Letters to the Editor

The 'aggressive' breed ban won't work

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

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Dear Editor,

The problem with this latest outrage over dogs attacking people is that we have once again returned to the idea of a ban on “aggressive” breeds.

The problem I have with the breed ban is that it is an unproductive idea. Instead we should focus on the laws that control all dogs in general, rather than ban specific breeds in particular.

The basis of my criticism of the breed ban is that the idea that the main cause of aggression in dogs is the breed is incorrect. This has been proven by a December 2013 study by the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Sciences on the aggression of dogs against humans in the UK. This study acknowledges that the breed does have an effect on a dog's level of aggression, but the difference between the level of aggression of “aggressive” and “non-aggressive” breeds is of little significance from a statistical perspective.

The point is that when all these factors are taken into consideration the fact that Mr Whittington Cole was attacked by dogs of so-called aggressive breeds is largely irrelevant to the incident in question. He could just as easily have been attacked by mongrels. Thus, a breed ban will do nothing to stop dog aggression.

If the breed is not the biggest factor in dog aggression, then what is? The study answers this question by revealing that aggression in dogs is primarily a result of nurture and context rather than nature. According to the study, dogs exhibit far more aggression towards humans they don't know rather than those they do, thereby emphasising the learnt component of dog aggression. Further compounding the learnt component, the study showed that the way in which the dog is trained has a significant impact on its aggression.

Other factors that affect aggression are the sex, neuter status of the dog, the age of the dog, the age of the owner, and so on. Another big contextual contributor to dog aggression is that every dog that feels anxious or threatened will attack even if it has never been aggressive before. An easy example of this, which I know from personal experience, is that staring a dog in the eye for too long will make the dog feel threatened.

One can conclude therefore that aggression in dogs is largely result of the mistreatment of dogs. There is, of course, no shortage of evidence that Jamaicans regularly mistreat their dogs. The easiest example of this is the common practice of letting the dog run astray across the neighbourhood with no regard for anyone else. Rich, middle class or poor we all do it and the result is roving bands of strays that harass people, like the ones that killed that Mr Cole. This is why the main thrust of the solution is to manage the treatment of dogs in general and leave specific breeds alone.

A good overarching step in this direction is to put systems in place that hold irresponsible owners accountable. A leash law, the law that all dogs are to be restrained in public places by a leash or face impoundment of the animal as a penalty for non-compliance, is a good place to start.

During said impoundment all dogs should be neutered, thereby reducing the dogs' aggression and the number of stray pups born. In order to get the dog back a fine would have to be paid, otherwise someone else will adopt the dog. If the impounded dog is found by the vets to be abused then the owner should be appropriately punished. Euthanasia should also be a tool in the instance of overcrowding. Furthermore, far harsher punishments should be inflicted upon dog abusers, as abused dogs are more likely to kill or hurt people.

Another step is to standardise the best practices for dog management. For starters there should be a formalised system of professional, certified and regulated dog trainers. These experts can then be employed to host workshops to educate the masses both about responsible ownership and the importance of neutering. A digitised system of registered collar numbers can also be employed to make it easier to identify and hold the registered owners of said animals accountable.

Another solution would be to have a licensing system in place for the commercial breeding of dogs, in order to stamp out puppy mills. The point is, by looking at the science, holistic solutions can be found in abundance to actually solve the dog aggression problem as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction breed ban.

Andre Robinson


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