City to give dangerous dogs a reprieve

The city's definition of a dangerous dog is “a dog which is known to attack or viciously pursue a person or domestic animal.”

ONCE-AGGRESSIVE dogs now have a chance to redeem themselves in Terrace.

A change to the city’s dangerous dog bylaw means that after three years of good behaviour, dogs once deemed dangerous can have that status removed.

The bylaw change was approved by city council last night, Feb 27.

It reads that if within a 36-month period no incidents involving a dog deemed dangerous by the city have been reported, “the dog shall be removed from the list of potentially dangerous dogs.”

Also, the title can be removed before that period is up if an owner shown a Terrace animal control officer “changes in circumstances or measures taken by the owner or keeper, such as training of the dog, have mitigated the risk to public safety.”

City bylaw control officer Janet Coburn said that because it’s not a common request, the city hadn’t thought about making the dangerous dog title reversible until recently.

“Mostly, not receiving any more complaints to our office,” said Coburn about how to judge if a dog’s behaviour had improved.

The dangerous dog title comes about in the first place by complaints to the city’s animal control office about a dog’s aggressive behaviour.

“It doesn’t have to be a bite,” said Coburn.

The city’s definition of a dangerous dog is “a dog which is known to attack or viciously pursue a person or domestic animal.”

“A complaint comes to our office and there’s an investigation into the dog attack,” she said. “We look at history to make that designation.”

After a dog is deemed dangerous, owners must pay $100 yearly for a license, keep their dog within the limits of its residence, and muzzle it while outside the residence.

A dog would only be destroyed if it seriously injured or killed.

“That is something that would have to go before the court,” said Coburn, adding she is relieved that scenario has never come to her during her time as as a bylaw control officer with the city.

But a local dog obedience trainer is wary of the bylaw being to lenient.

“I find most dog owners are in denial when it comes to their dog,” said Kelly Ruff, who trains dogs in both Terrace and Kitimat.

“It shouldn’t be reversed unless the people have some sort of training.”

Ruff cautioned that just because a dog hasn’t been complained about, doesn’t mean a problem has been solved.

“In the house, we call it the little bubble. Out of the house, there’s lots of distractions or smells … now that dog is not the same dog.”

A dog in its comfort zone, or one with owners who have obeyed a the bylaw for three years, won’t necessarily get complaints, she said.

“That doesn’t mean the problem has gone away,” said Ruff.

The only thing that will change dog behaviour is owner training, she continued.

“Without that, forget it. Your dog’s not going to do a damn thing for you.”

This doesn’t just mean taking a course.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time to undo it,” she said.”It is always possible and it boils down to what the owner is willing to put into it.”

There are ways to tell if a dog’s behaviour has really changed, and only with these tests would she feel comfortable removing a dog’s dangerous status.

The first, a dog must obey the owner’s command the first time.

“If I see that they have to keep repeating commands in order for them to listen, they don’t have control of their dog.”

Ruff said she would also observe the dog in a “real world” situation, outside the home.

“Put the dog in a high energy situation and see how well that dog responds to the owners.”

How the owners control the animal when they’re not home is also important, she said, adding dogs will try and get away with things without their owners present.

If a high fence is installed, it shows the owners have control measures in place, she said.

There are also red flags owners can spot to keep their dog from ever obtaining a dangerous dog status, said Ruff, adding taking preventative measures early on is always better.

“When someone phones me with a dog bite, we talk back to when the dog was a puppy,” she said. “There’s always red flags along the way.”

Dogs on furniture, because height means status, is a warning.

“If a dog thinks he’s more important than he is, there can be problems.”

If an owner can’t grab a bone or bowl of food, that’s one. If a dog doesn’t respond to commands or is pushy, there is another one.

“He bullies you,” Ruff said.

Other trouble situations could exist of a dog does not let people into the house or gets aggressive if people approach its owner.

Ruff would like to see obedience training as part of the purchase price contract for a dog.