It pains me to say this, but I agree with Suella Braverman. The home secretary is pushing for a ban on American Bully XL dogs – largely to stop them attacking children – and not only do I think she has a point, I think she’s not going far enough. What I would do? I’d force people to get dog licences. We have strictly controlled gun licences – well, why don’t we do the same for dogs? They can be just as dangerous.
To be clear, I love dogs. I had my dog at my wedding because she’s amazing and easier company than most humans.
But British dog ownership has increased from 10 million to 11 million dogs since the pandemic. There are now rampant behavioural issues – aggression, anxiety, bad manners – and that’s just the humans. I truly love dogs but I reserve the right to refuse a bespattering from your hound and whatever it recently rolled in. I also don’t want your dog to eat my toddler’s face; even if he’s “just playing”.
I’m not just pearl-clutching: 75 per cent of child dog bites are to the face. We clearly have too many dangerous dogs – owned and bred for profit or intimidation. We also have too many dogs, full stop.
In Lady and the Tramp, Lady proudly receives her shiny dog licence from her doting and responsible owners. I know Paul O’Grady would have disagreed, but perhaps we need to reconsider dog licences. They were abolished in the UK in 1987 and we now rely upon the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act to police doggy transgressions after they’ve mauled someone. It’s hardly revolutionary to pre-emptively regulate an activity that has the potential to cause harm, you know, like driving and flying.
“It’s not the breed. All dogs bite” is an all-too-common defence. To which I’d respond: what, the police use King Charles spaniels to quell riots, do they?
When I see a “weapon dog” straining on the lead – especially if it’s a young man being dragged along with it – I wisely give them a wide berth.
“But staffies make wonderful family pets.” True. I know both several adorable staffies and a psychopathic Yorkshire terrier, but they are the exception that proves the rule.
A sizeable chunk of people choose dogs because they get a thrill from people being scared of them. Highly toxic, frequently masculine. As an aside, Andrew Tate currently has a pitbull and an Alaskan malamute. See what I mean?
I am not “demonising” certain breeds owing to snobbishness and, incidentally, I am quite familiar with prison dogs (German shepherds) having grown up with four of them. Even experienced dog handlers and canine professionals can be caught out – Dogs Behaving Badly’s Graeme Hall nearly lost his hand due to a “misunderstanding” with a German shepherd.
My own dog is an angel and I’m insufferably smug about how well-behaved she is. Although I trained her, her demeanour is not something I can take credit for; she was selectively bred to be biddable. The polar opposite of my toddler. If you think selective breeding (and therefore breed) doesn’t matter, I’ll remind you that selective breeding is what took us from wolves (Canis lupus) to cavapoos.
Firm, consistent boundaries are essential for harmonious dog ownership. The furore over the upcoming ban on electric shock collars is perhaps a symptom of our desire for a quick fix. Dogs’ idiosyncrasies and unique personalities are why we love them so much, but despite us all thinking we’re dog whisperers, most humans are hopeless at interpreting canine behaviour.
If your dog is not adequately exercised, well-trained and rock-steady, it needs to be under exceptionally tight control – and you as the owner need to take proper, grown-up responsibility for an animal that has the real potential to cause harm to others.
In the last two years, I have had more incidents with dogs than in the preceding decade. These include having to allow my on-lead dog onto a road so she could escape an attack because someone’s dog was totally out of control (an offence, by the way) my toddler being knocked over and my children being barked, lunged and growled at.
It’s deeply unpleasant to be on the receiving end of aggressive dog behaviour and we are not entitled to own dogs if we aren’t prepared to shoulder the responsibility; it’s not fair on humans or dogs. Also, spare a thought for those who don’t like dogs or are phobic. They are entitled to go about their lives without having to strategically avoid badly behaved (or worse) dogs everywhere they go.
With people having to give pets up due to being unable to care for or afford them, perhaps a return to dog licencing could both regulate the unscrupulous breeders, “co-owners” and those in the market for weapon dogs, while supporting those people for whom a dog is a source of joy, companionship or, like me, a mental health crutch.