In my column ‘Crossing the headlines’ in this week’s Dog World (14th June 2013), I explore the benefits of puppy socialisation and ringcraft classes and how they could tackle the issue of dangerous dogs.

Sadly, once again, we see the all-too-familiar headlines featuring another death caused by an ‘out of control’ dog.
Pensioner Clifford Clarke, 79, was attacked and mauled in his own garden in Clubmoor, Liverpool, last month and this story bears all the familiar hallmarks of the other tragic deaths; the dog involved had been of concern to its neighbourhood – a large city council estate surrounded by similar developments, suffering all the usual deprivations and social and economic problems synonymous with such areas.
Throughout Britain in general, we are seeing just far too many of the wrong dogs in the wrong hands and while this Government wastes valuable time and resources ‘looking into pedigree dog breeding’ and not attacking the real nub of the dog problem, pointless deaths will continue.


We often hear that ‘education’ is the only way to solve this problem, however, I disagree. I think we have to put all the ‘PC’ sentiment to one side and fully tackle this problem head on before draconian measures are taken against dog ownership that will affect us all.
We have to realise that there is a hard core of people in this country that ‘education’ just won’t touch. They spend their lives rebelling against the system and making the lives of their law-abiding neighbours a complete misery and, sadly, dogs seem to be an integral part of this community. One only has to watch an episode of Channel 4’s Skint (yet another documentary featuring the largely unemployed inhabitants of a housing estate – this time in Scunthorpe) to witness the prevalence of unruly Staffie and Mastiff-type crosses that frequently run amok. Without collars or leads (all required by law) they run free among screaming kids – a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
There is no excuse; we all know that dogs shouldn’t be running free in the streets and we all know that a dog should wear a collar and be on a lead. However, these irresponsible owners simply don’t care. They know there is no-one around to enforce the rather toothless laws and this is just another way of sticking two fingers up at society. No amount of ‘education’ will change things in these cases.
I am aware of the arguments on breed specific legislation and those who are against banning breeds but I really do feel that our increasingly crowded housing estates are not the right places for large dogs and strict rules should be in place prohibiting the keeping of such dogs (and limiting the numbers of all dogs kept) in social housing.
However, to do this we need properly trained dog wardens enforcing these laws and promoting responsible ownership. It’s simply not good enough to keep cutting this valuable service back to the bone and asking other untrained community agencies to take on the work of the dog warden simply to save money for, as we keep seeing, lives are at risk.
Over the bank holiday I attended an open show (as I’m now tentatively making my first forays into the show world) and I watched in open-mouthed amazement as a toddler climbed out of her pushchair and, under the gaze of her parent, wandered off down the line of dogs being judged, every now and then stopping to jab a chubby finger into a dog’s face or attempt to cuddle it. Her mother continued to watch unfazed as her child wobbled towards a towering Deerhound and grabbed a handful of its hair. The dog reacted by gently delivering a very wet lick to the crown of the little girl’s head.
She was fortunate to have encountered such well-mannered dogs but this is the kind of stupidity our dogs must increasingly face as a growing number of parents seem to be completely devoid of common sense. The fact that these dogs reacted with loving licks and wagging tails was testament to their owners and the training they’d received through their canine clubs’ well-run socialisation, obedience and ringcraft classes.
Watching their responses made me think; as ‘experts’ scratch their heads and ponder on how to tackle the scourge of ‘dangerous dogs’, do we (those in the show world) actually already hold the key to solving the problem?

Show dog temperament

Every year there are over 600 shows up and down the country (and that doesn’t include companion shows) and reports of people – especially children – being bitten are miniscule. We only have to look at Crufts where 25,000 dogs entered over the four days. That, combined with almost 150,000 members of the public milling about, the hot halls, children running around and loud tannoy announcements resulted in (as it does most years) a successful weekend with barely a hitch.
We had ring after ring of Akitas, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, Rottweilers and Bullmastiffs (the media’s usual suspects, some would say) but they stood cheek by jowl with hardly a cross word between them, no curled lips or snarling and, it has to be remembered, these are ‘entire males’ we’re showing.
How can our ‘community’ achieve this yet others fail so miserably? I’d say it all goes back to proper socialisation. Those puppy socialisation classes certainly pay off handsomely with a well-rounded, confident dog who’s unfazed by what the show ring throws it and is equally unfazed by a stray toddler with wandering hands! I believe that such classes should be made compulsory for everyone with a new puppy. As usual, some people will mutter, “But how would you enforce such a law?”
Well, maybe we could put microchips to a beneficial use. Now, as many of you know, I have my misgivings about microchipping dogs but, the law has been signed, sealed and almost delivered so we may as well put it to use. Maybe every canine society and dog club that runs puppy classes could get a free scanner? Looking online, these can even be bought from a major online retailer from just £60. Every pup could be scanned to prove its attendance and setting up a register shouldn’t be too difficult, as DEFRA are convinced a database of dogs is easily achievable and maintainable. Then, through such classes, we would be ‘educating’ owner and dog before any misdemeanours had occurred and such requirements imposed upon the new dog owner could well deter the reckless from dog ownership in the first place.
The dog showing community needs to shout a little bit louder of its achievements. To see these often-blamed breeds standing obediently side-by-side in the ring is a true spectacle. We need to demonstrate to the general public the absolute joy of owning a well-socialised and happy dog and how we go about achieving it.
Who knows, if it became a requirement to attend puppy classes (aside from the benefits it would bring to the public) it could also inject a much-needed boost to our declining ranks and put our sport back up where it truly belongs.


Read more news and opinion on Dog World’s website: