Responsible dog ownership urged as reported canine attacks on the rise

Published on 11 October 2023.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) is calling on dog owners to be aware of their responsibilities and take all measures to ensure their pets are safe and can be trusted around other people and animals.

Figures released by Auckland Council, show the total number of dog attacks reported between 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023 in the Auckland region, increased by 28 per cent to 2,437. The Auckland Council Animal Management annual report on dog control activities said there were 250 more attacks on people and 280 more attacks on other animals during this time period.

NZVA Head of Veterinary Services (Companion Animal) Sally Cory describes the reported attacks as the tip of the iceberg. “Unfortunately, these numbers only cover the attacks that have been reported to the Council,” she said. “We know that the actual number of attacks is significantly higher as there is often a reluctance to report, such as when dog bites occur in homes and families. We know that children are vulnerable and often the victims of dog attacks, which will be both physically and emotionally traumatic for them and the whole whānau.”

Under New Zealand law, dog owners must comply with minimum standards for animal care and management set out in the New Zealand Animal Welfare (Dogs), Code of Welfare 2010 (National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, 2010), as well as the requirements of their local city or district council. The concerning rise in the number of dog attacks is an important reminder that owning a dog carries great responsibility, Sally said.

“The NZVA advocates strongly for responsible dog ownership, including socialisation and training from a young age,” she said. “Your dog may act perfectly well around you and your family in its home surroundings, but you must equally be able to trust them when they are around young children, people of all ages, and other dogs and animals.”

Responsible dog ownership has also been in the news of late with the announcement that the UK government will ban the American XL bully dog by the end of the year, following a series of attacks. Sally points out that, while New Zealand has not experienced the issues reported overseas, the implications of reactive, anxious or aggressive behaviours are greater in a large, powerful breed than a much smaller breed of dog. “We advocate for good breeding practices and discourage extremes of conformation,” she said. “Increasing health concerns would align with these extremes such as short noses and excessive skin folds. Above and beyond general health concerns with any large breed of dog, these dogs are not necessarily worse, but they are strong and powerful, so responsible ownership and training is essential.”

“The conversation around dog attacks and powerful breeds, highlights the importance of education with regards to dog control and safety around dogs. Children are sadly often the victims of dog attacks, therefore interactions with young children should always be supervised.”

To avoid dogs having a negative impact on people, animals and the environment, the NZVA recommends owners:

  • ensure dogs are safe to be in the community
  • keep dogs under control in public areas by having them on a leash
  • not allow dogs to stray
  • manage nuisance barking and other behaviours
  • ensure dogs do not predate on other animals or birds.