A Sensible Vicious Dog Law

The town of New Bedford Massachusetts has come up with what is actually a good law in regards to dangerous/vicious dogs. Basically, the law is structured to focus on “the deed, not the breed”. That is, the law is geared to imposing penalties and restrictions on individual dogs that show signs of being dangerous/vicious.

“It goes after the deeds of the dog, the temperament it is showing,” said Mr. Maciel. Drafted by City Councilors Linda Morad and Jane Gonsalves along with Mr. Maciel’s office and various animal control groups, the ordinance avoids being breed-specific.

Instead, said Mr. Maciel, it allows animal control officers to judge a dog’s aggressiveness and actions before slapping restrictions, requirements and increased possible penalties on owners who ignore the rules.

He said a dozen dogs are now on the “dangerous and vicious” list, and only three are pit bull mixes. The others include a boxer, three German shepherds, a Rottweiler, Labrador retriever, “mini-pini” (Doberman)-chihuahua mix “and, unfortunately, a Boston terrier, the state dog,” he said.

This is exactly the right approach. Any dog can be vicious and size and breed are at best questionable guides in that regard. Take for example the chihuahua. Most people think that is an okay dog to own because of its small size. Even a young child could probably handle a chihuahua. However, chihuahuas are some of the most animal aggressive and human aggressive dogs. They also tend to be rather excitable and their small size could make it easier for a small child to injure or hurt the dog. While the latter might look like a possible benefit in terms of the child dealing with an aggressive chihuahua it could also mean that children will be more likely to have problems with this type of dog. Will a chihuahua kill a child? No probably not, but still it could inflict a nasty bite and since children like to do things like cuddle with dogs, that could mean getting bitten on the face or some other part of the body besides the ankle. So in this case, size is not a good indicator as to danger the breed poses.

At the same time a larger dog like the labrador retriever tends to be a stable even tempered dog. This dog passes temperment testing at one of the highest rates (and if we go with breeds that have had more than 200 dogs tested it has perhaps the highest pass rate). But this dog is also a medium sized dog and around infants and toddlers even an accident could send the child to the ground, off a chair or bed leading to injury.

A large part of the problem with dangerous/vicious dogs is that people often do not know how to behave around dogs and make for irresponsible owners. Did you get a cute little puppy that you failed to get neutered, licensed and usually spends the majority of its time alone in the backyard? I don’t care what breed you have, chances are your dog is more dangerous than the person who owns a rottweiler who has neutered his dog, licensed it, and the dog is well integrated into the family strutcture and well socialized around other people. Yet, most people would have the knee-jerk reaction of looking at the rottweiler as a death machine and the other dog as a lovable family pet.

Then there is the issue of training our children how to approach and deal with dogs. Dogs are ubiquitous in our society so it would be prudent for parents to periodically remind their children what do around dogs. Things like,

  1. Never approach a loose/stray dog.
  2. Never surprise a dog.
  3. Always ask the owner for permission to pet the dog.
  4. Let the dog sniff you before you try to give a hug.
  5. Never surprise a dog (e.g. wake it up by running up to pet it)
  6. Never run from a stray dog.

If more owners would spay/neuter their dogs, make sure they had a secure dog run, kennel, crate or back yard, socialized their dogs (and to be sure this is a continuous process), and train them in basic obedience there would be far, far fewer dog bites and maulings.

And for God’s sake treat your dog like a dog. I hate it when I hear peopel say, “They are babies,” or “I can’t help it, I spoil them.” Sorry, but you are a complete idiot. These are dogs and they should be treated as such. Trust me, the dog and you will be happier that way. It doesn’t mean you can’t love your dog, that you can’t buy it treats, or even let the dog sleep in your bed or take it with you when you go on trips. What it means is you should establish yourself as the pack leader, you should be set rules and boundaries for your dog, and when you give a command it should listen and follow the command. And if necessary, you may have to give the dog a job, even if it is something as mundane as carrying some water bottles in a doggie backpack during your walks.

And if you aren’t up for doing all of the above, then don’t get a dog. Get a cat, or even better get some goldfish. When you go out and get a dog you should be prepared for the commitments that such an action entails. Dogs are social/heirarchical creatures. They do well within the family and they languish and suffer outside of it. If you aren’t prepared to have a dog in your life, then you aren’t prepared to own a dog.

Still there are some bad parts to that article, IMO.

Dr. Dodman said any legislation ought to target breeders who purposely develop aggressive dogs. He cited the Doberman pinscher as one example of a dog that had a bad reputation, but has since had the aggressiveness removed through good breeding.

Karen Harght, co-owner along with Joan Hopkins of American Canine in Westport, concurred.

“When I was a child, Doberman pinschers had a horrible reputation. They were very aggressive, like pit bulls were. Then they kind of fell out of favor. And over the course of the last three decades the aggressiveness has been bred out of them. Now I see a lot of Dobermans that are sweet as pie.”

I don’t think that aggressivness has been breed out of the doberman, my guess is that since the breed is no longer the fad breed the many of breeders are responsible/reputable breeders who view themselves as “stewards of the breed”. These breeders are careful in what dogs they breed. First they’ll look at the overall health of the dog, then the temperment and only the best dogs with good marks in both areas will be bred. The rest will be spayed or neutered and placed as pets. Further, these breeders tend to be very rigorous when placing a dog. When the dog is in a fad phase every idiot with an unfixed dog looks to turn a quick buck through breeding their dog(s). They don’t worry too much, if at all, about health, and temperment isn’t even something they can judge. All dogs are placed with people unfixed and there are no conditions about taking the puppy back if things don’t work out. In this situtation you get badly bred dogs, dogs that wind up on the streets because their owners abadon them or lose them, and you have a much larger population of that dog. Hence dog attacks by that breed increase and they show up in the paper and you have the new “demon dog de jure”. This has been seen time and time again. Dobermans were the bad dog. Then german shepherds, St. Bernards, and Rottweilers and now pit bulls.

On the other hand, she said, “If I see an Akita, I turn around and go the other way.”

While the Akita isn’t a dog for your novice/first time dog owner this is just ridiculous. While there are quite a few dog bites every year (several million) there are tens of millions of dogs. And fatalities are even less frequent. Given this, the above attitude is emblematic of people simply not evaluating the risks correctly. If you get so nervous around an Akita that you head the other way, you probably should never go near a car, a pool, or take a bath or shower. Your risks of death/injury with all of these “safe” items probably far outstips any dangers posed by an Akita.

In New Bedford, Mr. Maciel said, the ordinance may require a succession of precautions to restrain and confine troublesome dogs, and fines for breaking the rules can be heavy, up to $600.

Bad dogs will be spayed or neutered and have a microchip implanted under the city ordinance, and annual licenses will cost more, along with the secure enclosures the city will require — and inspect.

Preventing the dogs from reproducing is the most important component, he said. “We don’t want them breeding and the offspring having the temperament of the mother and the father,” he said. “That way our community becomes safer.”

Somebody in the local government of New Bedford is guilty of having a brain.

FILED UNDER: General, , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Steven Donegal says:

    I’m curious why you think licensing has anything to do with how aggressive an animal will be?

  2. Pathetic Dog Owners…

    Now I don’t have anything against dogs. But I don’t have anything for them either. They’re just animals, and animals can be classified as useful (horses), tasty (cows), or other adjectives that describe their utility…

  3. Edgardo says:

    I’m curious to know why you think there is a constitutional right for letting dogs to use public facilities; why children should be required to learn how to deal with dogs; why everyone should be required to learn how to live with dogs; and why people without dogs are stupid.

  4. Elisabeth Whetstone says:

    This article is a breath of fresh air. This type of ‘dangerous dog law’ is enforceable. By looking at individual dogs, and placing responsibility on the HUMANS who own them, we can encourage education, responsible dog ownership, and proper dog management.

    To Egardo:

    Children NEED to learn how to behave around dogs to avoid injury and to instill respect for dogs. Not only does this instill empathy for other animals we share our lives with (a very important human quality), it makes for safer children and dogs.

    If a human makes the conscious choice to bring another species into their life, they SHOULD educate themselves properly – in regards to their ability to care for the dog properly, in regards to which breed truly fits their abilities and lifestyle, in regards to the dog’s ability to (not) make rational, moral or ethical decisions on it’s own… etc.

    The writer did not say that people without dogs are stupid… perhaps, though, you need a reading comprehension refresher.

  5. Edgardo says:

    Elisabeth,
    If you want to have a dog or a horse or an elephant, keep it at home. You don’t have a constitutional right to impose a cost to other people. And children need to know many other things before being trained in how to be protected from animals.
    Steve didn’t say that New Bedford’s residents were stupid. He said that, except for one, they lack a brain (please don’t tell me he referred to government officials; all officials are part of the community). Even worse, if you read again what he wrote, you can see that he thinks we are very stupid and thus why we need to be trained in how dogs behave and how we should protect ourselves from dogs.
    In sum, if you want to have a dog, keep it at home.

  6. Tracy says:

    Well Edgardo, there are a lot of situations in which a child could be exposed to a dog. Strays, for example, or service dogs. A child should be taught that ANY animal, dog or not, on it’s own is probably in unfamiliar territory, frightened and therefore likely to react in ways it wouldn’t normally, and to leave such animals alone. Children are almost magnetically attracted to animals, kind of the same way they are oddly attracted to electrical outlets at early ages. They see something new and want to touch it. They should also be taught not to interfere with service animals, who are generally extremely well behaved but have a job to do.

    I am from a more rural area, so my kids are taught to apply this to all animals they might come across. Anything can be dangerous when frightened or backed into a corner. I’m careful, I don’t want them to be afraid of animals, so I explain that it’s frightened and defending itself. I don’t want my kids to go through life afraid of everything, I just want them to be smart about safety. For people more used to city life, a stray dog is probably the worst they’ll get, but it should be treated accordingly. I view this as part of basic safety education, taught at the same time as I taught my young children that they must hold my hand at all times when near a road or parking lot, and to stay away from strangers.

    It would be a really nice world if everyone kept their pets, if not at home (I know I walk my dog every night, and both of us love it), at least well trained. It would also be nice if people didn’t speed in school zones and residential areas, or smoke in public places, or if my kids didn’t have to be wary of people they don’t know. But I prefer to teach my children to deal with the world the way it is, rather than the way I think it should be.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    I’m curious why you think licensing has anything to do with how aggressive an animal will be?

    It indicates both levels of responsibility and care for the animal. Such owners tend to take their ownership duties more seriously than those who don’t license their dogs. Licensing also carries with it vaccination requirements and usually incentives to spay/neuter a dog. “Fixed” dogs are far less likely to bite/maul a human.

    I’m curious to know why you think there is a constitutional right for letting dogs to use public facilities; why children should be required to learn how to deal with dogs; why everyone should be required to learn how to live with dogs; and why people without dogs are stupid.

    Are you a complete blithering idiot? Who said people who don’t own dogs are stupid? I wrote that it is prudent for people to teach their kids how to behave around dogs.

    As for public places…uhhmmm, they are public places? As for children, they often like dogs and want to pet them. As such teaching them how to do it safely is, again, prudent. Feel free not to do it with your children, but then you should make sure they don’t approach my dogs or anybody elses dogs as your child is ignorant of how to do it safely. Think of the dogs as swimming pools, you wouldn’t let your untrained child go near one would you?

    If you want to have a dog or a horse or an elephant, keep it at home. You don’t have a constitutional right to impose a cost to other people.

    There is no cost if you control your children. Really, this is just stupid. I follow the leash laws, train my dogs, and there is literally zero threat to you or anybody else when we go for a walk. If on the other hand you are a bad parent, let your child run around unsupervised, and he/she approaches my dogs and I can’t stop him/her, and he/she provokes my dogs, then the responsibility is on you as a bad parent. See here is the solution, I’ll continue controlling my dogs, you control your children. Keep and eye on them and if they run off towards my dogs, then you should stop them. Failing that, I’ll do my best to stop them, but it is asking a bit much for me to also be the parent of your child and in control of my dogs.

    And children need to know many other things before being trained in how to be protected from animals.

    Rubbish. I was at the pet store the other day with my American Pit Bull Terrier, and in line in front of me were a boy and girl, maybe 2 and 3 years of age. The girl saw my dog and then looked at me and asked if she could pet my dog. I was quite impressed with her parents in that they had taught her well. I knew my dog was ultra-friendly, and especially towards children so I gave her permission.

    Steve didn’t say that New Bedford’s residents were stupid. He said that, except for one, they lack a brain (please don’t tell me he referred to government officials; all officials are part of the community).

    Of for God’s sake Edgardo. You really should stop trying so hard to be so damn dense at times. I was being sarcastic because the typical response by local, and even State governments is to ban breeds not bad dogs. It is a ham-fisted approach that simply does not work, as has been shown time again.

    If anything the people of New Beford also deserve a share in the credit. They either passed this ordinance or selected officials who put this ordinance in place. Either way it reflects well on them.

    Even worse, if you read again what he wrote, you can see that he thinks we are very stupid and thus why we need to be trained in how dogs behave and how we should protect ourselves from dogs.

    No, there is a difference between ignorance and stupid. Ignorance about dogs is rampant. People base their views on information that is either grossly distorted or even outright false. The “locking jaw” myth for American Pit Bull Terriers is one. Then there is the chewing with their back teeth while holding with the front ones. Then there is the view that a dog bred to fight other dogs and animals must necessarily be human aggressive also. All three of these are false, but are widely held beliefs.

    And all the protection you need is to cure yourself of ignorance. It is like saying, “I shouldn’t have to know the rules for driving on the roads. Other people should merely get out of my way.” A rather arrogant view. And by the way, congratulations. Upon reading my post, you know enough to be quite safe around dogs, even strays that are off leash. You have just completed a rudimentary course of dog safety.

    In sum, if you want to have a dog, keep it at home.

    No. That is actually a bad thing. I guess you didn’t read the part about how dogs kept in the backyard are more likely to be dangerous than dogs that are well socialized. Keeping a dog away from other people will lead to more dogs being fear-aggressive.

    Tracy

    It would be a really nice world if everyone kept their pets, if not at home (I know I walk my dog every night, and both of us love it), at least well trained. It would also be nice if people didn’t speed in school zones and residential areas, or smoke in public places, or if my kids didn’t have to be wary of people they don’t know. But I prefer to teach my children to deal with the world the way it is, rather than the way I think it should be.

    Well said, well said. I couldn’t agree more.

    I’ll also make an analogy. Edgardo’s view is that he shouldn’t have to teach his kids to look both ways before crossing the street. That it is solely the responsibility of the driver to be aware of where Edgardo’s children are at all times. While this would be great if possible, drivers can’t see through solid objects like parked cars, trees, or other obstructions that a child could dart out from behind into the path of the on-coming car. Teaching one’s child basic safety in crossing the street is pretty much exactly the same in regards to dogs.

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