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Responsible dog ownership vital

Veterinarians call for education to promote responsible dog ownership

3 August 2015

The steady rise in dog bite injuries in New Zealand continues to reflect the need for societal change around the way we choose to own and care for dogs said the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) today, responding to a study based on ACC data that shows that the number of dog attacks in New Zealand has increased each year in the last 10 years.

The study The Burden of Dogbite Injuries in New Zealand: 2004-2014, undertaken by the Association of Plastic Surgeons, shows that 10 people a week are admitted to hospital with serious injuries from dog attacks and that children account for a third of these admissions.

“The number of injuries inflicted through dog bites continues to be extremely concerning for the veterinary profession,” said NZVA Companion Animal Society President Dr Brendon Bullen.

“To turn these figures around we need to accept increased responsibility as a nation about how we own and care for dogs and a much stronger focus on prevention by educating people on the responsibilities of dog ownership and what this entails, as well as raising awareness about how to interact with dogs safely.”

Dr Bullen said that the New Zealand dog owning community must be vigilant to ensure they are responsible owners and focussed on ensuring that their dog is not a threat to members of the public, their own families or other animals.

“While most dog owners understand this and are responsible, the high number of dog attacks unfortunately shows that many are not fulfilling their obligations.”

“The message that we must continue to stress is the need for dog owners to begin training and socialising their dogs at an early age, when they are most receptive to learning. Most aggressive behaviour in dogs is because they feel anxious and afraid so training should focus on reducing their fear and anxiety, so that dogs don’t feel they have to lash out. The most effective training involves rewarding positive behaviour and not using techniques that involve dominance and punishment which can be counterproductive, increasing the dog’s anxiety and aggression.”

Dr Bullen said dog owners can prevent aggressive behaviour by ensuring their dogs receive daily exercise and interaction, are stimulated, and not confined indoors all day. Owners should also consider the choice of dog they make and that its needs are well suited to their lifestyle and the environment they will be living in.

Veterinarians and veterinary nurses are an excellent source of advice and counselling for prospective pet owners and are willing to assist in the decision making process.

He urged people thinking about dog ownership to consider the responsibility which included a significant time commitment.
“As a veterinarian I see first hand the bond people and families have with their dog and how rewarding it can be. However, I would always advise someone to think it through very carefully and to consider whether they can fulfil their responsibilities and make the commitment needed for both the dog’s welfare and keeping our communities safe.”

He said the NZVA has also long advocated for more education and public awareness on how to stay safe around dogs, with people needing to better understand how to approach and interact with dogs.
“We would certainly support a more collaborative, visible and high profile effort to educate the public.”

Dr Bullen said the NZVA supports current legislation through the Dog Control Act and says the courts are imposing tougher and more consistent penalties on dog owners whose dogs attack.

He said education remains the best form of prevention and the NZVA was pleased to hear Prime Minister John Key on this morning’s Breakfast programme commenting that the real problem is lack of responsible dog ownership.
Dr Bullen said veterinarians will continue to promote responsible dog ownership to their clients and wider community.

“We can’t accept the status quo. This is a community issue and we need to work together, with national and local government, to better protect people in our communities, especially children. It will take a joint and sustained effort to see results.”


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