NUI Galway psychologist Páraic Ó Súilleabháin is a published author in the area of human-animal interaction (anthrozoology).
He has involved in the debate today.
Our colleagues at BreakingNews.ie put a set of questions to Ó Súilleabháin today as follows:
How did you become interested in anthrozoology?
My primary area is human psychology, but I have always had an interest in the interaction between humans and animals. The field of psychology is a great starting point in becoming interested in anthrozoology.
Why did the question of why dogs bite interest you in particular?
I was very interested in dog bite research, as it’s an area that is very important and can have a huge impact on an individual.
It is also something that can be easily avoided and reduced. It is a very sensitive and emotive topic that needs to be discussed responsibly.
You described Alan Tobin’s post as "outrageous and damaging". Why do you feel like that?
I felt his comment specifically, ’It still amazes me that some people think these dogs are ideal family pets’ was outrageous given the numbers of owners that consider these breeds and mixes family members. Indeed, these breeds are used in disability assistance and therapy roles around the world.
Regarding why I felt it is damaging, it is well known in the scientific research that stereotyping a breed of dog can have a hugely negative impact on everything from public safety to their welfare. It creates a false sense of security around non-restricted breeds that they are of a lesser risk. In reality there is no difference in aggression and risk for biting between dog breeds.
Are the measures currently in place for the breeds listed too restrictive?
The measures should not be placed on breeds at all. The available international research recommends placing restrictions on irresponsible owners based on the exhibited behaviour of the dog.
As an example, if a dog is charging up to people without being under control from the owner, restrictions need to be placed on them. When that is achieved the current restrictions would not be restrictive enough.
Other countries employ an education element whereby individuals who allow their dogs to run up to people etc would have to attend training classes etc.
Do you think there is at least some merit to Tobin’s post? It has at least got the public at large talking about the issue.
There is merit in promoting information regarding being a responsible dog owner which is required, although I feel he is focusing on the wrong thing. I do commend him for his work in promoting responsible ownership and can provide him with research documentation if he wishes.
How does Ireland compare to other countries on this issue?
For the last 20 years countries have been getting rid of breed specific restriction in favour of what I have mentioned above. We are behind international best practice on this.
If you require more information on what Mr Ó Súilleabháin has said, you can contact him on his Twitter account here or on his Facebook page here.
* Councillor Tobin has been contacted on the issue.