Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Dog ownership tests introduced in Switzerland; should we do the same here?

Yesterday morning, the Telegraph reported on new dog ownership exams and practical tests which are being made law in Switzerland.

The new rules will be introduced in September. A two-year crossover period will allow owners a window in which to take animal care courses, but by 2010 it will be necessary to pass a theory exam to keep a dog.

And that's any dog no matter what size, from Chihuahua and Yorkie to Old English Sheepdogs and wolfhound breeds. The tests come in the context of a more wide-ranging animal protection law, including the requirement that guinea pigs and budgies be kept in groups of two or more because they are unhappy in solitude. There are also requirements for farmers who have smallholdings of more than a certain amount of animals to take a care course.

Among those welcoming the measures, which were first proposed in 2005, are animal welfare campaigners, vets and private dog-training companies, the latter of which will be licensed to provide the relevant testing.

The scheme isn't universally popular, however. Small farms are complaining of the increased costs, and some dog breeders are unhappy with the scope of the testing.

The Telegraph quotes Germaine Disières, a Yorkshire Terrier breeder, as saying:

"To have to hold a permit to keep a very small dog, that is going too far. Education is necessary but to completely regulate is not the solution."
So what about the UK? Well, draft proposals for a Dog Ownership Suitability Test have existed for some time. Citing deaths and injuries caused by dogs that were irresponsibly handled, the proposal really follows the "deed not breed" mantra by insisting that all owners are educated about the challenges and requirements of responsible dog ownership before taking Fido home. Puppy farms also appear to be another target, with increases in standards among those who supply dogs to the public and a strict licensing system including registration of all dogs (not just pedigree breeds) demanded.

At Dogs Trust, our Chief Executive Clarissa Baldwin had this to say:

What the Swiss are advocating has some merits but it is too draconian in our view. Dogs bring many benefits to a variety of people including the most vulnerable in society who may not be able to pass exams and theory tests could be considered exclusive. We believe everyone should be able to enjoy the companionship of a dog as long as they do look after it properly.

What do you think?

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