Tuesday, 12 September 2023

Knee-jerk reactions to dog attacks are too simplistic


Responding to the latest attack by a bully XL dog, Suella Braverman has suggested that the breed should be banned (even if no-one can fully define it, or say whether it might actually already be banned under existing, necessarily vague, breed definitions). Her reasoning is that the breed poses a “clear and lethal danger to our communities”. She may, yet again, be guilty of not thinking through the full implications of her words. If we are going to ban anything which represents a ‘clear and lethal danger to our communities’, we might usefully start by banning Bravermans, on the basis that one member of that breed has done a huge amount of damage to communities and is intent on doing more.

The comparison does, however, highlight the danger in jumping from a single malicious individual to an entire breed. Should all Bravermans really be tarred with the same brush on the basis of the actions of one of their number? Many of the experts tell us that the problem, in the case of dogs at least, isn’t with particular dogs, or even with particular breeds; it’s a problem of nurture, which starts with the owners and their dog-keeping skills, or lack thereof. On that basis, maybe it’s Sunaks which need to be banned, although that does, of course, raise the same problem as to whether all Sunaks should be banned purely on the basis of the wholly inadequate Braverman-keeping skills of one of their number.

Perhaps the real problem here – with dogs and Bravermans alike – is the tendency of some politicians to rush to promise sweeping and over-simplistic legislation in response to any and every incident, without the necessary analysis to determine where the real problem actually lies. The degree to which keeping a dog – any dog – is an entirely ‘safe’ activity is a question that politicians are afraid to ask, because so many of their constituents are dog-lovers. But there is always a finite (even if generally small) level of risk. (Full disclosure: My own aversion to the species started when I had a paper-round as a teenager, and had to fend off the occasional canine, all of whose owners assured me that the dog in question was harmless just as it was attempting to nip the back of my leg.) It seems, however, that an expectation of analysis and rational thinking before pronouncing sentence (literally, in this case, because a ban would lead to the judicial killing of an unknown number of dogs, most of which never harmed anyone) is unrealistic. They’d sooner just resort to the customary dog whistle.


dafis said...

You skirt around the real problem - Owners ! Due to some often undisclosed character defect there are owners who coach their pets to become hyper-aggressive. This is seen by such deviants as an additional credit to their own macho tough guy image. The remedy in such cases is simple - take the dog away and put it down if it can't be reformed. Ban the owner from any future ownership of pets/animals and fine them or make them undertake community service tackling nasty cleaning up jobs.

John Dixon said...

I don't disagree that owners are a significant part of the problem, but reducing everything to a question of the behaviour of owners looks as over-simplistic to me as reducing it to a question of specific breeds of dog. Owners, like dogs, come in a huge variety of guises, and there are dangers in assuming that owners of dogs 'like this' are people who are 'like that'. Stereotyping can lead to simple 'solutions', but they may not actually 'solve' the problem at all.