dog laying down

Euthanasia of Dogs in UK

Are we using Euthanasia to control our dog problems

According to research, around 7,000 dogs are euthanised every year in the UK (and over 10,000 in Ireland).

Sadly, they are discarded like a waste product of our society. There are many reasons why animals are put to sleep or euthanised, including injury, illness, and behaviour.

Unfortunately, there are also a large number of healthy, fit dogs that require new owners but they too may be euthanised. The area I have been drawn to again recently, and want to discuss here, is that of dogs that are deemed ‘aggressive’ and therefore euthanised for behavioural reasons.

I’m curious to learn more about the consultation period with dog behaviour experts, veterinarians and other relevant professionals.

Do human psychologists also need to be involved because of the link between the incidence of attacks by ‘aggressive’ dogs, trained into this behaviour by equally vicious and irresponsible owners?

Are there things that we can all do as individual dog owners as well as the general public?

Canine aggression is the most commonly talked about and publicised behaviour problem in dogs because of its consequences for people. Aggression is a common reason for relinquishment or abandonment of dogs and often results in euthanasia, either directly or because dogs labelled as aggressive are difficult to re-home. This has major adverse public health and animal welfare implications.

With an estimated annual incidence of 740 bites per 100,000 population, dog bites account for around 250,000 minor injury and emergency unit attendances each year in the UK, with a small, but none the less tragic, annual mortality.

Are non-fatal and fatal dog attacks preventable?

Most dangerous dogs incidents reported in the press these days involve a child that is bitten while adults are not present. Unfortunately bulldog-type breeds feature largely in these reports, which is a shame as these dogs can be exceptionally friendly and loyal companions.

The exact nature of these ‘aggressive dog’ incidents is extremely hard to divine. Parents or other adults present at the time of the ‘attack’, providing inadequate supervision over a child and dog, are unlikely to admit this at interview.

In my opinion, a small amount of human education about dogs would most likely reduce the already low risk of fatal dog bite incidents to a number that would hardly be statistically measurable.

Could many of the current incidents be avoided with minimal dog awareness education and use of basic dog training methods?

When all is said, a dog is an animal that is not capable of reasoning like a human. It is therefore up to us to avoid situations in which others could come to harm. Not leaving small children and babies alone with any animal might also be a good starting point.

dog snarling

Unfortunately, many owners lack basic dog awareness and dog training skills. For example, when their dog starts chewing their hands as a pup they remark about how affectionate and ‘cute’ they are and continue to reward/positively feed this behaviour until the behaviour is no longer under control – not cute (Dog’s mouthing like this is totally normal, but it is a trait best trained out as soon as possible, especially in large, muscular dogs).

People often forget that a trait that is cute in a puppy can be a real threat to safety in an adult dog that weighs in at over 100lbs. Also, training any breed to respond with aggression is what has caused a large portion of our current problem with aggressive dogs. The problem here is not dangerous dog breeds, but rather that certain breeds are chosen by owners who want an aggressive dog and reward this behaviour. The dog in its desire to please its owner becomes ever more vicious and then one day that dog has a tragic encounter with a young child.

Early dog socialisation classes, or puppy training classes, would significantly reduce the incidence of dog attacks if more people would take them. Proper dog socialisation means that our canine friends will be less nervous in common situations.

Dogs often attack from fear, rather than because they are ‘aggressive dogs’. Therefore, helping the dog to reduce its stress in new and unusual situations would actually save lives.
Perhaps compulsory dog training and owner education would improve the current situation. Yet it may well be resisted by the majority of responsible owners who would view it as a dog tax.
The questions become:

  • Who is responsible – the dog?
  • Why is it the dog that has to take the ultimate punishment and be euthanised?
  • How can we morally and ethically address the effects of dog attacks from hyper aggressive dogs that have perhaps been taught to behave like this by irresponsible owners who seek the most dangerous dogs to boost their social status?
  • If dogs who have been labeled ‘aggressive’ could speak, what would their response be?

There is an urgent need for a robust review identifying the current evidence for the role of potential risk factors for aggressive dog-human interactions, with a view to informing on potential preventative strategies – with euthanasia becoming a very rare and infrequent choice.