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Dog attacks – legislation alone won’t fix this problem

ACT Rescue and Foster 18 April 2019 10

Dog owners must take more responsibility for their dogs.

Government legislation on dog attacks will have little effect unless it is underpinned by systematic, long term, well-resourced and well-targeted community education in responsible dog ownership, particularly in ACT schools.

Recent reports of increasing dog attacks have put the spotlight on the importance of responsible dog ownership by all Canberra dog owners.

A small number of owners are irresponsible and it’s important to have severe financial and other penalties to both penalise and deter irresponsible owners. Enforcement is required too, and more rangers to undertake this, but it is unrealistic to expect Domestic Animal Services (DAS) rangers – even with the small compliance team announced recently – to be stationed at all times in every park or on every street corner in the ACT or in every backyard where an attack may occur.

Canberra is a dog owning community. Dogs enrich the lives of their owners, of families and children and the elderly, and especially those living alone for whom this companionship is an important human welfare issue. Dogs provide therapy in nursing homes, work alongside us on farms and in businesses, protect our properties, provide support to people with trauma, mental health issues and a range of disabilities. They can save the lives of epilepsy sufferers, serve with our armed forces overseas, help police to prevent crime, help customs officers prevent environmental and agricultural disasters at the border, help scientists with conservation research and so much more.

The majority of Canberra’s dog owners are responsible and caring. They look after their dogs and are careful around others. And the majority of Canberra dogs are family-friendly dogs and well behaved.

However, every Canberra dog owner can also play a role in helping to prevent potential attacks by being a responsible owner. And the ways are simple and obvious.

All dogs need to be desexed (unless the owner has a permit), registered and micro-chipped. Every dog owner needs to ensure they have suitable fencing and gates or, if the dog is not in a yard, a way to securely contain their dog.

Every dog owner needs to exercise a dog responsibly and train the dog so that it responds to commands, especially the one to come back! Every dog owner should obey the legal requirement to walk a dog on the lead in on-lead areas, including in Canberra’s many suburban streets.

Every dog owner should have a suitable collar and lead or harness for the size, weight and strength of the dog and not use ‘extended leads’ which make dogs harder to control and call back. They also need to be careful with their dogs around other dogs and show respect for the dogs and their owners – for example by not allowing their dog to bowl up to an unknown dog on a lead while blithely saying ‘mine’s friendly’ – the other dog may not be; by not letting a dog in off-lead areas uncontrollably approach another dog (who may react to a perceived threat), people or wildlife; by not letting a dog ‘go for a run’ in an on-lead area (it’s not legal and it’s potentially dangerous for the dog, other dogs, traffic and people); and when walking a dog not getting engaged on a mobile phone and failing to watch what is happening on the other end of the lead or in the environment (a recipe for disaster); and of course the very basic requirement – picking up after your dog because it’s an offence not to do so.

Most of all, every dog owner should make a point of reminding other dog owners who are causing a potential risk to other dogs, people or wildlife to do the right thing, and if the issue is serious, report the owner and the dog to DAS.

What is important, too, and will be long-lasting, is more accessible and affordable dog training especially for young and new owners and their dogs.

Let’s make responsible dog ownership happen with more realistic governmental resources allocated for community-wide dog ownership education programs, including in ACT schools from primary level. This should be in close collaboration with relevant community organisations and the overwhelming majority of responsible dog owners.

Di Johnstone and Wendy Parsons. 

Both authors are from ACT Rescue & Foster Inc. an incorporated association of people in Canberra and the surrounding region who rescue dogs from euthanasia and foster them temporarily until permanent homes can be found. Wendy Parsons is the President of ARF while Di Johnstone is a committee member.  


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10 Responses to Dog attacks – legislation alone won’t fix this problem
tim_c tim_c 2:04 pm 23 Apr 19

Of course legislation isn’t going to solve the problem – it’s already illegal to not restrain your dog with a leash, but lots of people do it.
And then there are those suicidal 30-odd metre retractable leashes that allow the dog to roam uncontrollably just as if it’s not on a leash.
And education in schools isn’t going to solve the problem either – most people I see with unrestrained dogs wouldn’t have been to school in decades (some perhaps not ever!).

Grimm Grimm 10:10 am 23 Apr 19

What does desexing your dog have to do with responsible pet ownership?

    LordPanda LordPanda 11:28 am 27 Apr 19

    Unless you’re a registered breeder, neutering your pet is the first thing you should do. Desexing reduces the likelihood of diseases and behavioural issues such as aggression and dominance.

Neenie Baines Neenie Baines 8:58 am 23 Apr 19

Too many people with dogs off lead. I hope all the off lead areas will be reduced. I used to take mine to the local oval off lead, but now I take them to the dog park. That’s better for everyone.

Danielle Young Danielle Young 10:30 am 22 Apr 19

The only thing that would help this issue is inspectors actually out in the public areas we use to walk our dogs with some authority to do something. This is of course wont happen, so unless your dog is seriously injured and you manage to get the other dog owners information nothing will happen to these awful dog owners. And lets be honest if something does happen its the dogs that suffer as they are put down. And then the jerk owner just buys another one :( I just make sure I walk my pup when no one else is around and if I see dogs off leash I turn around and walk the other way.

Michael Ahern Michael Ahern 8:33 am 22 Apr 19

It starts with walking dogs on a lead in public areas. The sense of entitlement by some dog owners that they are somehow exempt from this rule is staggering.

    Nathan Marc Nathan Marc 9:32 am 22 Apr 19

    Michael Ahern totally agree!!!!!!!

    Neenie Baines Neenie Baines 9:00 am 23 Apr 19

    Michael Ahern yes. I saw a lady walking her two dogs off lead through my suburb the other day. She was screaming at them the whole time about running across roads. She had the leads in her hands.... just put them on the leads!

John Thistleton John Thistleton 8:09 am 22 Apr 19

A timely article, thank you. It is up to schools to educate children about responsible dog ownership. Too many social problems are handed over to the schools to resolve. More rangers to oversee the existing laws would be a step in the right direction, along with the measures outlined in this excellent opinion piece.

Nell Feneck Nell Feneck 7:22 am 22 Apr 19

Responsible dog ownership includes treating your dog like a dog and not a human - once people get there heads around that there will be less dog attacks - humans are the cause

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