Avoiding nuisance in the community
Many studies have shown the human-dog bond has a positive impact on human health, child development and the quality of life. But there are problems, and the challenge is to devise strategies that allow us to live safely with dogs so we can retain the benefits yet reduce the risks.
The problems to society, and indeed to us as individuals, include:
- Disease transmitted to humans from dogs (zoonoses)
- Injury to humans resulting from trauma and bites.
- Road traffic accidents caused by dogs.
- Injury and disease to livestock and pets.
- Impact on wildlife.
- Pollution from faeces, urine and tearing open garbage.
- Impact of noise.
- Economic cost of dog control programmes.
All dog owners therefore have a responsibility to ensure their own dogs are kept under control at all times and that they behave in a way that is safe and avoids nuisance to the community. It is a privilege to own a dog, but we must be considerate to others that share our environment. So what must you do as a dog owner to help?
Reduce the risk of transmitting disease to humans and other pets
There are a number of things you can do to greatly reduce the risks.
- Ensure your dog is vaccinated against rabies if you live in a rabies endemic country (this may be a legal requirement).
- Consider neutering – ask your veterinarian for advice.
- Ensure your dog is vaccinated regularly against the common infectious diseases of dogs
- Worm your dog regularly and effectively
- Use regular and effective skin parasite control
- Clean up your dog’s faeces and deposit them in the appropriate bins.
- Prevent your dog roaming freely or being out of control
- This is essential if your dog is not to add to the existing problems caused by free roaming dogs.
- Ensure your house and garden are secure and make sure all the family understand the need for this (avoid the use of electric shock collars)
- When exercising out of doors, ensure your dog is under your control at all times by using a lead and collar (unless well trained and responds consistently to commands).
- Keep a dog on the lead at all times if exercising on country paths near livestock. Remember, a dog found worrying livestock can be shot by the farmer without warning and the owner could face prosecution.
- Keep your dog on a lead at all times when walking by roads
What if my dog escapes?
With all the best intentions, accidents can happen and your dog may escape. Your dog may be picked up by the authorities and offered for re-homing or even put-to-sleep if not claimed within seven days.
This can be avoided if your dog is identified with a microchip. This is mandatory in many European countries, but sadly not in the UK at the present time.
The unique number on the chip will allow the authorities to trace your name, address and contact details on a database so you and your dog can be re-united with the minimum of delay. This reduces the stress on you both and results in considerable savings for the authorities or shelter – so a win – win situation! As an aside, it is important to make sure the data on the data-base is kept up to date if you move house or change telephone numbers. It is also strongly recommended that in addition to the microchip, the dog wears a collar with a tag giving your name and contact details.
Avoid adding to the already large dog population
The decision to breed from your dog is a major undertaking and should only be done as part of a planned breeding programme. Avoid un-planned litters, and if you are not planning to breed, talk to your veterinarian about neutering.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary for a bitch to have a litter before she is neutered, and performing the operation early in life has some definite health advantages.
What can I do if my dog barks a lot?
Vocalisation in dogs is common and may be due to outside stimuli, social facilitation with other dogs, territorial displays or play. It is also one of a range of separation related behaviour problems that may occur in the partial or complete absence of the pet’s owner.
These problems can have different underlying motivations, relating to factors such as fear, anxiety, over-attachment and lack of appropriate stimulation, and require different treatment interventions. If your dog suffers from this problem you should contact your veterinarian or a recognised behaviour specialist.
Barking can become a serious problem, and is one of the reasons given for people giving up a dog to a shelter. In the UK, the control of noise pollution is governed by the Environmental Protection Act (1990). According to case law, a statutory nuisance is regarded as a “material interference with the comfort and enjoyment of another’s home”. Complaints about dog barking are dealt with by the environmental health department of the local council, and of all neighbourhood noise complaints, barking dogs are the most numerous accounting for approximately 30% of cases.
What if I own a dog that is of a so-called “dangerous breed”?
Within the UK, owners of dogs from specific breeds have additional requirements imposed on them by the provisions of the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991). This includes mandatory identification by microchip and tattoo, neutering and compulsory muzzling when in a public place. Failure to comply can result in prosecution and seizure / destruction of the dog. Many other countries have breed-specific legislation, although the details of the provisions may vary.
Many people feel that “breed-specific” legislation is ineffective and very difficult to implement.
In the UK and USA there is an increasing problem of anti-social behaviour where dogs ( so called “status dogs”)are used in an aggressive or intimidating way towards the public or other animals. This often, though not exclusively, involves young people on inner city estates, some of who are involved in criminal activities. Sadly this use of such dogs is a reflection of inner-city poverty and wider socio-economic problems.
Is there a risk that my dog might bite?
The quick answer is yes! But fortunately there is something you can do to help. All breeds of dog have the capacity to bite, and it is in fact a normal part of their behavioural repertoire.
The tendency to bite is generally influenced by feelings of stress or anxiety. Dog bites in people are a serious public health problem. Each year approximately 4.5million people are bitten in the USA (representing 1.5% of the total population), with 800,000 bites requiring medical attention. Comparable rates are found in Europe, and 69,000 people attended hospital Accident and Emergency departments in the UK in 2002.
Despite the fact that only 20% of dog bites occur outside the private home, the majority of people appear concerned about being bitten by a dog in a public place. This concern influences the legislators, and urban safety regulations (such as leash laws in open spaces and parks) are based on the assumption that these locations are the target areas for people to be chased, or attacked by dogs.
The reality is that the majority of bite accidents in children occur in the home environment and involve young children (median 5 years) bitten by a dog that is familiar to them. In 86% of cases the child /dog interaction that triggered the bite was initiated by the child, and most reported dog bites in children happened while there was no active adult supervision.
Bites to children in this context can therefore be regarded as “accidents in the home” that can only be reduced by parents providing a safe home environment with adequate child supervision. This requires an understanding of child behaviour as well as dog behaviour. You and your children need to learn to recognise potential risk situations and so avoid them – the Blue Dog programme can help you do this.
What are the solutions?
Reducing the nuisance of free roaming or uncontrolled dogs in public places requires a comprehensive dog population management programme that takes account of all interested parties. The considerable costs involved must be balanced against the economic savings achieved in specific areas and the improvements in community well-being.
Legislation (including registration and identification) has an important role to play, but will be most effective if the provisions and penalties reflect what the local community consider right and proper. These measures should be regarded as an opportunity for public education, as it is only by changing people’s behaviour that the problems will be resolved.
Issues related to “status dogs” may be more problematic as those responsible may act outside the law and have little respect for authority. Tackling the underlying socio-economic problems of inner cities is essential.
Problems within the home environment cannot easily be addressed by legislation. Barking in pet dogs as a result of separation anxiety requires veterinary or specialist behavioural advice. Bites to children in this context can generally be regarded as “accidents in the home” that can only be reduced by parents providing a safe home environment with adequate child supervision.
This requires an understanding of child behaviour as well as dog behaviour. Education remains the key.