Vets say a sensible solution to dog bite incidents should be based on science

The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) says that breed is not a good indicator of behaviour and that legislative decisions in relation to managing dog bites should be based on evidence and science.

Dr. Kersti Seksel will be discussing this topic at an AVA conference at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

According to Dr. Seksel, dog bites is a complex issue, yet the solution is often portrayed as being simple.

“A dog’s behaviour in certain situations and a person’s skills in picking up certain cues can play a role in reducing dog bite incidents in the community.

“Dog behaviour is an interplay of genetics, learning, and environment and all of these factors need to be
considered, yet rarely are.

“The government also seldom has the necessary background to critically evaluate the evidence and reach a scientifically based opinion on the most appropriate way forward. This makes many measures not only ineffective in reducing dog bites but also difficult to implement,” she said.

DOG BREED SPECIFIC LEGISLATION DOES NOT WORK

Dr. Seksel said that many dogs in Australia are declared dangerous based on their breed. In an effort to protect the community, restricting the ownership of certain dog breeds that are believed to be most likely to inflict serious injury on people has been a popular choice of governments around the world. This approach is based on the principle that if these dogs are not present in the community, the incidence of dog bites should drop.

“The issue of how to positively identify these breeds is often ignored, resulting in many dogs that were responsibly owned and had no history of aggression being seized and often destroyed. Fortunately, in many of these countries, when records of dog attacks before and after this regime were introduced were compared, there was no significant drop in the number of attacks and restricted breed legislation has been abandoned,” she said.

EDUCATION ON SIGNS OF STRESS IS KEY

The majority of dogs will start to show signs of stress, anxiety or aggression before an aggressive event actually occurs – but can often go unnoticed or misinterpreted by people.

“Educating the community about these signals is really critical in dog bite prevention,” she said.

AVA President, Dr Paula Parker says that in an effort to help improve community safety with dogs the AVA has developed a legislative framework called Dangerous Dogs – a sensible solution.

“The AVA wants to see a comprehensive approach to improve community safety with dogs. Pet ownership has enormous benefits for individuals and the community. Understanding what a dog is trying to communicate and acting to remove them from the situation or address their concerns is key to improving community safety with dogs,” Dr Parker said.

For more information: Australian Veterinary Association 2012 Dangerous Dogs – A sensible solution.