Responsible owners will bear brunt of new dog law, claims veteran trainer

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THE Borders’ best-known dog training expert has slated new dog control legislation which came into force this week as unworkable.

Trudy Davison, who runs the Dryburgh Abbey Dog Training Group, has been working with dogs for 34 years and is a veteran of the world’s greatest dog show, Crufts.

This week she came out in force against much of the new legislation, which has been piloted through the Scottish Parliament by South of Scotland nationalist MSP Christine Grahame in an attempt to promote responsible dog ownership.

Meeting with local dog owners in Galashiels on Monday to mark the introduction of the Control of Dogs Act, Ms Grahame blamed a lack of responsible dog ownership for recent attacks up and down the country.

“A very small minority of people are using dogs as weapons, breeding and training them to be aggressive. Until now, there was no legislation to protect people or other animals from them,” said Ms Grahame.

“I have consulted extensively with a range of animal welfare organisations, dog experts and indeed dog owners, and the vast majority believed that the measures passed by the Scottish Parliament will strike the right balance between improving public safety and targeting only the irresponsible minority.

“I know from discussions with dog owners in the Borders that the measures are welcome and the feedback locally has been very positive.”

The act aims to judge dogs on their behaviour, not breed, and gives powers to impose penalties on irresponsible owners.

Owners who fail to comply with the dog control notices could be forced to keep their pet on a lead at all times, have it muzzled, neutered, attend special training courses, face a fine of up to £1,000 or even see the dog destroyed.

The 2010 Act also amends the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 so that a dog owner can be held criminally responsible where a dog is found to be dangerously out of control in any place rather than just public or private places where a dog is not permitted to be.

However, Mrs Davison says that while she welcomes parts of the new legislation – such as that to punish the deed and not the breed – she says the laws are tarring all dog owners with the same brush.

“This will impact on responsible owners more than the irresponsible ones. This week, my daughter – who works at the Borders Animal Welfare Association shelter – said she had an elderly lady from the Ancrum area in a terrible state because her five-month-old Border Terrier-cross puppy is mouthing people, and she was worried that it would get one of these dog ASBOs (anti-social behaviour order) and she would have to give the dog up for rehoming.

“I do think people have to be responsible for their dogs and for the most part, most dog owners are. But there will always be the small minority who will just open their doors and let their dogs roam or acquire unsuitable dogs or get dogs and not train or socialise them properly.

“I am pleased they have recognised that specific breeds should not be blamed, but I find it appalling that you could have a situation where a dog in its own garden or home, doing what comes naturally to any dog, could be in trouble because it was guarding its territory or family from someone trespassing or breaking into that property.

“You could have the ridiculous situation where people are frightened to even let their dog run free in their own garden and end up just keeping them on the leash for fear of someone complaining that the dog appeared to be out of control and dangerous.

“What kind of life would that be for any dog?

“I think this legislation will cause a lot of concern for people, especially more elderly dog owners – many of whom have dogs for the sense of protection it gives them.

“Much of this new legislation is unworkable and does not target the real cause of the problem. You have to deal with problems at their source and in this case that is the breeders.

“Target unscrupulous breeders and you would reduce the number of dogs roaming free and the number of dogs in the wrong hands.

“I agree dog owners have to ensure their dogs are properly trained and under control when in public places, but on their own property it is a different kettle of fish altogether.

“People tend to know when the washing machine repair man or a tradesman is coming and get their dogs out of the way, but no owner can watch their dogs all the time when they are in their own gardens.

“This new law will impact on responsible owners more than bad ones, simply because the bad ones couldn’t care less.”