Role of breed in dog attacks disputed

The New Zealand public and media place too much emphasis on a dog's breed when an attack occurs, a pit bull advocate says.

American Pit Bull Terrier Association spokeswoman Karen Batchelor wants to see more emphasis on the ownership and cause of an attack, rather than the dog itself.

Mrs Batchelor said people and the media had failed to recognise factors triggering a dog in the lead up to a vicious attack.

She said the breed of a dog was unrelated to an attack as ''dog behaviour is dog behaviour''.

However, Tauranga City councillor and former president of the New Zealand Institute of Animal Control Officers John Payne said the breed of a dog was a large part of an attack.

Mr Payne conducted research on dog attacks nationally since 2007 and had analysed more than 2000 cases and said some breeds of dogs had a higher ''prey drive'' than others, which meant they were more likely to bite.

Out of the top 15 worst offenders in New Zealand, eight were of bull breed and, without using a ratio calculation, the American pit bull terrier was involved in the most incidents nationally.

''The trend is definitely that bull breeds and guarding, fighting and hunting breeds all feature most in territorial attacks.''

While Mrs Batchelor said pit bulls were not a common offender, Labradors were ''the worst biters,'' and ''they're up there''. She noted ''any dog attack is serious.''

Mrs Batchelor's comments came in response to reports this week on the vicious attack on an 8-year-old Christchurch boy by two pet Rottweilers.

The boy would require plastic surgery on his head, face and legs after being tossed into air at Linfield Park on Saturday.

The dogs had been impounded by Christchurch City Council animal control officers and were put down. Mrs Batchelor said the answer was not to punish the animals or react after a dog attack, but to educate the general public through advertising.

She ''guaranteed'' all dog attacks stemmed from the ''critical socialisation period'', that is the dog's upbringing.

''One hundred percent of the time you can track it back to the two-legged being at the end of the leash.''

She did not believe the dog's breed was relevant to any dog attack case and it was the ''sociopaths'' who were buying the dogs that were too often doing a poor job training them.

Mr Payne attributed dog attacks to the dog's environment (80%), its breed (10%) and the dog's personality (10%).

''In addition to this, fighting, guarding and hunting breeds have greater physical capabilities - powerful dogs inflict greater injuries.''

Even if one of these vicious dog breeds was brought up in a stable and balanced environment, it was still of high risk because of its potential, personality and physical capabilities, he said.

''Is it worth the risk? How many times have we heard people say: 'The attack was unprovoked and completely out of character'?

"This, in itself, should tell you that previous unblemished behaviour should not put the owner at ease, especially dogs with high aggression potential, dominant personality and physical capability.''

Mr Payne said the answer to dog attacks was fixing the relationships where the dog was given equal rights in a household and treated like a ''little human''.

''This contradicts nature and creates a frustrated animal. It creates a hierarchical relationship between dogs and humans which should not exist.

''Dogs challenge for position, which is perfectly natural in a hierarchical relationship, and bite members of the family.''

Mr Payne agreed with Mrs Batchelor's thoughts that aggressive dog breeds were often attractive to owners who did not provide stable or balanced environments and that situation made for a ''deadly combination''.

His study concluded desexed dogs were less likely to attack and unregistered dogs more likely to bite.

His research was conducted through issuing a survey throughout New Zealand's local city councils requesting data and details of dog attacks. It analysed over 1700 dog attacks.

Dog attack victims were likely to be adult males with injuries generally to the arms and legs. Face and head bites were mostly on children.


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