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.