As man’s best friend, dogs provide unconditional companionship to so many of us. But what happens when it all goes wrong?
You don’t have to look too far to find reports of fatal dog attacks, with the same few breeds often called out as the cause of these tragic deaths.
So, which dog breeds are banned in Australia, and do breed bans actually prevent dog attacks from happening?
Which dogs are banned in Australia?
Commonwealth customs legislation bans the importation of certain breeds into Australia, including pure or cross-bred Japanese Tosa, Fila Brasileiro (Brazilian Mastiff), Dogo Argentino, Perro de Presa Canario, and American Pit Bull Terriers.
While the legislation does not prohibit ownership, many state and territory jurisdictions have their own ownership rules for these breeds, including muzzling in public areas, desexing and specific requirements for fencing and enclosures.
Rules vary across Australia, and local councils are able to set their own rules.
Other restricted breeds include wolves, which are banned in Australia, and dingoes.
In Victoria, Northern Territory, Western Australia and the ACT a permit is required, and dingos are illegal to own in Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania.
Dog breeds considered as aggressive
Historically, dog breeds that have been labeled as aggressive have one thing in common – they were originally bred for fighting.
The thinking was that these breeds were genetically predisposed to aggression, and therefore posed a higher risk to the community.
Yet, the dangerous dog ban can also be applied to any dog, regardless of breed, if there’s an incident of aggressive behaviour.
And, interestingly, most top 10 lists of “aggressive dog breeds” include many familiar household names including the Chihuahua, German Shepherd and American Staffy.
So, where did the rules originate?
Breed-specific legislation and dangerous dog rules have developed in response to public and media pressure following dog attacks.
They aim to identify and track potentially dangerous dogs in order to protect public safety.
Opposition to dog bans
Despite ongoing dog bans, attacks continue to happen. In fact, more than 100,000 Australians experience a dog attack every year, and the UK continues to see an increase in the number of dog attacks, despite the continued ban on four high-risk breeds.
According to the RSPCA, breed-specific bans have done little to prevent further attacks because they do not address the underlying issues leading to these attacks.
Breed bans are applied to all dogs of a particular breed, regardless of their behaviour, and don’t address other factors such as human care, handling and training of a dog.
Like humans, dogs are sensitive to their environment and will fight, flee or freeze in unsafe situations.
The Australian Vet Association explains this further outlining that genetics are only one part of dog behaviour, with early socialisation, “the dog’s health, the carer’s management strategies (on and off their property), the dog’s level of training, and the owner’s ability to predict their dog’s behavior and manage it effectively…” being just as important in reducing the likelihood of aggressive behaviour.
Earlier this year, Brisbane-based dog trainer Dee Scott told ABC News: “if my dog bit somebody tomorrow, the first thing I’d be doing is saying ‘Why? What happened, what have I done wrong?'”.
“It’s not the dog’s fault,” she said, suggesting that educating owners in monitoring for signs of anxiety or distress in their dogs and minimizing chances of them lashing out.
Calls for further dog bans
Despite evidence against the effectiveness of dog breed bans, those who have been victim of an attack continue to call for bans in order to prevent future injury or death.
In an interview with Sky News, Australian vet Dr Sam Kovac said some dog breeds pose “an unacceptable risk to our society”, and called for a ban on ownership of The American Staffy.
This followed the mauling death of a five-year-old child by the family Staffy.
As the debate continues, experts do agree that regardless of breed, all dogs need access to skilled training, and appropriate care and owner attentiveness in order to develop healthy behavior and reduce the risk of attack.
Ms Scott told ABC News: “It could well be that by educating the human educating the dog, that we might be able to change that [behaviour].”
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