New research suggests that Ireland’s approach to targeting dog breeds to protect the public not only has no scientific basis, but could also be making things much worse.
The work was conducted by Nanci Creedon from Creedons College and Dr. Páraic Ó Súilleabháin from the School of Psychology at the National University of Ireland, Galway and published in the Irish Veterinary Journal.
They examined differences in dog bites from legislated and non-legislated dog breeds of similar size in Ireland.
The researchers did not find any differences between legislated and non-legislated dog breeds for the type of bite inflicted, and the medical treatment required after the bite.
The researchers highlighted that when considering existing research showing no differences in aggression between legislated and non-legislated dog breeds, no apparent basis exists which would justify targeting specific dog breeds as being more dangerous than others.
"This gives weight to calls to re-assess the use of breed-specific legislation. This suggests that more appropriate dog-bite prevention be put in place which focuses on education, owner responsibility, and fair assessment of reported dogs," said Nanci Creedon.
"While gathering information for this study it became evident that data from dog bite incidents is not being collected. This uncollected data could provide invaluable information to gain insight on how to prevent future bites. I would encourage the government to review the absence of appropriate investigation post-bite incident."
The researchers also investigated if the introduction of breed-specific legislation may have other consequences. The study found that dog breeds not legislated for were more likely than legislated breeds to bite with the owner present on own property, and on a business property. The study also found that dog-bite victims were more likely to report legislated dog breeds as angrier and less afraid when biting compared to bites from non-legislated dog breeds.
Researchers concluded that this is consistent with the prediction that people perceive a greater threat to legislated breeds and a correspondingly lesser risk related to non-legislated dog breeds.
In other words, people may think non-legislated breeds are safer, more docile and tolerant than legislated breeds due to their non-legislated status.
The authors found that this was supported when investigating the reporting of dog bites to authorities. They found that non-legislated dog breeds were significantly less likely to be reported to any authorities both before, and after the bite occurred. The authors suggested aside from having a very serious effect of not identifying biting dogs, this may also be reinforcing the perceptions some authorities have in relation to legislated dog breeds.
"This work provides good scientific evidence to explain why the use of breed-specific legislation to protect the public from dangerous dogs may in fact be making things much worse," said Dr. Páraic Ó Súilleabháin.
"The increased stereotype of risk to one group of breeds, and the lack of perceived risk associated with other breeds appear to be two sides to the same counterproductive coin, and neither identify a potentially dangerous dog.
"This research raises very serious concerns regarding the distinct bias in the reporting of dog bites from non-legislated breeds."