Over the past year the general public has seen the damage a dog can inflict on humans. The result has been state and local legislation directed towards the “pit bull” dog in particular and vicious dogs in general. While most governmental bodies realize that it is the owner rather than the dog that should ultimately be responsible, the effect on dogs and their training (to include show, obedience, schutzhund, etc.) could be seriously affected.
Some laws have required not only exorbitantly high liability insurance on anyone owning certain breeds which have been deemed as being vicious, but a dog which has been trained to bite people or is considered vicious must be kept behind doubly fenced enclosure and when out of the enclosure, must be leashed and muzzled. This would obviously eliminate schutzhund training and trials. While supporters of the sport insist that a well trained dog is actually more reliable, it would be hard to convince a layman that the courage test is anything less than an attack on a fleeing person. This same situation is seen where a child is trying to flee from an attack by a dog.
In some areas it has been suggested that a requirement for owning a vicious dog or in some case any dog be a certificate of successful completion of an obedience class. All instructors are aware that once an owner leaves class, it is up to that owner to use what he has learned. The instructor can no longer control the situation.
While this requirement might improve enrollment, the demand could well exceed class availability. The result could be unqualified individuals starting classes to meet the demand. Also what would be considered “successful completion” and what about the owner who needs a certificate to keep his dog and has not done well enough in class to earn a certificate? Local officials should be made aware of these problems when considering legislation and the pressures, which might be brought to bear on instructors.
From other areas has come the suggestion that if there is any question of whether or not a dog is vicious, a “professional” dog trainer evaluates the dog. What would be the definition of a vicious dog, the qualifications of the trainer and how would the dog be evaluated? Across the country, how uniform would this evaluation be?
Organizations and individuals that offer classes are in an interesting position. We should begin educating local officials and the general public about responsible dog ownership, proper ways of training and how to treat dogs in general to prevent the problems. People should be made aware that regardless of how hard we try to prevent the problem, dogs are going to be made aggressive of children teasing through fences, other dogs teasing a dog on a chain, etc. This is not purposeful but still training and training which can be prevented by education.
Vicious dog legislation is needed and is likely to put added responsibilities on
instructors and training programs. In areas where there are a number of
programs, it would be advantageous to cooperate in developing a uniform
approach to the problems that are likely to develop.
©1987 W. Herbert Morrison, III