THE KENNEL Club and animal charities say the documentary Dangerous Dogs – the first part of which was screened last week – illustrated the poor treatment many dogs have to endure and the lack of understanding on the part of their owners.
The KC said it highlighted its own view that dangerous dogs were a product of man’s behaviour towards them, and that no breed is inherently dangerous.
It also questioned the actions of some of the ‘dog specialists’ featured.
Dogs Trust said the programme highlighted the ‘awful situations’ too many dogs in this country have to face.
The two-part film takes a look at the increase in the number of dog attacks in recent years and attempts to find out whether the root cause is irresponsible owners. The cameras followed dog wardens who are on the front line in having to deal with dangerous dogs, and they talked candidly about the horrific cases they encounter.
The programme took a graphic look at the rise in the number of dog attacks and the devastating consequences, with producers trying to look behind the ‘devil dog’ headlines.
The first episode sought to explore why dog attacks are dramatically on the increase. During the making of the series three people in the UK were killed by dogs and more than 6,000 people were hospitalised after dog attacks last year.
Rescue centres are overrun with unwanted dogs and in 2012 the RSPCA secured 4,000 convictions against dog owners. The programme aimed to explore what constitutes a dangerous dog and what creates one.
Last week’s section of the documentary conveyed the message that there are no bad animals, only bad owners. Judging by comments made on social networking sites the film upset many people; it contained some gruelling and upsetting scenes, such as those of dog wardens wrestling with an abandoned American Bulldog or a terrified Akita allowed to run madly when intervention would have brought the incident to an end.
It also showed footage of starving dogs, including a Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross, although viewers saw his health and emotional state improve rapidly after he was fed properly; he is now up for adoption.
A litter of puppies were seen being sold from a squalid flat in Birmingham so they could be sold at the owner’s local pub for £60 each. And the behaviour of other owners was held up to scrutiny when a couple allowed their dog to foul the pavement; a dog warden imposed an on-the-spot fine and was subjected to threatening tirade as a result.
The KC said the film showed what it called the inadequacy of the Dangerous Dogs Act in improving the current situation, and drew attention to the many dogs put to sleep needlessly because of the way they look.
Questioning the actions of the specialists shown, secretary Caroline Kisko said: "We would not advise the feeding of two very hungry dogs in a small pen from a single bowl. And many of the dogs who had been labelled by professionals as Staffordshire Bull Terriers were also clearly not purebred and did not closely resemble the breed.”
The KC welcomed the fact the documentary demonstrated that even poorly-treated dogs could be rehabilitated.
"Such as the Akita, who had originally been labelled as dangerous and was eventually shown to be a truly sweet-natured dog,” Mrs Kisko said. "This is particularly important in regards to the negative messaging surrounding certain breeds, with the Akita being one of the more recent breeds receiving negative media attention.”
The most disappointing, she said, was that despite the efforts of all those charged with educating the public about animal welfare, a proportion of owners have not even a basic understanding of a dog’s needs.
"This is something the KC will be looking into more closely to determine how it may more effectively reach those individuals in order to ensure dogs can live happy and healthy lives with good owners,” she said.
The programme highlighted distressing examples of the awful situations too many dogs in this country face, Dogs Trust said, whether abandoned, severely neglected, kept in unsuitable conditions, or bred indiscriminately with no concern for the welfare of the adults and puppies involved.
"However, we were pleased to see the programme showed that dog control and welfare are intrinsically linked,” said a spokesman for the charity. "A happy, healthy dog kept under effective control by a responsible owner is far more likely to be one of the millions of dogs in this country who never cause any problems, rather than the few which do sadly attack.
"We feel the documentary has accurately identified that much more needs to be done to ensure that every dog in this country can lead a happy, healthy life with a responsible, caring owner.”
The Blue Cross’ education development manager, Tracy Genever, said the documentary showed ‘the shocking reality of neglected dogs and irresponsible ownership’.
"It is sad to see what miserable lives some dogs lead and the challenges those working in animal welfare face every day,” she said.
"As well as campaigning for changes to dangerous dog laws to make owners more accountable for their pets’ behaviour, Blue Cross also focuses on working with young people through our ‘RespectaBULL ‘talks and workshops which encourage discussion on the consequences of anti-social behaviour with dogs, as well as the responsibility involved in owning a dog and how to care for them.
"Education of children and young people is vital if we are to improve the welfare of animals like those featured in the programme and to prevent antisocial behaviour with dogs.”
A spokesman for the PDSA said problem dog behaviour was most often due to a lack of training and little or no socialisation.
"We are urging owners who may have concerns about their pets’ aggressive behaviour to seek professional advice as soon as possible,” he said. "Anyone with a young dog should, without exception, make a commitment to socialising and training their pet using effective and humane methods.
"It is up to owners to make sure that they provide appropriate early experiences for their young dog so that their pet grows up to be friendly and outgoing. Effective socialisation also prevents fears from developing which can be a cause of aggression in later life.”
PDSA research has found that only 50 per cent of dogs are taken to training classes in the first six months of their life, and 25 per cent of owners do not socialise their puppies adequately.
"The first thing any worried owner should do is consult their vet who will advise them on the right approach for addressing anti-social behaviour and rule out possible underlying medical causes,” the spokesman said. "What is important for owners to remember is that, in most cases, any problems they have with their pet’s behaviour can be overcome with professional guidance.
"Behavioural professionals will always seek to find out the underlying reason for why a pet is behaving the way it is, then use kind, evidence-based techniques to change that behaviour for the better.”
The RSPCA said it had ‘a lot of sympathy for our colleagues on the front line’.
"We appreciate the difficult situations they can be confronted with,” a spokesman said. "We have a number of concerns about the impact the lack of resources and adequate training for front line enforcers can have, which we have raised with the Government.
"We have contacted Birmingham City Council to discuss the issues raised in the programme.”
The programme prompted an outburst of comments on sites such as Facebook. Here are a few: "Dangerous people and dangerous dog wardens. No dangerous dogs! Surely dog wardens should learn to speak calmly and handle correctly rather than whip up a situation with shrieks and hysterics…”
"I spent the whole time shouting at the telly. Should have been called dangerous dog wardens! These people do not have a clue what they are doing... horrendous programme.”
"Banging, crashing, screaming… How is that ever going to help a dog in distress? I was reduced to tears.”
A former dog warden wrote: "I agree with all of the above. As an ex dog warden I was horrified. I would never have dealt with that Akita in that manner. Would have taken me longer mind you. It takes patience to gain a dog’s trust.”
And lastly: "The programme title was totally misleading. None of the dogs featured was ‘dangerous’ in the accepted meaning of the word. They were frightened and distressed and badly let down by the so called ‘professionals’ who were supposed to be caring for them.”
The second part of the programme was due to air on Thursday 27.