Owners must be responsible for their pets’ actions

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By no means are we – or anyone quoted in our front-page story today – suggesting that every dog proves a danger to the public.

But what we can say for sure is that every dog proves a potential risk to the public. And the inescapable truth remains that the biggest factor in whether that potential risk becomes a real one isn’t canine – it’s human.

Today we report the number of dog attacks reported in Hampshire have gone up by a large number in the last four years, from 284 in 2010 to 442 in 2014.

A change in law is partly behind this – the Dangerous Dogs Act now includes homes and gardens as well as public spaces, but seeing as the number of hospital admissions nationally has also increased a great deal, it cannot be the only reason.

It’s become a truism that dangerous dogs are only dangerous because of their owners, but truisms are only created because, well, they are true. While obviously there are some dogs that are more fearsome than others, even the more ‘tough’ breeds, such as Staffordshire Bull Terriers, can prove to be great family pets – it is about training.

But more than simply training, just as raising a child, the environment in which a dog lives is crucial.

If it is mistreated and hit regularly, there is more of a chance that a dog will be psychologically damaged and prone to irrationality or violence.

If it is bought to be a status symbol by someone who has little interest in being a full-time pet owner, then its prospects for the future are not great.

We’re not suggesting that dog owners should undergo a test, or be assessed for their suitability.

There are many pitfalls in anything along that road.

But we do agree that education classes for dog owners, as suggested by MP Penny Mordaunt, are worth investigating.

And anyone found to have been an irresponsible owner deserves to have the book thrown at them.

Not just for the sake of anyone unfortunate enough to be a victim of a dog attack, but for the sake of the dog itself.