Who’s to blame for dog attacks? Is it a case of poor upbringing on the part of dog owners? Or are some breeds inherently aggressive and unpredictable?
An Angus Reid poll in March found that 58 per cent of Canadians feel dog attacks are “isolated incidents caused by bad owners, not by the breed of dog.”
The other 42 per cent felt particular breeds “are inherently more aggressive and dangerous.”
The survey also found that 67 per cent of Canadians “support requiring muzzles for dogs deemed dangerous,” but fewer than 39 per cent are in favour of banning what are considered aggressive breeds from communities.
In Ladysmith the issue of aggressive or ‘vicious’ dogs has been the source of controversy in the past.
Presently the town’s dog bylaw includes in its ‘restricted’ list: pit bull terriers, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, English bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers; and “any dog of mixed breeding, over the age of four months which includes the aforementioned breeds.”
Restricted dogs are supposed to be kept within a ‘suitable containment area’ to the satisfaction of the town’s animal control officer, and are to be kept muzzled and on a six foot leash when outdoors.
Sue Hughes of Coastal Animal Services, the company contracted by the Town of Ladysmith to enforce its dog licensing and control bylaw, said some breeds of dog are more prone to sudden, seemingly unprovoked attacks than others.
It mostly comes down to ‘prey-drive.’
“We have been breeding dogs for thousands of years for certain characteristics,” she explained. “If you have a breed with a high prey-drive they’re more likely to go after another animal.”
There is also a correlation between the likelihood of a dog attacking either another animal or person, and the type of owner who is in charge of the dog. The odds get really bad when breeds with high prey-drive meet masters who don’t know or don’t care.
“With a high prey dog, if you put it in the hands of an unknowing or irresponsible owner, you are going to have problems with that dog,” Hughes said.
Two characteristics of dogs with high prey-drive are stealth and tenacity. Hunting requires stealth, so a dog with high prey drive won’t do things like bare its teeth and growl before attacking. And once it does latch on, it won’t let go, because hunting dogs have to fight to bring their prey down, and that means hanging on no matter what.
Reports of dog attacks often reveal those characteristics of high prey-drive breeds. “The most common thing we hear is it came out of nowhere, and I couldn’t get the dog to let go,” Hughes said.
Stats for call outs to deal with aggressive dogs bear out Hughes concerns: shepherds, 6; pit bulls, 4; huskies, 3; labradors, 2; collies, 1; mastiffs, 1; hound types, 1.
The Town of Ladysmith has about 811 dogs licensed for 2016; five of those licenses were for restricted breeds.
Dogs with high prey-drive, in the hands of experienced or responsible owners, can earn their place in society.
Restricted breeds will be taken off the list if the “dog and dog owner have successfully completed the tests required to qualify for the Canine Good Neighbour (CGN) or Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Certification,” says the dog licensing and control bylaw.