A dog that aggressively attacks a person or other animal, causing physical injury or death is classed as a dangerous dog. This term and definition is included in state based dog management legislation to enable regulatory action to be taken to protect the safety of the community. Where a dog has been shown to behave in a way that fits this description, it can be subject to a local government ruling and be declared as a dangerous dog. This means that the dog is subject to a range of specific controls, such as being desexed, confined to a special enclosure within the owner's property, undertaking behaviour modification and/or training, and wearing a special collar, muzzle and lead when being exercised. In the case of the dog being particularly aggressive and/or the owners do not comply with control orders, the council has the power to euthanase the dog.
As dogs of any breed or size have the potential to be dangerous, the RSPCA believes that dogs should not be declared dangerous on the basis of breed, but on the basis of their behaviour. The RSPCA does not support breed specific legislation, also known as BSL. However, it is recognised that there is a strong genetic component in a dog’s behaviour and propensity for aggression, their trigger point for aggression and their capacity to inflict injury. These characteristics need to be taken into account when selecting a suitable dog as a family pet and in their subsequent socialisation and training, to reduce the likelihood of aggressive behaviour occurring.
Reducing the incidence of problem behaviours, including aggression, requires responsible pet ownership, public education regarding dog behaviour, early management of problem behaviours and responsible breeding to select appropriate behavioural characteristics.
Currently, certain breeds are banned from importation into Australia under Commonwealth law. In addition, some Australian States have introduced breed-specific legislation which requires some breeds to be desexed and regulated.
Regardless of breed, all dogs at RSPCA shelters undergo a behavioural assessment test before they can be adopted. This helps to identify aggressive or dangerous dogs so that only dogs suitable for adoption are rehomed.
RSPCA Information paper - Preventing dog attacks in the community
More information is also available here: Australian Veterinary Association Dangerous dogs - a sensible solution.