Legislation Concerning Dangerous Dogs
February 25, 2022
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) supports legislation on dangerous dogs if it is directed at fostering the safety and protection of the general public and domestic animals, is not discriminatory toward a specific breed, and considers the welfare of all animals deemed to be dangerous. The CVMA supports close veterinary team involvement and a community-level approach to dog bite prevention, including responsible breeding, training, handling, socialization, pet selection and pet ownership as well as public education.
- Aggressive behaviour in a dog is not by itself sufficient to indicate that the animal is dangerous.
- The precise definition of the term “dangerous dog” as used in Canadian legislation varies across provinces, territories, and municipalities.
- The CVMA believes that many aggressive dog incidents and resulting bite injuries could be prevented by increasing effort to educate communities on dog bite prevention, responsible ownership, breeding, training, handling, behaviour, and the benefit of socializing dogs at a young age.
- Veterinarians, including veterinary behaviourists certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), are the only professionals licenced to diagnose a medical, physical, or psychological condition that predisposes a dog to aggressive behaviour. A veterinarian therefore should be involved in the evaluation of any dog under consideration for being declared dangerous.
- The CVMA encourages provinces, territories, and municipalities to strive for the application of harmonized terminology and uniform regulations and/or legislation to potentially “dangerous” dogs that incorporate consultation with veterinarians and veterinary evaluation of dogs in support of the health and welfare of the public, and animal welfare.
- Aggression is a normal behaviour expressed by most species of vertebrates and many invertebrates. The behaviour has evolved to support an individual animal’s ability to survive, acquire resources, or reproduce. However, excessive, or inappropriate aggression from an animal towards a human or another domestic animal can endanger individual, public and community health.
- Aggressive behaviour in dogs towards other animals or humans may manifest as biting. Multiple, interrelated factors (1-4) are reported to contribute to the likelihood and severity of reported dog bite incidents. Examples include, but are not limited to:
Human factors such as:
- young children or the elderly are at higher risk of serious injury;
- lack of supervision of both children and dogs;
- an increased risk of a bite from a familiar dog;
- type of interaction (e.g., running or chasing increases the risk of biting behaviour);
- a person’s lack of knowledge of dog behaviour and the ability to read a dog’s body posture;
- maltreatment of a dog by humans;
- owners/handlers who do not have proper control of their animal.
Animal factors such as
- physical health of the dog (e.g., presence of painful conditions);
- temperament (e.g.anxiety is a major cause of biting behaviour);
- size of the dog increases the severity of the bite;
- gender and reproductive status;
- socialization of the dog.
Environmental factors such as
- level of enforcement of dog control;
- geographic location;
- population density;
- level of reporting of dog bites;
- cultural factors (e.g., dogs living as community pets).
- Aggression in dogs that may result in biting is a complex behaviour that can be considered appropriate or inappropriate depending on the situation. Appropriate aggression is a normal behaviour where an animal exhibits aggression that is in context with the degree of pain, danger or threat experienced or perceived by the dog. Dogs that show appropriate aggressive behaviour will typically exhibit a complete behavioural sequence or patterned response to environmental circumstances which includes in the following order (1, 5):
- Initial signals indicating discomfort including but not limited to: stiffening of the body posture, yawning, blinking, nose-licking, turning head away, turning body away, paw-raising, increased amount of sclera visible (“whale eye”);
- More obvious whole-body postures such as tail tuck and/or body tuck, walking away, lying down with leg up, flattened ears;
- Increasingly overt warning signals such as staring, growling, lip lifting, and/or barking;
- Pause to observe the other individual’s response;
- Action including snap with or without biting only if the dog has interpreted the situation/person as dangerous;
- Bite followed by release.
If these warning signals are displayed and the perceived threat is removed, a behaviourally normal dog will choose to end the aggressive sequence after the warning without further action (6).
- Dogs that show inappropriate aggressive behaviour will have an altered behaviour sequence (no warning prior to the bite; no release of the bite; multiple bites in one sequence, warning and bite without a pause between the two events, etc.) (7). Other indications of inappropriate aggressive behaviour include:
- Aggressive behaviour cannot be justified or explained given the circumstances (inappropriate for the context, for example, not related to actual threat, need for self-defence, presence of pain or threat to the animal);
- Frequency of aggressive events is excessive for the context;
- Severity of the bite is excessive for the context.
- The precise definition of the term “dangerous” dog as used in Canadian legislation differs across provinces, territories, cities, municipalities and First Nations (8-13). Elements that are frequently considered in making the determination that such animal is “dangerous” include:
- The animal, without provocation, in a vicious or menacing manner, chased or approached a person or domestic animal in an apparent attitude of attack;
- The animal has a known propensity, tendency or disposition to attack without provocation, to cause injury or to otherwise threaten the safety of persons or domestic animals;
- The animal has without provocation, bitten, inflicted injury, assaulted or otherwise attacked a person or domestic animal.
In some cases, the severity of the bite (or “bite level”) is used in the determination of whether a dog is assessed as “dangerous” (8, 14).
In some jurisdictions separate legislation applies to working dogs such as those used by the police or military.
- Though the size and strength of the dog do influence the severity of potential bites, studies have demonstrated that general characteristics of a dog such as breed make only a small contribution to the development of aggressive behaviour (16, 17).
- Some municipalities have adopted legislation that aims to restrict certain breeds or types of dogs that they consider to be of higher risk of being dangerous. This type of legislation is referred to as “breed-specific” dog legislation. Such legislation, which varies widely by province and by municipality has not been shown to reduce dog bite incidence in the areas in which it is enforced and is therefore not supported by the CVMA (1,8,14,15).
- The CVMA believes that many aggressive incidents involving dogs and resulting bite injuries could be prevented by increasing effort to educate communities on dog bite prevention, responsible ownership, breeding, training, handling (e.g., proper leash control, appropriate confinement) and the benefit of socializing dogs at a young age (2, 18).
- Aggression in dogs resulting from behavioural, medical, or physical conditions may be amenable to treatment. Veterinarians, including veterinary behaviourists certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), are the only professionals licenced to diagnose a medical, physical, or psychological condition that predisposes a dog to aggressive behaviour. In addition, veterinarians are the only professionals licensed to prescribe the prescription drugs often required as a component for possible successful treatment of aggressive animals. A veterinarian therefore should be involved in the evaluation of any dog under consideration for being declared dangerous and should be involved in identifying and defining appropriate options for further assessment and/or treatment.
- Shelters where a “dangerous dog” might be ordered confined pending an assessment and legal decision should be appropriately resourced and staff should be properly trained to ensure that they remain safe and that animal welfare standards applicable to the subject dog are maintained. A veterinary evaluation of the animal may be required depending on conditions and length of time a dog is expected to be confined since fear and anxiety over extended periods of time can exacerbate aggressive behaviour.
- The CVMA encourages province, territories, and municipalities to strive for uniform regulation/legislation that considers both the health and welfare of the public as well as the dog designated as dangerous, including the possibility of rehabilitation of the individual dog. Decisions on dogs ordered confined should be made without delay to mitigate risks outlined above.
- The CVMA encourages veterinary schools to provide appropriate behavioural training to their students given the importance of dog bites as a public health issue.
- Veterinarians should familiarize themselves with their provincial and/or municipal regulations regarding dangerous dogs, avail themselves to continuing education regarding assessment and treatment of aggressive dogs and offer their knowledge and expertise, as appropriate, in the interest of public safety and animal welfare.?
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Literature Review on the Welfare Implications of the Role of Breed in Dog Bite Risk and Prevention (2014). Available from: https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/LiteratureReviews/Documents/dog_bite_risk_and_prevention_bgnd.pdf . Last accessed August 2021.
- AVMA. Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions: A community approach to dog bite prevention. JAVMA, 2001: 218(11):1732-49. Available from: 0601caninetaskforcealternative.PDF (avma.org) . Last accessed August 2021.
- Caffrey, N. Rock, M. et al. Insights about the Epidemiology of Dog Bites in a Canadian City Using a Dog Aggression Scale and Administrative Data. Animals (Basel) 2019,9(6):324. Available from: Insights about the Epidemiology of Dog Bites in a Canadian City Using a Dog Aggression Scale and Administrative Data (nih.gov) . Last accessed August 2021.
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- Province of Quebec. Bill 128, An Act to promote the protection of persons by establishing a framework with regard to dogs. Available from: http://www.assnat.qc.ca/en/travaux-parlementaires/projets-loi/projet-loi-128-41-1.html?appelant=MC. Last accessed August 2021.
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