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Liability for Aggressive Dogs May Extend to Breeders

Belgium’s Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health, Laurette Onkelinx, is considering extending liability to the breeder when a dog bites someone.

If successful, Belgium will be the first country to have such a law.

Breeders of dogs found guilty of biting could risk losing their permits to sell dogs. This could have a positive effect by making socialization programs for dogs more common, and puppy mills that do not have the ability to socialize their puppies will probably close down their lucrative businesses. Also, the international trade and import of dogs – mostly from obscure breeders in other European countries – will probably experience a serious setback since it will become very difficult to escape this responsibility when one can be prosecuted years after the selling of the puppy.

Belgium could be the first country to hold breeders liable for dog bites. Photo by Karl Donvil.

However, one should ask if a breeder is responsible for the bad behavior of a dog. Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of factors influence a dog’s behavior, and we all know that a dog’s character can change, even after many years. This has nothing to do with the raising of puppies, of course. It is of the utmost importance that puppies are socialized before and after 12 weeks of age. Maybe it’s time to introduce a license for responsible dog ownership similar to a driver’s license. This could be best introduced in collaboration with licensed dog schools.

I also wonder how a judge will be able to determine if the misconduct of the dog is something that originates from its time in the kennel where it was born, or if it changed afterwards? What about dogs that are mistreated by their owners or their owners’ children? What about dogs rescued from shelters? What about adult dogs brought into Belgium or dogs rescued from Spain or other countries?

I’m convinced that it will raise lots of discussion, and I have no illusions that the dog trade will become extinct. The dog mafia will find ways to continue its trade. Belgium is supposed to be one of the European crossroads of this obscure traffic. I also think that the Belgian government should stipulate what to do with a dog found “guilty” of biting. Will all the puppies out of the same litter or even from the same kennel be considered possibly dangerous? And what will happen to them if one of their littermates misbehaves?

I will come back to this issue if there is more news to report.

The European Commission adopted a four-year strategy (2012-2015) that “aims to further improve the welfare of animals in the European Union,” according to a press release. Although its predecessor was primarily focused on food-producing animals, the revised strategy “points out gaps in EU legislation which make it harder to ensure adequate welfare conditions for some categories of animals.” Companion animals are not currently included in the EU-wide animal welfare strategy.

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  • Cindy Cooke May 21, 2013 at 9:22 AM

    This is a perfect example of the absurdity generated by lawmakers who are completely ignorant of dog behavior. All dogs bite. There are as many causes of dog bites as there are dogs and owners. There are only three classes of people who should be considered for liability when a dog bites. The first is the person in control of the dog at the time of the bite. The second is the owner of the dog. The third is the person who was bitten. There is no socialization program in the world that can guarantee that a dog won’t bite in the future. This is just another irrational law that will drive dog breeders into hiding or into quitting altogether. At the rate Europe is adding regulations to dog breeding and ownership, dog breeders will soon be extinct along with the priceless bloodlines we have created over the centuries. Got to love those Belgians though. Nobody loves bureaucracy more than they do!

  • jan dykema May 21, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    my friend has two adopted kids.. i one of them has been in some serious trouble if they weer in Belgium could they sue to real parents?? what a stupid idea but undoubted one that will take hold because it “will get rid of puppy mills” I wonder what animal rights group is pushing this one?

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