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Study suggests it's time to get rid of Ireland's restricted dog-breed list

The study, published in the Irish Veterinary Journal, suggests there is no correlation between a dog’s breed and the likelihood it will behave violently.

shutterstock_601476968 File photo of a german shepherd, one of the animals on Ireland's restricted breed list Source: Shutterstock/Aleksandra Dabrowa

IRELAND’S APPROACH TO targeting and legislating for specific dog breeds as being ‘dangerous’ has no scientific basis, and may in fact be making the situation here worse, a new study has claimed.

The study, titled A Comparison of Bites from Legislated and Non-Legislated Dog Breeds and published in the Irish Veterinary Journal, involved surveying the Irish victims of 140 separate dog-bite incidents, and the opinions of 17 dog control officers.

The main aim of the study was to see if there were any differences in biting characteristics between breeds that are legislated for in Ireland and ones that are stereotyped as being ‘friendly’.

“No significant difference was observed between legislated and non-legislated groups for medical treatment required following the bite,” the study concludes.

As regards perception, “legislated breeds were significantly more likely to be perceived as aggressive and less fearful as triggers for biting compared to non-legislated breeds”.

Non-legislated breeds, meanwhile, are more likely to inflict a bite with their owner present on their own property than breeds which have been targeted.

“Generally speaking, non-legislated dogs would bite more often, because there are more of them,” says the study’s co-author Páraic Ó’Súilleabháin of NUI Galway.

Another significant finding of course is that non-legislated breeds are much, much less likely to be reported before they bite, which is a pretty big finding.

Of the 140 biting incidents involved in the new study, almost a third involved border collies and labradors – two breeds notably absent from the restricted breeds list.

breeds1 Breakdown of 140 documented violent incidents by breed Source: Irish Veterinary Journal

Click here to view a larger image

Best practice

Ó’Súilleabháin says that focusing on specific breeds rather than individual animals and their owners is out of sync with international best practice.

“Veterinary Ireland have done a year-long review and set up a task force to assess all the available literature, and their conclusion is that the law needs to change – it shouldn’t be focussed on breed at all,” he says.

From what all the literature tells us, how we do things in Ireland isn’t going to protect anyone, it’s at least 20 years out of date, and the restrictions that are in place for dangerous animals are nowhere near enough.

“What other countries do is basically that if a dog is acting aggressively that dog and its owner needs to be targeted.”

By targeting in this instance, Ó’Súilleabháin means that such owners need to be made take training classes with their animal.

“Once you make them go to training and operate under strict restrictions, the number of bites, and the number of fatal incidents, radically decreases.

As regards how to make such a system preemptive, Ó’Súilleabháin says that “ideally you have to be dealing with a reporting system which carries a number that people can call if they’re worried.

“Then a warden can investigate.

Because as things stand, some dog shelters won’t even accept the restricted breeds for rehoming – they’re often euthanised on arrival, which isn’t right.

Fatal attack

The study’s findings chime with a call for change from the Social Democrats, who said in June that Ireland’s “dog control laws are not working” in the aftermath of a fatal attack on a woman in her 60s in Moycullen, Co Galway.

That attack was carried out by two Italian bull mastiffs, a breed that is on the restricted list, albeit with no special provisions made for controlling such dogs on private property.

“The evidence says that you need to educate owners and place restrictions on any dog that shows signs of aggressive behaviour, rather than just controlling certain breeds and only in public places,” local representative Niall Ó Tuathail said at the time.

Ireland has almost four times the rate of dog bite hospitalisations compared to the Netherlands where they take this wider approach.

“The international scientific consensus on this is to target individuals, not breeds. Because, apart from anything else, in doing so you’ll unify responsible dog owners, which makes the outliers easier to target,” agrees Ó’Súilleabháin.

At present, Irish law imposes restrictions on 11 different breeds of dog, including pitbulls, alsatians, rottweilers, and dobermann pinschers.

The Department of Community and Rural Affairs, which governs dog control at present in Ireland, could not be reached for comment on this story prior to publication, or as to the likelihood of the restricted list being removed in future.

Last year, a Fine Gael councillor in Co Meath created an online rumpus when he called for, and established the installation of, public safety notices reminding the owners of restricted breeds as to the regulations in place that they must adhere to.

At present, those regulations include a requirement that an animal be muzzled in public and kept on a short strong lead by a person aged 16 years or over.

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