An online poll conducted by the National Animal Welfare Trust has revealed that the majority of respondents (84%) don't think the changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act are an effective piece of legislation, a year after they were introduced.
And despite the heavy promotion of the changes when they were introduced on 13th May 2014, one third of respondents are not even aware of what changes were made.
The biggest difference when the new changes came into effect last year was the law now covering incidents that occur on private property in addition to public spaces.
As a consequence of the law changes, a third have altered how they manage their dogs in public, with the majority of owners stating they put their dogs on a lead more often while out walking.
Slightly fewer respondents (23%) say they manage their dog differently in the home particularly around meeting strangers who come to the door.
While this poll is a very small snapshot on what dog owners are doing as a result of the changes, it’s quite noticeable how very confusing the legislation remains to dog owners. Some don’t even know about the changes whilst others, judging from the comments received, seem to be curtailing their and their dogs’ freedoms when it comes to walking in a public place.
Last year was the toughest year yet with regards to legislation on dogs and dog owners.
Aside from the Dangerous Dogs act amendments, last October saw the arrival of another package of measures to target irresponsible ownership.
Local authorities, social landlords and police now have wide ranging powers including Fixed Penalties and Community Protection Notices, that can be issued more or less on the spot if a dog is found running loose in a park or threatening neighbours. Orders can be wide-ranging, from mending fences, muzzling dogs, and fitting post-box guards, to making someone attend dog training classes.
So, a year on from when these changes were first introduced, the question in many people’s minds is whether these new powers are having an effect. Are we seeing a decrease in dog attacks? Or are these laws, as many welfare organisations including the National Animal Welfare Trust believe, not really tackling the right part of the problem?
While no official reports have been released at the time of writing, there are some statistics we can look at. First is the Health and Social Care Information Centre’s report on hospital admissions from dog bites. In a 12 month period between 2012 and 2013 there were 6,334 admissions from dog bites, compared to 7,102 in another 12 month period covering 2013 to 2014. Those figures only account for the number of incidences and not the number of patients treated, but nevertheless show an increase of 768 (12%). The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) ending September 2014, reported a 16% increase in the witnessing or experiencing of out of control or dangerous dogs among the 28% of adults who had personally experienced or witnessed anti-social behaviour.
And while no overall figures are publicly available for the number of prosecutions under the Dangerous Dogs Act, the BBC obtained figures for the East of England under the Freedom of Information Act in February 2015, which reported a steady rise in the number of prosecutions – with the county of Essex top of the list.
In the rehoming world we don’t have direct evidence to suggest its affecting rehoming in general. The only factor rehoming charities are noticing is that the continued rise in the number of dogs with behavioural issues coming into our centres. Factors causing this are overbreeding and poor regulation of puppy farming, potential owners failing to fully research the suitability and temperament of a pet, and a general lack of education in how to train and manage dogs.
But as explained previously, lessons about responsible ownership will only be learnt when we look into the lifestyle and training (or lack of) that was given to a dog, before it became dangerous or a nuisance.
With a new administration now in post isn’t it time for the Government to overhaul the laws and do more to tackle the real root of the problem, before responsible dog owners find more of their freedoms curtailed?