Barking Blondes: Should all dogs be muzzled in public?
Should all dogs be muzzled in public? How do you feel when you pass a muzzled mutt? Safe and secure? Or maybe that the masked four-legged friend might be a potential Hannibal Lecter? These were just some of the questions raised on our radio show in a week that saw radical changes proposed to the DDA (Dangerous Dogs Act) .
Currently, it is not a criminal offence if a dog behaves out of control on private property, but under the proposed changes it would become so. Then, if your dog should bite someone in your home or someone else’s private property, you could face a two-year jail sentence. This is an understandable reaction to the recent tragic dog attack in Wigan that occurred on private property.
We agree that increasing the penalties for irresponsible owners is a good thing. Let’s face it, if a dog can’t behave well in its own home then there is little chance of him behaving socially when out in public.
There is obviously a problem. Reported cases of dog attacks in parks is on the rise, along with incidents of postmen and women being bitten on private property hitting a record 4,000 bites a year, but mandatory muzzling is not part of the proposed legal changes.
Currently the law only steps in when a dog bites or injures a human and is not concerned when a dog bites another dog. Arguably this is one of the many flaws in the DDA, often described as a dog’s dinner of legislation and introduced as a knee-jerk reaction to dog attacks in 1991.
Proposals under the Control of Dogs Bill offered in England as a replacement to the DDA would allow local councils to enforce dog control notices (DCN) at the first sign of trouble before a dog becomes a danger to other dogs, people and itself. A DCN would order owners to leash or muzzle their dogs and to take training courses. Under the current law the only breeds that legally must be muzzled in public are the Pit Bull, the Japanese Tosa, the Filo Brasilia and the Dogo Argentina.
Muzzling would feature as a tool and interim measure in a training programme to modify behaviour. Biting is a symptom of a bigger ‘holistic’ picture. Compulsory muzzling would be an extreme quick fix solution that simply treats the symptom rather than the cause. The majority of the nine million dogs in the UK go through their lives and never bite another human or another dog. As in all walks of life, the minority give the majority a bad name.
Mandatory muzzling would be unfair to those dogs that are well behaved and hence no threat to public health and safety. Keeping dogs muzzled at home contravenes the law under the Animal Welfare Act, which states for example that dogs must have access to freely available drinking water. Most muzzles don’t allow a dog to drink.
A muzzle can work well to help de-sensitise a dog from a trigger to be ‘bity’, giving the dog a chance to rehabilitate and not be a risk to people or dogs, so they are good when used in moderation. Modern muzzles are designed so dogs can take treats, making them an acceptable part of positive forms of training. Therefore they shouldn’t be considered as only for dogs that are aggressive. We know a number of dogs that wear muzzles in the park to stop them scavenging, especially in summer after picnickers leave tasty morsels strewn over London parks.
It is a responsible owner that accepts his dog might need to wear a muzzle in the park, and they shouldn’t be stigmatised but encouraged. Perhaps owners should use a muzzle at home to train Fido to like the postman. And like the next door neighbour’s cat… a dog is only as well behaved as its owner trains him to be and education always starts at home.
The Barking Hour’ is on Thursdays on BBC London 94.9fm from 3-4pm
For more information visit www.barkingblondes.net
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