The Netherlands announced a new law coming in effect next year regarding mandatory schooling for the owners of ‘dangerous’ dog breeds.
Dutch Secretary Martijn van Dam, of Economic Affairs, has given the green light for a required course for dog owners. This relates to the owners of an established list of varieties that are characterized as a risk.
The immediate cause is an increase in the number of bite incidents, but the trend of selective regulation in dogs is an ongoing process. The 1990s already saw tightened rules for the Pit-bull breed in the Netherlands, after several incidents in which children were bitten. These rules were later abandoned, but in the first half of the following decade, there was a similar discussion about Rottweilers.
The debate usually has a recognizable pattern. Incidents occur with certain breeds and citizens and politicians suggest regulations for this type of dog. They encounter retort from dog lovers and breeders’ associations indicating that the problem is with the owner of the animal. This will make the proposed measures to be cancelled or weakened, but the incidents persist and often with the same “notorious” breeds.
The cause is an ironic coincidence. Shelters and animal rescue organizations often adopt the same type of dogs involved in biting incidents but point to a cause other than the race itself. No dog is born aggressive, but can be trained badly by its boss or even deliberately made dangerous. This can practically be done with any dog. Also varieties with a “good” reputation like Labradors or saint Bernards can be made vicious by their owners. But the sad trend is that dogs with a bad reputation are most popular with owners with bad intentions. This reinforces their undeserved bad reputation retroactively. Pit-bulls and Rottweilers for example, often get purchased by unpleasant folks because of their rep and then get trained to live up to that.
This is reflected in the content of the proposal of the Secretary. Besides the compulsory course there is a proposal for a hotline and a registration system where serious cases of aggression by dogs and their owners can be reported. Dogs that attack people are now immediately put down, unless there are extenuating circumstances. These circumstances are mostly situations in which a dog is deliberately incited or even commanded to attack a person. The Department also works to harsher punishments for the perpetrators of such behaviour.
This will expose the underlying structure of the problem. Namely the (illegal) trade in dogs. Because of the demand for “aggressive breeds” there is a profitable market for the breeding and sale of certain breeds. These are often mistreated by the breeder, neglected and made aggressive. In these cases, the well-being of the animal are set aside in favour of profit. The dog is being demoted to an accessory, serving as a weapon or status symbol.
The plans of Van Dam also cover a mandatory European dog passport and a white list of breeders so that consumers can make better choice when purchasing their pet. These plans get less media attention than the required course, but they are actually better measures than projecting the problem on certain breeds. We have seen in the past that focusing on dog varieties with a negative image has very little effect. It encounters much resistance and it also wrongly labels other breeds as entirely immune for behavioural problems. Quantitatively speaking, most incidents occur with Golden Retrievers for example. Because many people, convinced of their good nature, approach them without any hesitation.
A structural solution is to take control of the market and create a solution in which dogs and other animals are bred and sold by knowledgeable people with an affinity for animals. The legal trade in pure-bred dogs is currently characterized by elitism and profit. Illegal breeders are responding by ignoring regulations and intensify their heartless ‘production process’ (to breed as many puppies without taking into consideration the welfare of the dog). Just as in other sectors of the capitalist economy; here too is a case of forced overproduction.
In addition to the whitelisting of ethical breeders; it is desirable that we take measures against high prices and elitist rules regarding pedigrees and purity restrictions. Shelters and animal rescue centres should be nationalized so that they can house animals with adequate resources, provide care and re-home them. Affordable, healthy and well-trained dogs discourage buying a pet in the illegal circuit. Nationalized animal centres are able to spend appropriate time on education and they can properly serve consumers who want a dog. With this, we can in the long term create a more widespread ideal of keeping pets out of affection for the animal, rather than fashionable reasons.
We also must focus on the dismantling of illegal farms and criminalizing the breeding, abuse and deliberately training of malicious dogs. It is desirable that, as in the United States, this is a specialized part of law enforcement. In collaboration with nationalized animal centres, law enforcement experts can oversee compliance with the legislation on animal welfare.