son Jordan deal with the trauma of being attacked by a pit bull terrier in April last year.
- Jordan, who was five at the time of the attack, has permanent physical and emotional scars after he was attacked on his head and arms as he walked home from school with his brother Mitchell at Illawong.
Mr Wisby said he believed the current legislation was tough enough but needed to be more actively enforced by local councils.
“The legislation is black and white. If the councils did more about it, the dangerous dogs wouldn’t have been there to harm kids in the first place,” Mr Wisby said.