Protection Dogs - Status Dogs with a New Name

Below is an article about the protection dog industry that I originally wrote for Animal Journal in May 2022, unfortunately the lack of oversight and regulation of the protection dog industry continues to be a dangerous problem to this day. 

Dogs trained as weapons are regularly being sold in the UK for between £10,000 and £40,000 - with no oversight, licensing or controls...

There is currently a huge rise in popularity of dogs being sold as ‘trained protection dogs’, likely fuelled by the visibility of protection dogs owned by celebrities who show them off on their social media profiles. These are often the same dogs and celebrities that fuelled the ear cropping trend as unfortunately vast numbers of protection dogs in the UK are sold with cropped ears. Protection dogs are sold to their owners having been taught to both attack on command, as well as to guard property and individuals and attack when they perceive a threat. They are not usually worked by a handler and live in the home. 

Other than the Guard Dogs Act 1975, there is no single comprehensive piece of legislation governing the use of guard dogs. The Guard Dogs Act is completely ineffective and gives no control or oversight of protection dogs - or guard dogs for that matter. The majority of the provisions in the Act, Sections 2, 3, 4, and 6 are not in force.

Section 1 of the Act is about the requirements of a dog to be under the control of a handler at all times, ensuring the dog is not able to ‘run free’ and making sure there is signage at entrances. Section 5 of the Act states that a breach of Section 1 will result in criminal liability and a £5,000 fine. All of which are important, but do nothing in terms of oversight or regulation.

At the very least there should be some kind of police oversight of the companies selling weaponised dogs, and a licensing scheme for both the sellers and their future owners.
The thought of someone being able to sell or buy a gun without even a basic DBS check rightly sends shivers down the spines of the majority of Brits - and so too should the thought of weaponised dogs being bought and sold without this the most basic of background checks.

The increasingly high price tags that are put on these dogs and lack of regulation has left the industry wide open for abuse from organised crime; just as criminal gangs have been moving from drug dealing into puppy theft, smuggling, breeding and sales, they have also moved into the world of protection dogs.

Due to the lack of oversight nobody is looking at how these dogs are being trained or handled, and often the fact is that they are made to be aggressive using force, fear and intimidation - which makes them highly unpredictable reactive dogs that then have suppressive tools used on them to be kept ‘under control’ in public. 
There must be safety mechanisms put in place to ensure that dogs that have been trained to attack don’t fall into the hands of criminals, that they don’t end up accidentally going through the rescue system and doing serious damage to unsuspecting innocent people, that they are not a risk to the general public, and that their welfare needs are always met.
I wish I had written this article sooner, maybe when I first started discussing the failures of the Guard Dogs Act with colleagues last year. It does make me wonder whether then the horrific mauling of a three year old girl by a protection dog in a park in Pontypridd in August last summer could have been avoided. 

This case is truly shocking on many levels: the dog that mauled this toddler was called Chief and had a known history of being trained as a protection dog. Yet, mere days prior to the attack Chief had been rehomed by Many Tears Rescue to a new owner who had no experience as a professional handler working a trained attack dog.

The idea of a protection dog being rehomed accidentally to a member of the public without the required skills is bad enough, let alone the dog being rehomed knowingly to an owner lacking the proper knowledge and who didn’t even understand the basic security dog cues in German that are often taught as standard across the protection dog industry.

It is my personal opinion that any charity that knowingly rehomes a dog that has a history like Chief’s to anyone other than a professional handler has a case of negligence to answer.
Even with a professional handler in place to take on such a dog, I do not believe that at ten years old, with an unknown training history, rehoming him would have been the right thing to do both from the perspective of public safety and the welfare of the dog.

This specific case leads into another discussion about the importance of rescue licensing and regulation as well as the creation of a uniformed approach to rehoming across all rescues. This is in itself an important rabbit hole to explore and one I will write about in an article another day.

It would be remiss of me not to mention how absurd it is that due to Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act, countless innocent well behaved dogs are put to sleep simply for being born looking a certain way, while weaponised dogs are being sold with impunity and no controls.

This brings me back to where I started and the importance of police oversight of this industry and licensing for both sellers and buyers.
I do wonder how such a scheme could be implemented, and whether it would be best to bring it in as part of the wider reform and consolidation of dog control and dog ownership legislation. Something that undoes the damage done by Section 1 of the DDA and shifts the onus of responsibility away from illogically and unscientifically blaming and killing types of dogs because they look a certain way to mandatory education courses, licensing and mandatory public liability insurance.
There could be added levels - for instance, on top of the basic dog ownership licence, where owners would be required to also have a DBS check to have and work a protection or guard dog. The licensing of sellers would be a slightly different matter and there should be the same amount of police oversight as is required to get a gun sellers licence, as well as animal welfare checks on the selling and training establishments form the relevant authorities.

Since a research paper came out written by Dr John Tulloch from Liverpool University, looking at the huge increase in dog bites over recent years, there have been many calls for the government to look again at dog control legislation.

I will endeavour to write a wider-angled view of what all the different pieces of the dog control legislation puzzle could look like once they have been pulled together from all the various parts of the current patchwork quilt of dog law in my next article.
I would like to join in with the chorus of expert voices right across the animal welfare, veterinary, law and behaviour industries that are calling for complete reform and consolidation of dog control legislation. 

I hope that when the government can finally be motivated to make the changes needed for dog control legislation to be effective and actually keep people and dogs safe, that the regulation of the protection dog and guard dog industries are among them.
This is nothing like how a police dog is rigorously trained using modern training techniques in extensive training programmes; they do not need to be suppressed with pain inducing tools to be kept under control in public. A dog that was not able to work, remain focused and could not be trusted around the public would not make it into a professional role in the first place, as they would be considered a liability and danger to the people around them.

Date: 14/12/2023