Viewpoints: What can be done about dangerous dogs?

Image source, PA
Image caption,
A Staffordshire bull terrier, like the one seen here, is believed to be one of the breeds which attacked Jade Anderson

Following the death of Jade Anderson, the 14-year-old girl who was attacked and killed by four dogs, a range of experts explain what they think should be done about dangerous dogs.

Sean Wensley - senior veterinary surgeon for PDSA

This very sad case is a shocking reminder that any dog, even family pets, can on occasion display problem behaviour.

Every year we hear of awful stories of dogs attacking other animals and children, sometimes with fatal consequences. This has to stop. It is up to owners to take responsibility by ensuring they provide appropriate early experiences for their young dog, so that their pet grows up to be friendly and outgoing.

Looking at the broader problem of dog behaviour on a national level, the recent PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) report has revealed that almost one in three dog owners have been bitten or attacked by a dog and 51% know someone who has.

A lack of understanding by owners about the importance of basic training and socialisation for young dogs are the underlying causes of most behavioural issues.

In a small number of cases, dogs may have been deliberately trained to be aggressive. But in the majority of situations the problem behaviour is not deliberately intended.

Socialisation is the process of gradually introducing puppies to everyday sights and sounds during their first few weeks of life.

Carefully socialising dogs while young will prevent fears from developing, which can often be a cause of problem behaviour and aggression in later life.

Any owner with a young dog should, without exception, make a commitment to socialising and training their pet using kind and effective methods.

The PAW report found that just 21% of owners with aggressive dogs had trained them in the first six months of life.

Caroline Kisko - Kennel Club secretary

The Kennel Club is extremely saddened by the tragic death of Jade Anderson and our thoughts and deepest condolences go to her family.

While media coverage typically focuses on speculating about the breed of the dogs involved, we would stress that this is largely irrelevant and that far more important is the way any such dogs are reared, socialised and trained.

Defra recently made a commitment to extend the law to cover incidents which occur on private property - as with the current case. For this, they should be commended.

This change in law cannot come soon enough, whilst also allowing sensible provisions for responsible owners.

Our position will always be that breed-specific legislation as part of the Dangerous Dogs Act is fatally flawed and wastes limited police resources on seizing dogs of a particular breed, rather than focusing on dogs of any breed that are out of control.

Unfortunately, breed specific legislation has the unintended consequence of turning banned breeds into status symbols, so that they are taken on by the wrong people who train them for the purposes of fighting or aggression.

Where government proposals fall down, is in respect of genuinely preventative measures, to break the cycle of aggressive or problem behaviour and educate owners regarding responsible dog ownership.

We feel that Dog Control Notices, as introduced in Scotland and currently under consideration in Wales, would provide preventative action that can reduce the prevalence of more serious offences.

In this respect we are in correspondence with the Home Office to highlight the need for such measures and hope they will take heed of our suggestions in light of the current tragedy.

James Beaufoy - secretary of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club

The government has been very slow to react on the issue of dangerous dogs.

It is trying now, and the advent of compulsory micro chipping for all dogs in England will help identify the whereabouts of dangerous dogs in the future.

However, the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 has become infamous for its inability to deal with the problem.

There is no reason to proscribe certain breeds of dog.

The UK has a large population of dogs and there will always be a risk of dangerous incidents, but the onus should be on the owners.

There are owners that allow their dogs to be out of control, and even refuse to bring them under control.

The welfare of people must come first.

If a dog is showing aggression towards people, there must be a severe threat that the owner of that dog can be punished by the law.

At the moment dogs which attack people are killed while the owners escape with a slap on the wrist.

The law hits hard at the dogs. It needs to start hitting harder at the owners.

Dave Joyce - Communication Workers Union health and safety officer

We want new UK-wide laws which tackle the scourge of dangerous dog attacks and the failings of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.

The government's reaction time is woefully inadequate as we're still waiting for an implementation timetable for Defra's announcement to extend the law to private property.

How many more lives must be lost before action is taken?

Up to 5,000 postal workers and 400 telecom engineers are attacked by dogs each year and 70% of those happen on private property where the law still does not apply in England.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have changed the law and Wales is currently legislating, so it can be done. David Cameron promised me in 2010 he would do it.

Our Bite Back campaign seeks greater responsible dog ownership to reduce dog attacks.

Preventative measures are the big omission from the government's announcement.

We'd like dog control notices which would be a way of intervening before an attack takes place, and harsher sentences for offending dangerous dog owners to act as a deterrent.

Compulsory insurance would be another big help. But government inaction is an insult to victims and their families.

Robin Hargreaves - president-elect of the British Veterinary Association

The tragic death of Jade Anderson is yet another painful reminder that we underestimate the potential danger of any powerful dog at our peril.

The legislation we have in place in England to deal with the problem of dangerous and out of control dogs is woefully inadequate.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was introduced in reaction to similar terrible incidents but, because it was such a kneejerk piece of legislation, it was seriously flawed and has failed to protect the public.

The government has recently announced that it will introduce new legislation to tweak the Dangerous Dogs Act but that is not enough.

Yes, the law should be extended to cover private property, and yes, we need to allow the police discretion over keeping all banned dogs in kennels pending court proceedings, but we need so much more.

Top of the list has to be a more preventive approach such as the Dogs Control Notices that are used in Scotland, or a national roll out of the Dog Behaviour Contracts pioneered by Eastleigh Council.

We need to tackle irresponsible ownership and worrying behaviour in dogs long before it results in attack and injury.

Every dog has the capacity to be aggressive and dangerous when it is not properly trained so we need to better educate dog owners and potential dog owners about their responsibilities.

Coleen Lynn - founder and president of

Every country should help establish a human victim-centred organisation with resources and statistical studies.

This organisation should be independent of influence and funding by dog breeder, veterinarian and animal welfare groups.

We're a US charity dedicated to reducing serious dog attacks. Every week, a person from the UK writes to asking if a similar organisation exists in their country.

Thus far, we frustratingly write back: "Not to our knowledge."