Confusion over dangerous dogs in new animal welfare law

Since the new Animal Protection Law took a step forward this week, confusion has started over some of the text in the draft, specifically dealing with so-called “dangerous dogs”, which experts think is now too vague, and could result in more dog owners having to have insurance and take an animal handling course.

The current law establishes that, with the exception of some autonomous communities such as Madrid, the possession of dogs that are not considered potentially dangerous (known as PPP) does not entail the obligation to have civil liability insurance. But the new norm eliminates this category of animal, and therefore the question has been raised as to whether insurance becomes mandatory for all types of dogs.

Until the new regulations are implemented, in Spain the possession of animals considered “dangerous” is governed by Law 50/1999, of December 23, on the Legal Regime for the Possession of Potentially Dangerous Animals.

In the current law, it is established that a series of dogs such as a pit bull, an American Staffordshire, the Rottweiler or the Argentine Dogo are “dangerous”. The definition is based on its “size, aggressive nature, or the power of its jaw having the ability to cause injury or death to a person.”

In the new draft, the term PPP is eliminated, but replaced by a new term: “special handling dog”. Experts say that the reason for this reclassification is that for a dog to be considered dangerous, it is not “genetic” but depends on the education that is given.

However, having now read the draft law, other experts believe that the new law has “very important gaps” and is tailored to the “protectors of animals”.

One of the big complaints that veterinarians have is that it is not yet known who is going to evaluate the dogs to consider them “special handling”. According to the new law, the control of the sociability of the dogs will be carried out on all breeds and instead of having a list to consider them PPP, an individualised examination will be carried out.

“In a visit you cannot see the aggressiveness or the character of a dog,” say the veterinarians. And it is that, what the Government proposes is that studies of sociability be carried out and the dogs will be classified “according to the behaviour and socialisation that they demonstrate”. After testing, any breed may be classified as special handling. This means that there may be “special handling” chihuahuas and pit bulls that walk around without muzzles.

Sources from the Ministry of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda affirm that the idea is that these tests be carried out by professionals such as “veterinarians with training in ethology, trainers with stipulated training, etc.” The fear of the veterinarians is that both the course to have a dog and this character test of the animals are taught by “the friends of the protectors”.

What was requested at the time by both the State Federation of Veterinary Unions, FESVET, and the Veterinary Council was the creation of a National Registry of Animal Behaviour Professionals . This “must be based clearly on the certification of training, without prejudice to the skills of veterinary professionals in the field of ethology.”

With all this, and against the demands of the defenders to eliminate the PPP label, the new law will continue to give an adjective to the most aggressive dogs; although, on this occasion, they will be considered “special handling”. For them, as is now happening with the PPPs, there will be a series of extra care.

What the new law does not clarify is whether these measures will be the use of a muzzle and leash or a two-metre chain, as is the case now. It only speaks of “having security measures to prevent attacks or escapes.”

Regarding courses for dog ownership, the law establishes the obligation of dog owners (before, only PPP owners were required in some autonomies) to receive a free training course.

Not much is known about this formation. The text approved in the Council of Ministers establishes that it will be “an accredited training course for dog ownership, the content of which will be determined by regulation.”