Why a ban on ‘dangerous dogs’ doesn’t work

2:00 pm - August 25th 2010

by Kate Belgrave    

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This week, DEFRA is considering proposals to change the dangerous dogs act.

And rightly so – the act’s ridiculous breed-specific ban must be abolished and the act changed to shift all responsibility for dog control to dog owners.

I’ve been talking to SPCAs and dog control experts around the world this year. They say politicians who insist that dog control legislation should include breed bans compromise public safety, because breed bans do not reduce attack numbers.

They’re lobbying government to put proven dog control programmes in place:

Partway through a discussion about Ontario’s pitbull ban – a ban deemed a roaring success by delusional UK politicians like Kit Malthouse – the Ontario SPCA’s Alison Cross parts with a fascinating piece of information. She says that the OSPCA skirts the pitbull ban when it can.

When the OSCPA picks pitbulls up, instead of putting them down, “we put them through behaviour tests, and if they pass, we try to adopt them outside of Ontario.”

The OSPCA does this because it believes breed bans are useless. You might say the OSPCA is in revolt against breed-specific bans.

The OSPCA is not alone. Experts loathe pit-breed bans – and they’re not wild about politicians who promote bans to capitalise on media-driven fears of bull breed dogs, either. I’ve spoken with the Dogs Trust in the UK, the American SPCA, the OSPCA and a variety of dog trainers this year. They all say breed-specific legislation is costly and difficult to enforce, and a documented failure when it comes to reducing dog attack numbers.

“We have to have an agenda based on facts,” says ASPCA eastern region senior director of government relations Debora Bresch. “We have looked and looked at this. It isn’t breed. The [attack] numbers don’t go down. The dogs just change.”


NHS hospital episode numbers show a marked increase in finished consultant episodes for dog bites and strikes between 1998 and 2008. The CWU estimates that half a million people are bitten or attacked each year. A before-and-after study of A&E admissions at the Dundee Royal Infirmary showed little change in bite numbers after the Dangerous Dogs Act (with its pitbull ban) was introduced in 1991.

In Canada, University of Manitoba researcher Malathi Raghavan tracked fatal dog attacks (through newspaper reports) between 1990 and 2007, and identified 28 fatalities, evenly spaced, with a low of 1 in 1993 and a high of 5 in 1998. In Winnipeg, the number of pitbull bites decreased after a pitbull ban was introduced – but the number of rottweiler bites shot up, presumably as substandard owners abandoned pitbulls for rotties.

The Ontario ban leaves a great deal to be desired, no matter how enthusiastically Mr Malthouse applauds it. A recent Toronto Humane Society study shows that dog bites numbers have barely changed since the ban’s 2005 introduction: 5428 bites in 2005, 5360 in 2006, 5492 in 2007, 5463 in 2008 and 5345 in 2009.

The City of Toronto sent me a report which shows a substantial increase in dog bites or attacks in the last decade – from 1259 in 2000 to 2161 in 2009, with a peak of 2675 in 2008. The offenders were german shepherd-type dogs, then pitbull-type dogs, then labrador retriever-type dogs, in that order. The costs of enforcing bans compromise the development of sensible animal control programmes, too – as early as 2007, Toronto journalists were reporting that animal services pitbull control and pound services swallowed a disproportionate percentage of the department’s budget.

The city of Calgary’s Bill Bruce knows all of this. His animal control programme – regularly described as North America’s best – is entirely about animal owners. Pitbulls are welcome in Calgary and people may keep as many dogs as they want.

Bruce says that mandatory licensing is the key: with nearly 94% of dogs licensed, lost and straying animals are quickly reunited with their owners, and owners of problem dogs are easily identified. Bruce’s department is organised around compliance. Fines for unlicensed dogs are high. A team of dedicated licensing officers works on renewal and enforcement. Calgary’s strict animal control bylaw holds owners responsible for all aspects of dog behaviour. The bar for tolerance is set low.

‘I often say,’ Bruce says, ‘that you don’t have a dog problem. You have a people problem.’ And – in the UK, at least – a populist-politician problem. Let’s hope Call Me Dave brings them all to heel.

This is an edited version of an extensive rant which you can enjoy here.

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About the author
Kate Belgrave is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a New Zealander who moved to the UK eight years ago. She was a columnist and journalist at the New Zealand Herald and is now a web editor. She writes on issues like public sector cuts, workplace disputes and related topics. She is also interested in abortion rights, and finding fault with religion. Also at: Hangbitching.com and @hangbitch
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Crime ,Science

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Reader comments

So you would be happy for the average plebe to own a Tiger? You would have no problem with some muppet living next to you owning a Lion?

I’m sure there would be some very responsible Lion owners, but do you want to risk your kids on the hope that all Lion owners are decent responsible owners?

2. George W. Potter

Ah, Sally, straight to reductio ad absurdem I see. I take it then that you are opposed to the idea of making owners responsible of their pets and instead are supporting the banning of breeds which, as the article points out, has been proven to be utterly useless?

And how are you going to make the owners of some very dangerous animals responsible?

A licence? Yes, that’s the ticket…… all responsible owners will go out and cough up whatever it costs, and the morons will ignore it. Genius!

Sally just get out.

Ah – Sally, sweetheart – you really need to start taking in more than keywords in your reading. I warm to your passion, but feel in my water you tend towards the kneejerk response in your commentary. Try a whole paragraph at a time, then breathe through your nose.

These dogs don’t attack kids, or people generally, as a matter of course and/or nature. The stats indicate that they attack when they are owned by substandard owners and have a history of aggression. They have certainly featured in serious/fatal attack stats in recent years as a result.

Pit breeds are in the firing line now – 20 and 30 years ago, it was German Shepherds, Dobermanns, Rotties, etc. Way back in time, it was bloodhounds. As the ASPCA told me, nothing has changed over time except breed. Lions, on the other hand, have been fairly consistent in their approach to walking meals for thousands of years. Fair play to them – that’s what lions do.

I’d make the point, too, that pitbull type dogs have been banned here in the UK for 20 years – yet they’re everywhere, owned by all types, and continue as the dog of choice for people looking to make a status statement. What is also interesting is that they’re turning up in, if you like, middle class homes like the home of yours truly, because so many of them are processed through Battersea, etc, and/or because so many people want to home a rescue or at-risk dog.

The point I’m making – and SPCAs and groups like the Dogs Trust round the world are making – is that breed bans have proved impossible to police, hugely expensive and horribly ineffective when it comes to reducing attack numbers.

When a breed ban is in force, animal control officers have to round dogs up purely on the basis of the dog’s looks. The dog in question may or may not be a pit breed, so tests must be run (I have research that shows breed identification is a real problem, too – even experts get it wrong a lot of the time). Once picked up, dogs must be kept in pounds and fed. Owners often launch legal challenges regarding their pet’s breed. Toronto animal control was forced to ask for extra funding about a year into the Ontario ban, because phone calls re: reported sighting of pit breed dogs had to be followed up. That’s all very well if the dog has exhibited aggressive behaviour and is a potential threat – fair enough. It’s a complete waste of time and money if the dog is a well-treated family pet that has no history of aggression and has simply been dropped in it with the authorities by neighbours who think pit breed dogs lower the tone of their street.

Re: your comment about the ineffectiveness of slapping negligent owners with a wet bus ticket – well, bumholes to that. Strict legislation works a whole heap better than breed banning. Bill Bruce in Calgary has managed to get dog attack numbers from around 2000 a year down to an absolute minimum of about 150 – out of which he told me the great majority were minor incidents (which is not to say minor incidents are excusable – just that the big problems are on the decline).

His department has done this through a rigorous licensing programme and by organising a team of officers with a priority remit to pursue owners of problem dogs. Dogs must be on leads in lead-only areas, and in control in off-lead areas. Anyone whose animal transgresses is visited by animal control, sent off to training classes and lined up for further visits. Heavy fines enter the picture early on. People under the age of 18 are not permitted to own dogs – Mum or Dad or whoever needs to have a name on the sheet. Bruce says he’s achieved a 94% registration rate, which is quite extraordinary, because comprehensive registration is a known issue. The department is run entirely on the proceeds of that registration, which means there is a real incentive for officers to ensure they’re up to speed.

No programme is perfect. No dog is perfect. The point I’m making is that breed bans are a proven failure and that nobody is the safer for them. I say it again – we have a 20-year-old breed ban here and it has achieved bugger-all. I don’t particularly want to have my face removed by an out of control dog, or to see my little niece and nephews meet that kind of fate. That’s why I’m interested in hearing sensible debate. To hold that breed bans make us and our children safer is to embrace false science. That’s the kind of crap the Daily Mail rolls round in – thought you didn’t care for that paper’s approach to reported ‘facts’?

“His department has done this through a rigorous licensing programme and by organising a team of officers with a priority remit to pursue owners of problem dogs. Dogs must be on leads in lead-only areas, and in control in off-lead areas. Anyone whose animal transgresses is visited by animal control, sent off to training classes and lined up for further visits. ”

Yes, well good luck with that. And who is going to pay for it in this age of cuts? Who is going to watch al these dogs to see if they are off the lead.

This a bit like the gun debate. Should you be allowed to own a shot gun? sub machine gun?, tank? Nuke?

Should you be allowed to own a dangerous animal? Kitten? Retriever? Pitbull? Lion? Tiger? Shark?

Jeez, Sal. The breathing through the nose thing ain’t working too well. Maybe try lying down with a wet cloth on yr forehead.

To repeat – dog owners pay for the Calgary programme. Those who own dogs have to pay to register them and those funds finance the department’s work. People who don’t have pets don’t pay. Hope that’s gone in.

As for the right to own dangerous implements – well, as I say, I think it’s all about owner personality and responsibility. You, for example, probably shouldn’t be allowed near anything that farts, fires, snaps, or blows. Others are probably fine with a staffie. Case-by-case, I always say.

D’you know, I was only this morning looking through the Rehoming pages of the Dogs Trust site and daydreaming about how many doggies I will have when I have a great big garden and someone has invented a way of preventing upholstery from smelling of unwashed genitals. There are a lot of abandoned Staffs out there.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen animal charities suggest that a Staffie isn’t the best dog for a first time owner. Is this true, do you think? Or are they accidentally buying into the circular bad publicity?

I think Sally might be a cat person.

> I think Sally might be a cat person

And I thought Sally was an animal… she wouldn’t be so down on tigers if she was a cat person.

I for one would welcome the new legislation *if* it gets passed and not pissed away because of knee-jerk media responses such as Sally’s.

As I’m the owner of Kate’s dog, life would be easier. Our foul-mouthed sweet-tempered pit would be happier too.

You can follow @MyYourTheDog on twitter bye the way

Hey Alix,

Remembering that I’m merely a self-appointed expert (but hey – that’s good enough in this day and age) – I think the commentary re: staffies & first time owners is fair and indeed the line that most rehoming experts take.

This isn’t because they’re dangerous, but because they are extremely exuberant and strong-willed animals, especially when they’re young. They need a firm hand and a LOT of exercise – we walk our dog for about four hours a day (two hours in the morning and the evening) and I’m pretty sure he’d happily put in another 20. He lies down and plays dead dog when it’s time to leave the park.

They are exuberant, though – they were bred for a v close relationship with people so that they could be handled in the pit when they were wounded (ie, so that they wouldn’t bite an owner’s face off when being lifted from the pit). That plays out today as a great enthusiasm for rushing up to people to visit & say hello, etc, so you have to work hard to get that one under control.

They also need to be properly socialised with other dogs. Bull breeds are of the ‘two legs good, four legs bad’ school – the fighting history means they are naturally inclined to fight other dogs. Most people we meet who own bull breed dogs understand this well, and control their dogs well. Unfortunately, some don’t. Some actively encourage their dogs to lunge at other dogs. That’s when you get trouble.

With dogs, it’s always a matter of knowing the breed type and working with that. The exuberance for people makes it all worthwhile with bull breeds. I’ve had all kinds of dogs during my life and they were all great, and they all had their issues too. We had a beautiful male labrador, for instance, who was a great dog, but very hung up on my mother (think it was platonic – she was his feeder). He could be quite aggressive if anyone came too near her. You really had to push him back and stand over him. My sister’s got a lab-retriever cross who was chucked out of guide dog school for being a bit hopeless. His idea of managing traffic was to rush up at cars and bark at them. Don’t know what that’s about, but they were never able to train it out of him, so that was the end of guide dog school.

Anyway – I’m pretty sure that’s where the first-time owner thing comes from. The thing about bull breeds is that the working class (scuse the patronising and label, etc) has a great tradition of owning them and managing them extremely well. We meet all kinds of people with bull breeds all the time out on our walks and they do all of the right things – let the dogs meet each other, ask if our dog is all right for their dog to play with, give honest answers about their own dog’s social-ness and so on. The problem is that there are people out there who don’t do those things, or who actively encourage their dog to go for it. It’s tragic, really, because we meet so many people who get so much pleasure from their dog.

It might surprise you to know that I am in fact a dog person. I own a Golden Retriever.

And I am sick and tired of the various knuckle dragging morons who own Staffie/Pit bulls/crocodiles who strut around looking more like their dogs than their dogs do ,terrifying every other dog in the district.

The thought that more of these idiots will be able to go and get one of these vicious dogs depresses me greatly. Staffies are great with (most) people, but they are not great with other people dogs.

>It might surprise you to know that I am in fact a dog person. I own a Golden Retriever.

It might not surprise you to know that in my experience the inverse ratio is true of GR & labrador owners, most seem to be toffee nosed cunts while the dogs are usually lovely.

All these generalisations about dogs and their owners… perhaps if we meet we could explode our assumptions about each other

Wow, Sal – you’re sounding more and more like a Daily Mail reader all the time. Could your bias possibly be based on… class?

Maybe you should get a pitbull, girl – you know, to protect the public.

Who knew pitbull owners had added industrial-strength unreasoning patronization to their portfolio of antisocial traits?

Personally, I’m always glad when another one of them (the pitbulls rather than the owners, naturally) eats an infant and its all over the papers…the bastards disappear off the streets for about three months.

Cor! Thanks for all that, Kate.

Just the unwashed genital/upholstery problem to tackle and I’ll be away.



I see what my subconscious did there.

@Alix – lol. Just a few short words from myself.

What is it with the unwashed genitals?

@Scratch – cheers, mate. Tried very hard to grasp your first sentence, but alas, it wasn’t written in English. I got the feeling it was an attempt at comedy. #fail. How embarrassing for you.

Got the second sentence, though. Didn’t realise there were assholes out there who liked reading about child fatalities, but hey – you’ve revealed yourself. Rock on.

Ahhh, the anti-dog owner’s voice of reason. Always good to hear. Did you read the article, it suggests some slightly more humane solutions

How unlike the attack-dog owners voice of reason.


Arf! You have to be a bourgeois put-on.


I trust, Kate, that you will understand my words to be “on topic”.

The ban argument is raised by people who have observed that there are irresponsible dog owners; dog fashion amongst such owners is currently Staffies and Boxers, and in previous generations it was Alsatians, Dobermans and different bull dogs.

In a couple of years, fashion amongst irresponsible dog owners will have changed. The problem might be nippy terriers.

Sally – staffies are everywhere already. And they are, in the main, absolutely lovely dogs. I’m sorry your neighbours are dicks, and I know these things are infectious, but maybe you could try to leave the poor dogs out of it?

I love staffies. And alsations. And golden labs. My last dog was a golden labrador, and unfortunately, being the ill-bred knuckle-dragging scum that I and my family was at the time, he was extremely poorly trained. I’ve even got a couple of bite scars. Far too protective of his food.

As it turns out, we had to give him up to a dog’s home when he was 6 or so. Now he’s living with a family (with small kids) that treats him properly, and by all accounts he’s completely rehabilitated. Doesn’t savage people at all.

It’s the people – like me at 12 and my mother at 32 when I was 12 – that lead to dog attack incidents. Banning all the dogs who share a few reasonably insignificant genetic markers with a dog that’s been badly trained isn’t going to achieve anything. Neither, particularly, is killing a dog with an attitude problem.

The RSPCA centre where I live has so many staffies and greyhounds, it broke my heart when I went to get a pair of kittens. I’ll definitely be getting one or another of the breed – maybe one of both – when I move to a house that lets me keep dogs. After all, following rehabilitation, I’m now a suitable potential dog-owner. I wouldn’t mind being able to get a license that came with Additional Training, though.

“The RSPCA centre where I live” – haha. I don’t actually live in an RSPCA centre, more’s the pity. Make that “the RSPCA centre near where I live”

@Charlieman – exactly. The ironic thing about the current dangerous dogs act is that it was rushed through as a result of a rottweiler attack on a child. In the end, rotties weren’t banned.

I began the research and interviews I did for this article without really knowing what behaviouralists overseas thought about bans. The virulence of their responses – and, in particular, their feelings about politicians who continued to ignore expert input into hearings and bill readings, etc – was unexpected.

LOL – and I, Scratchers, am also a prole. I live in sunny Deptford. I’m probably one of the chavs you’re peering at out yr window. I’m mooning you right now – can you see me

I’m in the North West dearie…you’re gonna to need a bigger arse – if I may paraphrase Mr Roy Schieder in cuddly, misunderstood fish drama Jaws.

“You’re gonna need a bigger arse” – LOL. That is pretty good, I have to admit.

Kate – can we not just ban all dogs? And guinea pigs?

27. gwenhwyfaer

You would have no problem with some muppet living next to you owning a Lion?

Absolutely. If someone can meet the qualifications for, and successfully obtain, a lion licence, I’d be entirely happy to have them and their lion next door to me. I mean, obviously I’d ring the council to make sure the lion was licensed, but otherwise…

@earwicga DEFINITELY guinea pigs. Vermin.

When I was a child back in time and in the home country, our class had two guinea pigs by names of Rufus and Muffin. Rufus knocked Muffin up every few days it seemed like. It was quite educational, but Muffin was clearly going to expire, so she was repaired to a room of her own and lived out a happy girl guinea pig life. Rufus tunnelled his way to freedom one Christmas holiday and was never seen again. A relief all round, really.

Nick “The RSPCA centre where I live has so many staffies ”


I wonder why that is?

Well, the greyhounds get dumped once they’re past their racing prime. And the staffies are the “cool dog” amongst people who aren’t fit to own dogs. Arguably, greyhound racers aren’t fit to own dogs either, but there we go.

“staffies are the “cool dog” amongst people who aren’t fit to own dogs”

Exactly my point!

So why let these morons now own Pit Bulls?

Exactly the point of the article. We should have a really good licensing system that lets us prevent idiots from owning pit bulls. Or staffies. Or greyhounds. Or labradors. Or any dog, actually.

It’s not a hard concept to grasp.

I am not convinced.

OK. The problem:

Idiots can get dogs and mistreat them, or train them to attack people.

Known facts:

No breed of dog is immune from becoming a danger to society.

No class of human is immune from producing a dangerous dog. An indifferent queen with a pack of baying corgis is as dangerous as a ‘chav’ with a pitbull.

Banning particular breeds of dog doesn’t reduce incidences of dog bites.

Solutions, based on the evidence.

Ban all dogs? Seems impractical.

Ban specific breeds of dog? Why? It doesn’t work (see above).

Prevent people who aren’t fit to own a dog, from owning a dog? Good idea. How do we enforce it? Some kind of licensing scheme? Practical objections? What do you propose instead? Banning all dogs? Banning some dogs is already known to be ineffective.

Convinced yet? If not, why? Specific points at good.

‘No breed of dog is immune from becoming a danger to society.’

A quick google of ‘chihuahua fatal attack’ turns up nothing more relevant than a Mexican drugs murder.

Licensing dogs, or animals in general, on the same basis as vehicles seems sensible. Anyone can ride a bike. You have to pass a moderately hard test, which some people fail, to drive a car. Increase the weight of the vehicle, and the required tests get harder, until you get to the point where it is pretty rare for anyone except a full-time professional driver to hold the higher categories.

Of course, if vehicles were treated like dogs, then everyone would be free to drive round a 48 wheeler from a manufacturer with good PR, while even mopeds from unpopular ones would be banned.

I agree with the pointlessness of bans on particular breeds (as a child we had a lab that would attack anyone who approached me which was something of a problem for my friends – but labs are generally wonderfully nice), but I think that licensing is a bit of an over-reaction.

For a start, as sally said (she wasn’t entirely mouth-breathing, despite her Daily Mail tone), the real idiots just won’t bother with licenses. So there is the problem there…

Secondly, if we are determined to make people responsible for their own pets, why do we need licenses. Why not assume that anyone who lets their pet attack another person or another animal can be prosecuted for assualt or criminal damage, in the same way as if they had let their car hit them. You can change the law to make owners responsible for animals after all.


No breed of dog is immune from becoming a danger to society.’

A quick google of ‘chihuahua fatal attack’ turns up nothing more relevant than a Mexican drugs murder.

So you don’t think that dogs running drugs cartels is a danger to society?

Even without that, the instinctive rage that I feel towards chihuahuas (they are evil I tell you!) must surely be dangerous to society in some ways…

The reasoning that because some people will flout the licensing scheme, the licensing scheme shouldn’t exist, is a bit broken. If someone owns a dog and doesn’t have a license, the obvious thing to do is prosecute with prejudice, and confiscate the dog.Couple with fines for selling/giving a dog to someone who hasn’t proved that they have a license, and you’ve got a system that’s worth having.

I think that can work in conjunction with, rather than instead of, prosecuting people when their dog causes problems (which should be happening right now, and I’d be quite surprised if it wasn’t. Not that I’m particularly up on the law in this area).

And just because a chihuahua hasn’t yet slaughtered a village of innocent farm workers in a fit of pique doesn’t mean it won’t ever happens. It’s certainly unlikely, though 🙂

Sally – Nick is right.

The problems lie very much with the people who started owning these dogs as ‘status dogs’ in the last 20 or 30 years. It can be very difficult to distinguish between types, as well – staffies are sometimes purebred, but they’re often crossed with all kinds of other breeds – labs, pits, boxers & god knows what. You hear people talk about long-legged staffs, for instance. In fact, there is no such dog. A staffie is always short-legged.

It can be impossible to tell what strains a dog has in it by looking at it. Enormous court resources have been tied up round the globe while people try and work out a dog’s genetics.

Some judges have judged puppies from a single litter to be of different types. I have research that shows that animal control officers in shelters – real experts in their field – get dog breeds wrong at least half of the time. That’s why trying to write dog control legislation on the basis of an animal’s ear-shape, or head and body-type is hopeless. A lab mixed with a boxer can look very pit-like. Rhodesian ridgebacks are often thought to be pitbulls. Small pits can look quite benign and terrier-like. When people say pitbull, they usually mean a big, frightening-looking dog.

Point is – bad owners buy big, strong dogs. There’s plenty of research now to show that if certain dog types are banned, bad owners simply move onto other dog types. Some years ago, substandard owners bought dogs like rotties, german shepherds and dobermanns. In places like Canada, the problem owners have tended to own huskies. Way back in time, the scary dog de jour was the bloodhound – that was the dog that authorities used to chase down escaped slaves in the US, etc, and it had a terrible reputation. Now, you look at pictures of bloodhounds with their sad faces and big ears and you think – whoever was scared of that?

The Italian government banned an enormous range of dogs to try to keep up – I think they had something like 18 breed types on their banned list, before they acknowledged that the legislation was impossible to enforce. Officers were spending all of their time responding to ‘sightings’ of suspicious-looking dogs, rather than focusing all their energies on complaints about dog behaviour.

The thing is – animals that kill or seriously wound people invariably have a history of aggression. They have usually come to the attention of the authorities before they kill a child, etc. The ASPCA has stats that shows something like 84% of dogs involved in serious incidents belong to substandard owners and have been known as problems. Good dog control legislation should be written around that fact. If a dog is reported to be chasing people and barking aggressively, and/or biting, lunging, etc – that’s when officers need to get in and remove the dog permanently, etc, or track the owner and the dog through training classes, etc, and ensure it is neutered and restrained in public. Penalties for non-compliance must be tough – and must include the authority to remove a dog permanently from a problem owner. Doesn’t matter what type the dog is – it’s the behaviour that needs to be acknowledged and deal with right there, before it escalates.

What I did for this piece was spend a couple of months calling people in different parts of the world and sourcing and looking at statistics to find out more about the realities of bans and whether bans deliver reasonable results. The answer was a comprehensive No. We’ve had a 20-year pit-type ban here in the UK, and bite stats are worse than ever. So let’s move on from that. In all seriousness – why continue with it? Let’s look for something better. Let’s look at a place like Calgary, which is applauded for its animal control programme.

I hear you when you say you’re sick of walking around being confronted by morons with a big bull breed dog which has a go at your dog. I don’t care for it myself. Only last week, my dog was attacked by an out of control pit near the top of the Deptford High Street. The dog wasn’t wearing a lead or a collar and its owner couldn’t grab it when it threw itself at my dog. My dog ended up with big red rake marks all up his front. A bit later, someone else on twitter reported that the same dog had attacked his dog, and he’d had to take his dog to the vet. A bit later, he saw the owner of that pit up the road thrashing the shit out of it.

Thing is – it wouldn’t have mattered if that dog had been a pit, staff, boxer, ridgeback, lab, sharpei, alsatian, or any combination of those or anything else. It was a dog with substandard owners who thrash the hell out of it and, despite its obvious problems, let it sit on Deptford high street without a collar or a lead. It just jumped out at my dog and went for him.

Nick – yes about licensing. As I said in the OP, Calgary has managed to get great compliance results because compliance is an enforcement priority. Bill Bruce told me Calgary had just as dreadful a compliance rate as everyone else until he restructured his department to prioritise for it. If officers are roaming the city checking compliance every day, you get reasonable results.

@Watchman – think those are fair points, but I do think licensing can work, if, as it is with successful programmes, it is run in conjunction with decent enforcement. If someone’s walking an unlicensed dog on the street, that person can be stopped and their dog uplifted. I don’t tend to go for the nanny state approach myself, but think with something as important as dog control, there’s room for enforcement. You have to be licensed to driver a car, as a comparator. Sure, some people try to drive without a licence, but there are pretty strict rules around that.

Cost should be managed appropriately to income – I don’t mind paying full whack. People without income could pay less, or nothing if it came to it – point is, dogs are tied firmly to owners in the papertrail sense, and a problem dog’s problem owner easily found. At the moment, people can simply deny a dog is theirs.


I think we will probably disagree for ever on licenses – I draw a distinction with cars, because there is no long-held right to drive one, and they are a priori dangerous (same for guns for example) – but you admit it requires decent enforcement. This would be the problem.

Also, I suspect the major problem with aggressive thugs having aggressive dogs would remain, because they would be the most likely not to license them. And they are likely to live in areas with poorer enforcement also. As with many schemes where government intervenes, this is likely to produce a ghetto effect.

But that said, I have to repeat I agree that the current act is rather pointless, and that whilst we can debate what should replace it (for clarification I favour harsher punishments and longer bans on keeping animals), the key point is that the current system does not achieve anything other than keeping the tabloids (and sally) happy.

“No breed of dog is immune from becoming a danger to society.”

Daschunds are notoriously aggressive, but I’d like to see one become a menace to society.

The view seems to be that it is the owner not the dogs, and I have some agreement with that.

So, I repeat my question at the start, would you allow people to own Lions? I am sure there would be very good owners. If some one wants to keep a tiger in a flat in Hackney you are fine with that? If they are a good owner?

Sally – people can and do keep big cats as pets. I’d want the licensing requirements to be much more severe, but that’s just sensible. they’re not as domesticated.

44-poor phraseology on my part, i guess ;). does giving the daily mail more stuff to whinge about count as damaging society? :p

You’re being silly, Sally. Lions are wild animals with no history of domestication. Bull breed dogs are domesticated animals with a very long and documented history of cohabiting very well with people. Everyone else on this thread is trying to talk sensibly about solving a real problem – a problem which sometimes sees small children injured or killed. I’m sorry you take that so lightly. It’s no wonder that people across this site want you to leave it.

@Watchman – with licensing, it’s about changing mindsets. Dog owning isn’t a god-given right, in my view, any more than driving a car is. It’s a privilege and needs to be treated as such. One may take the liberty if one also takes the responsibility. When you get a dog, you acquire a creature that is very likely to bring you and others great pleasure and that most likely will do no to harm anyone. It does, however, have the potential to harm others if handled incorrectly. Responsible dog owners should have no problems with that notion. Licensing and training school, etc, would deal, I think, with the problem we have with essentially decent kids who get a bull breed dog for the purposes of image, but don’t really understand what they’re getting into. They like the idea of getting a dog, but understand nothing about nutrition, exercise, training or breed characteristics. They lose control of the situation quickly and mistreat the animal out of frustration and ignorance, etc. There’s room for sensible intervention there.

You’re absolutely right to say there’s a small group of people who won’t give a damn about any of that – they’re the ones should be pursued vigorously. There’s already a special unit in London set up to pursue owners of problem status dogs. I think it’s very possible to divert resources into that kind of problem – resources that are currently used to chase up reports of dogs that look like they may be pitbulls, but are not behaving in any way that warrants official attention. I think rigorous licensing allows real focus on the real problems.


I don’t think it is a God-given gift to own a dog, but nor do I think it is a government-given gift either. I have no problem with banning people from owning dogs (criminalising those who are criminals) but I do have a problem with criminalising everyone who currently owns a dog and does nothing wrong, which is the problem with licensing.

There is no logic in saying that a dog needs licensing because it is naturally dangerous, unless we say the same for knives, powertools, hammers etc., all of which are inherently dangerous in the wrong hands. So the only logic (unless you are proposing inordinate levels of licensing) is that dogs are somehow different. This is a case I haven’t seen be made – the assumption is merely that as it is potentially dangerous, government must license.

Problem dogs need to be pursued, but I think licensing will end with the targetting of non-licensed, non-problem dogs (much easier to deal with and meet targets, and more likely to be encountered outside of environments where there is less information and support for the police). As licensing and training cannot be a free service (as you say, there is no right to own a dog, so it would be unfair to expect people to subsidise others), this does seem as a very middle-class solution. And I think the harm that many will suffer from not having a dog (parents not affording the license, can’t deal with the training, simply don’t fancy the bureaucracy involved etc) would probably be far greater than the harm avoided, although this is difficult to substantiate.

49. Matt Munro

Sally dislikes dogs because they are generally owned by military officer types, farmers, the rural middle class and the urban working classes, all groups that are more likley to be right than left wing. All dogs, and their owners, should therefore be prosecuted, or prefereably shot.
I agree with her, what, in the modern world, is the point of a dog ? They are just shit/noise making machines, and a menace to children and law abiding cyclists.

Why can’t the RPCA or The PDSA said we had a enought of banned breedes being put down to me see it as muderer because not every pit bull that gets taken away from these people are not dangerous some are just a family pet which as been looked after very well it not fair for this half, alright i know some dogs are dangerous but i was reading the list of dangerous dog list the other day when all they could said is pit bulls are only banned beause of lock jaw and because the one they did take away was used for frighting. which is wrong thats like saying banning diffent people for they look like or banning people who fright for a living, i think dog frighting is very wrong but what im trying to say not every banned dog is dangerous it how they brought up as a puppy. just give the pit bull or any other banned dog a change to a lovely live before killing it.

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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Enough bull about pit bulls http://bit.ly/a07YjT

  2. Renée Doiron

    Some common sense on the nonsensical nature of breed bans: http://tinyurl.com/28xk3lg

  3. Kate B

    Here's my latest LC article on pit breed dogs and Kit Malthouse's false science, which I am well over. http://bit.ly/dt3amn

  4. Brian LaHue

    Enough bull about pit bulls | Liberal Conspiracy: Experts loathe pit-breed bans – and they're not wild about polit… http://bit.ly/a4IyAu

  5. sharktrade

    Enough bull about pit bulls | Liberal Conspiracy: Experts loathe pit-breed bans – and they're not wild about polit… http://bit.ly/a4IyAu

  6. The Blue Cross

    Interesting piece about the Dangerous Dogs Act and overseas opinion: http://bit.ly/dt3amn

  7. Peter Callaway

    RT @The_Blue_Cross: Interesting piece about the Dangerous Dogs Act and overseas opinion: http://bit.ly/dt3amn

  8. Renalzin

    RT @The_Blue_Cross: Interesting piece about the Dangerous Dogs Act and overseas opinion: http://bit.ly/dt3amn

  9. Dangerous dog mayhem « All Breeds Obedience ,puupy school and dog training adelaide and obedience

    […] Enough bull about pit bulls (liberalconspiracy.org) : featured : Breed-specific legislation, Dog breed, Pit Bull, Recreation, Rottweiler […]

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