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Breed bans won’t reduce dog bites

Without educating both pet parents and people unused to dogs, a ban on certain breeds may not have much impact

The raising of both children and pets is at the root of the two-pronged issue. (Pexels/Elina Volkova)

By Dr Nameeta Nadkarni

LAST PUBLISHED 21.03.2024  |  01:00 PM IST

After a sad occurrence two years ago that resulted in a man’s death from dog bite, this column discussed the reasons why specific breeds shouldn’t be demonised. Recently, the Union ministry of fisheries, animal husbandry and dairying proposed a ban on specific dog breeds due to the increase in attacks on humans.

The local governing bodies have been tasked with making decisions about the prohibition. The 23 dog breeds include Rottweilers, Pitbull terriers, mastiffs, terriers and American bulldogs. The goal is to stop these dogs from being sold, imported and bred. This is a small victory against the widespread, unethical and illegal breeding of these dogs. But how did we get to the point where these breeds are considered aggressive? (Those who already own these breeds are advised to get them neutered.)

As a vet, I have witnessed smaller breeds and Indies misbehave on occasion. The raising of both children and pets is at the root of the two-pronged issue. A few days ago, my Golden Retriever and I were on a ferry. A group of six children strolled over to our pet-friendly area and touched the dog without permission. It takes only a few children to encircle a dog and make it feel threatened. While my dog is socialised and trained, the incident was distressing and might have made any dog, regardless of breed, lash out in self-defence.

Also read: What is the ban on certain dog breeds all about?

This prohibition recommendation has branded larger breeds as ferocious and aggressive because, in contrast to smaller types, they have the potential to seriously injure people. However, any dog, if it is not taught to navigate different situations, may become aggressive or behave inappropriately. When dogs aren’t trained and are permitted to satisfy their innate need for physical and mental stimulation, they may find it difficult to adjust and may react with aggression.

The ban might not address the actual problem of dog bite incidents unless the causes are addressed. If my pet had snapped at any of those children who were touching him without permission, the ferry would have banned dogs. Similar incidences would eventually put even the beloved Labrador or Indie on the radar of breeds to ban.

Therefore, the answer to this issue lies in pet parents’ increased knowledge of how to nurture each breed specifically to meet its demands. They must also accept full responsibility for their dogs in public areas since not everyone is at ease around them.

Dogs should never be left unattended or off-leash unless they are well-trained enough to have excellent recall, meaning they will come when called. It is advisable to keep them on a short leash when engaging with children or other adults who are not accustomed to dogs.

A dog needs to be properly trained before it is brought into public settings.

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Children often don’t know how to interact with pets. Going by what I have seen, they frequently lift their hand over the dog’s head and hesitate before touching them. A dog would find such a gesture menacing.

As people are not familiar with canine body language, they are not always able to predict how a dog will react. It is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that these interactions are supervised. Schools ought to host interactions between children and friendly dogs and veterinarians.

There has been a mixed reaction to this suggested prohibition, with some people fearing that these dog breeds will be abandoned and others celebrating that breeds that are not native to the country will no longer be bred unethically. Without addressing the lack of education on the part of both pet parents and people who are not used to pets, just a ban on these breeds may not be enough.

Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.

Also read: How to teach pets and children to coexist