Accurate way to determine how a dog may be dangerous to humans

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Dog attacks have been increasing year on year and more attention is now being paid to the banned breeds list – but officials are warning the public of its inaccuracy. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home is one of the many animal charities and organisations urging lawmakers to review and change the “outdated” breed-specific legislation (BSL).

Under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, four breed types – including pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro – are banned in the UK, with any dog identified as one of these being sentenced to death. Battersea’s canine behaviourist and training manager, Rob Bays, explains there are many faults with this old-fashioned list.

Speaking to the Mirror, Rob said: “The law came into play a long time ago and since we’ve seen 3,000 exempt dogs on the list. Whilst the breed has been previously believed to be the indicator, it doesn’t actually come into it.

“Fundamentally, it’s about responsible pet ownership and educating yourself on the characteristics of your pet. The dog’s environment has a huge impact.”

Battersea is in favour of scrapping the BSL entirely and instead believes it’s important to educate the public on body language signs a dog may act aggressively.

Rob furthers: “It all comes down to people understanding their dogs. If we can educate people and encourage everybody to take that approach, we should be able to reduce the amount of attacks.”

He explains that it is possible to prevent a dog from becoming dangerous in the first place.

“When you’re looking at which breed to get, consider your lifestyle and do your research. You want to make sure your dog will fit in with your life,” Rob says.

A positive upbringing will increase your dog’s chances of feeling confident in new situations.

As well as preventing dogs from becoming dangerous, it is possible to train an aggressive dog to act safely.

“There’s a capacity to put training in place for dogs that have displayed aggressive behaviour,” Rob explains.

“For example, muzzles have a negative connotation but they are a great safety tool.”

If you own a dog that has acted dangerously, first you should seek professional advice and safeguard yourself, other dogs and members of the public.

A private trainer can give you the guidance you need, or a behaviourist at a local animal rescue centre.

What are the signs a dog may act aggressively?

Whilst it is difficult to determine if a dog is going to act dangerously, there are body language signals we can learn to recognise.

“All dogs communicate with us via their body language. Small signals and expressions display how they’re feeling and whether they’re comfortable or uncomfortable,” Rob says.

“Growling is a really good indicator that a dog may need space and you should potentially remove them from the situation.”

Typically, a relaxed dog will have a soft wagging tail, soft eyes and may cock their head if you turn to them.

Dogs who are uncomfortable can show similar behaviour as when they are relaxed, so you must be aware of the context and learn what is normal for your pet.

Sometimes, dogs will roll onto their backs to show they are uncomfortable – not that they would like their stomach rubbed.

If a canine displays distance increasing signals, they are asking us to give them more space and stay away.

They may hide or cower from things that frighten them and increase the distance between you.

You should make sure not to approach them when this happens as it may escalate to more aggressive behaviour.