OPINION: Dogs are owner responsibility, no breed is inherently dangerous

by | Sep 29, 2016 | City News, News, Opinion

Jesse Bonello


Dogs deemed dangerous have been an increasing problem in Toronto, and the city is biting back.
The Licensing and Standards Committee is urging city staff to update bylaws that deal with what it terms “dangerous dogs.” The proposed changes, which are still in need of approval, will require owners to muzzle, microchip and confirm that their dog is in fact wearing a tag that classifies it this way. Proof of training for such dogs, and their owners, will also be required.
The definition of ‘dangerous’, which will not be breed specific, has not yet been determined.
The upshot is that owners will need to be held accountable for their dogs, which is long overdue. Why is it that when a child’s behavior is bad, people look at the parents, but when a dog is disobedient, people often look at the breed? From Doberman Pinschers through Rottweilers and pit bulls, breeds perceived as intimidating have frequently been chosen by people who cultivate viciousness, sometimes in service of their own criminality. But whether it’s an inadequately socialized cocker spaniel living with a family in the suburbs or an Italian mastiff accompanying a drug dealer, the principle of owner accountability should be paramount.
In 2005, Ontario passed a law banning pit bulls, and pit bull type breeds, from the province. According to a Global News report, the number of legal pit bulls in Toronto has declined dramatically from 1,411 in 2005 down to 338 in 2015, but the number of dog bites has never been so high in the city.
The report shows that there were 767 total dog bites in 2014, with just 19 coming from legal pit bulls. The four breeds with the most bites are German shepherds, 92 bites; Labrador retrievers, 42 bites; Jack Russell terriers, 25 bites and Rottweilers with 25 bites. German shepherds and Labrador retrievers are the most popular dog breeds, so their biting numbers are going to be higher, but they’re also among the friendliest and smartest breeds.
In fact, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and Rottweilers are in the top 10 for smartest dogs. According to Stanley Coren, professor of canine psychology at the University of British Columbia, those breeds will obey their owners’ first command 95 per cent of time, or better. He also writes that it takes less than five repetitions for these breeds to understand a new command. They’re intelligent dogs, but they don’t train themselves.
Along with training, dogs need compatible owners. According to DogTime.com, German shepherds and Rottweilers are bad breeds for novice owners. Owners need to be more aware of what they’re committing to when they choose a certain breed.
Popular dog behavior expert Cesar Millan writes, “The most important part of the equation is not the dog’s breed or the dog’s past. It’s the human involved.”
Aside from the Jack Russell, the top biters are larger dogs, which can lead to a more serious outcome, but little dogs can also do damage.
“People have been killed by beagles, dachshunds, and even Pomeranians,” said Milan.
According to Milan, some breeds do have specific instincts, but by redirecting the instincts in other ways, like agility training, the dogs’ need is fulfilled without turning into aggression.
Toronto is putting the onus on the owner to know how to properly handle and train their dog, and that’s the way it should be. A dog’s fate is in their owners’ hands.