Owners to be targeted in bid to control vicious dogs

Experts say viciousness has more to do with the way a dog is reared than its breed Keystone

Experts have been discussing legislation aimed at counteracting the dangers posed by vicious dogs. The issue has been rekindled by a series of attacks in Germany and France in recent months.

This content was published on August 31, 2000 - 12:57

The meeting of Veterinary scientists, animal protection experts and politicians will present recommendations on the handling and treatment of vicious dogs to parliament in September.

The main thrust of the proposals will be to target dog owners, rather than the animals themselves. "The problem is actually further up the leash," said one member of parliament, Paul Günter.

Many experts believe the behaviour of vicious dogs has more to do with the way the animals are reared than their nature or temperament. "We think the main problem is the dog owner," said Hans Wyss of the Federal Veterinary Association.

"I think there are breeds where this aggressive potential can be harnessed, but we are sure that prohibiting some breeds is not the right way forward. This is because it is not the dog itself, but the dog owner who forces the animal to become dangerous," Wyss told swissinfo.

The Swiss Society for the Protection of Animals agrees. It wants laws introduced to prevent trained fighting dogs, and those with a history of aggression, from entering the country.

"We are calling for an import ban of all dogs that show aggressive or overly frightening behavioural patterns," said Mark Rissi of the society.

"We are not talking about special breeds - it has nothing to do with the breed but everything to do with the upbringing of the dog. Weak or overly aggressive dogs should not be used for breeding and so they should not be imported," Rissi said.

Heiner Stüder, a member of parliament from Zurich, wants to see a more radical approach. He has initiated a parliamentary motion calling for a complete ban in Switzerland of all fighting breeds such as pit bulls, bull terriers and rottweilers

"They are a real danger not only to children, but also to many people in our society," Stüder said.

Those who favour a more moderate stance, such as Hans Wyss, say a blanket ban is unrealistic because, he says, it would be almost impossible for the authorities to test every canine that crosses the border. Dog experts are also conscious of the problem of smuggling.

Among the regulations being considered by the working group is the electronic tagging of vicious dogs. This proposal, put forward by the Working Group on Aggressive Dogs, envisages inserting a microchip into the animal so incidents of aggressive behaviour could be recorded in a central database.

Another proposal, suggested by Paul Günter, is for aggressive breeds of dog to be included in the law on weapons. "I think there are some aspects of aggressive dogs that are like weapons," Günter said.

"I am therefore proposing an amendment to the law, which states that if you want to have a dog, you must obtain the permission of the authorities."

This would mean applicants would be assessed to check their suitability to own a potentially dangerous dog.

To date, nobody is known to have been killed by a dog in Switzerland, but a recent attack on a young girl in Zurich has increased the pressure for tougher legislation.

Hans Wyss says naming and shaming certain breeds of dogs, as has happened in the Swiss press, is an inappropriate way to deal with the problem. He hopes the meeting will address society's concerns and work out a compromise acceptable to all parties.

by Samantha Tonkin

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