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NZVA hopes for change to Dog Control Act 1996

NZVA hopes for change to Dog Control Act 1996

The New Zealand Veterinary Association applauds the decision by the Christchurch City Council to reverse their statement calling for menacing dogs to be muzzled inside their properties.

The council has since clarified with owners that dogs classified as menacing do not need to be muzzled when they are inside their owner’s house or contained securely within their owner’s property.

This issue is not just a regional one though, and it won’t be solved by a reversal of the Christchurch City Council order.

The NZVA sees much room for improvement in New Zealand’s approach to managing dangerous dogs. Under the Dog Control Act, passed in 1996, any dog belonging to a breed or type listed in Schedule 4, must be classified as menacing and subject to restrictions, taking no account of their temperament or history of good behaviour.

New Zealand Veterinary Association companion animal manager Rochelle Ferguson has spoken on behalf of the association on this issue.

"It is flawed logic to use breed as the only criteria for judging dogs as dangerous. Dog control laws that use breed as a basis for identifying a risky dog also waste precious resources. Additionally, these laws fail to capture potentially dangerous dogs of other breeds.

"There are a number of reasons behind dog aggression problems. The breed of dog is not the most important determining factor of aggressive behaviour. Instead it is the owner’s attitudes, experience and reasons for owning a dog. Other factors include early rearing experiences, later socialisation and training, the dog’s physical health and the situation surrounding the attack.

"To focus solely on breed is a gross oversimplification of a complex issue.
The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) has set out a comprehensive evidence-based position outlining suggested measures to address this problem. Among these is a recommendation to review the classification system for aggressive dogs contained in the Dog Control Act.

A tiered classification system, based on dangerous behaviour, not breed is suggested. This allows the targeting of strict measures and education where it will be most effective. Creating a new "potentially dangerous" classification would also allow for early identification of risky dogs and contain a rehabilitation pathway for "low-level" offenders. It would require these owners and dogs undertake training to reduce the risks they pose to the community.

To support resources being effectively deployed, a reviewed classification should also allow for the context of an attack to be considered. Currently, a dog classified as dangerous because it rushed up and barked at a stranger who entered its property, is subject to the same restrictions that apply to a dog involved in an unprovoked attack that caused severe injury. Strong enforcement of dog control laws that aren’t fair or reasonable does not assist us in making New Zealand society safer from dog aggression.

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