It used to be said that a dog is man’s best friend. In the main, that’s still true. Dogs have long been a source of companionship and considered part of the family.
I’ve seen people with visual impairments depend on and trust their specially-trained animals. The dogs lead their humans with confidence and care. They remain calm but cautious in various challenging situations. It’s remarkable to see. A massive amount of serious training goes into that.
The same is true of police dogs in a very different atmosphere. Organisations like Therapets also provide dogs and other animals as “visitors” to people in hospital or care homes, to bring them comfort and happiness. I’ve even seen them brought into offices to spread a little cheer and calmness.
Unfortunately, interactions with dogs are not always so positive.
I remember canvassing during the last election, and there seemed to be a dog living at every third house. We know many pets were bought during the Covid lockdowns, and many use their dogs to encourage themselves to get out and walk for exercise.
But people need to be more responsible when obtaining a dog. Many of them are actually walking dogs which are unsuitable for them and their lifestyles.
I saw an elderly lady pulled to the ground when her large dog just took off. And it’s surprising how many parents push their buggies with a dog lead attached. At least the dog is on a lead, but if it’s a large powerful dog, it could easily drag the buggy if there’s a distraction.
The law says you must have control of your dogs at all times. Yet, I see many people with large dogs, which they could not possibly control, in an awkward situation.
Even in our parks, some dog owners throw a ball for their dog to fetch in areas where there are children playing. That is totally against park rules and, in fact, the law.
I’ve seen a dog bite a child’s face, and it’s not a pretty sight.
We used to have dog wardens who picked up stray dogs, and park attendants who enforced the rules of the park. Sadly, both have been the victims of several years of local authority budget cuts.
Public safety must come first
In 2017, the BBC reported that the number of emergency admissions to Scottish hospitals after a dog attack had risen by 88% between 2005-2006 and 2014-2015. And earlier this year, it was revealed that 23,826 complaints about out-of-control dogs had been made to local councils in Scotland between January 2017 and November 2022. This equates to an average of 335 per month, or more than 10 a day.
The Dangerous Dogs Act brought in in 1991 has not been totally effective. Although dogs must be microchipped, there is little done to check on this.
Four types of dog are specifically banned in Scotland: the pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasiliero. But the recent controversy over the American XL bully type, bred for fighting, has reignited much debate. Public safety must come first, and we need to be concerned about the dangers that may face our children.
It’s important to remember that not all dogs are suitable pets – some are working dogs. The fact there are dogs specifically bred for fighting is not the dog’s fault. It’s a problem we have created.
Quite why some folk feel the need to bring their dogs into town to shop is beyond me. But if they can be controlled and are on a lead, then it causes no problem – though young children are often tempted to run over and pet them.
It is worth remembering that although your dog is friendly to you, because it lives with you and is fed by you, it may not be friendly towards others. I subscribe to the thinking that says it’s not the dog’s fault, but it is, very definitely, the owner’s.
A dog responds to the way it is treated, trained and the lifestyle of its owner. Dogs are not fashion accessories.
Dog owners must take complete responsibility
Our courts need to be much harder on owners when dogs attack. It’s all very well destroying the dog, but often the owner get off the hook with a fine, despite the fact that they can be jailed for the offence.
Having all dogs chipped is sensible, but perhaps owners should also be legally required to undertake suitable training with their dogs, then issued with proof that this has been carried out.
People like to have the freedom to choose. But with that freedom comes responsibility
When buying, owners should have insurance and be assessed in the same way they would if looking to adopt a dog from a rescue centre.
Those who breed, buy and sell dogs, need to be held accountable. They all play a crucial role in a dog’s life.
People like to have the freedom to choose. But with that freedom comes responsibility.
More is required from dog owners, given the large increase in the number of them today. The need for public safety, especially for children, is paramount.
Len Ironside CBE is a former champion wrestler who served as an Aberdeen councillor for 35 years, with four years as council leader