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A Dog Management System with Four Levels of Licensing
The summers will be warmer than the winters. Lazy dogs will take frequent naps, and irresponsible dog owners will behave in an irresponsible manner to the extent that they can get away with it. Along with death and taxes, those are three things that you can absolutely count on.
Irresponsible people will behave irresponsibly. That is a certainty as sure as the sun rising in the morning, both because it is in their nature and because it is ingrained into their behavioral DNA as a result of a lifetime of conditioning. It should come as no surprise, then, that when irresponsible people acquire dogs, they become irresponsible dog owners.
The irresponsible behavior of that small minority of dog owners has created a backlash that over the years has resulted in the steady erosion of the privileges extended to all dog owners.
Our single best hope for reversing that trend is a requirement that all dog owners-to-be to take a pre-licensing class that will serve to screen-out the irresponsible before they are allowed to acquire dogs - and before they get a chance to create any additional backlash that will further impact the rest of us. That would be a major stride toward ending the cycle of purchase, abandon, destroy or rescue, and it would also move us far in the direction of putting a stop to the steady loss of privileges all dog owners have suffered as a result of abuses allowed by our current system of animal control, which has repeatedly shown itself to be all but worthless.
However, we need a system that does more than simply screen out problematic dog owners. We need a system that differentiates between those who can control their dogs and those who cannot, and restricts or allows a greater freedom of movement for any given dog and handler based on that assessment.
To that end, the Dog Science Network proposes a four-tier system of licensing that will work very much like the process of getting a driver's license. In the new system, anyone can get licensed at whatever level they want. They just have take a test and prove that both they and their dog can function at that level.
The Off-Lead Public License
There are many people who can manage their dogs exquisitely well using only their voices. They can command their dog to walk by their side and he will do so indefinitely, unfailingly, step for step like a shadow, never wavering, regardless of even the most provocative distractions. He'll stay where he's told for a half-hour or more, he will instantly obey the command "no" to stop whatever he might be doing at the moment. A dog like that will never go after a cat, jump up on anybody, growl at anyone, or disregard a command. Such people have better control of their dogs off lead than what most people are able to achieve on lead.
The fourth and the highest level of licensing is designed with that population in mind. The level-four permit is the off-lead license, which would allow the holders to publicly walk their dogs off the leash. To get licensed at that level, the applicant would have to demonstrate the following:
The idea is to gauge the dog's ability and propensity to follow verbal instructions and, thereby, to be controlled effectively and reliably off lead. Therefore, like the performance component of a driver's license test, the owner must demonstrate for an evaluator, his ability to control the dog off lead, in the real world, on busy sidewalks and in the presence of bicycles, skateboards, dogs, cats and every other distraction common to daily life.
Depending on the conditions at the time of the test, the evaluation could be fairly quick or it could last several hours. It just needs to continue long enough for the evaluator to be able to say with near certainty that the owner is able to control the dog off lead in any situation he is likely to encounter. And that he knows with near certainty that the dog is not aggressive to man nor beast.
The Problem with Off-Lead Dogs
On average, I walk the local streets for about an hour each day without a problem. But once or twice a year I have to think quick or move fast to avoid being bitten by one of the dogs that I encounter along the way. There are many other poorly supervised dogs that deliver a bad scare, simply because they approach, perhaps suddenly, and you have no idea how the dog is natured, or what his intentions might be. Thus, even a friendly dog can send your heart racing and spoil your outing before you are able to decipher his intent.
Even if you love dogs, those negative experiences still make you gun-shy after a while. You get to the point where nearly every dog you meet engenders anxiety, because you never know, the one moving toward you at the moment could be one of the ones that will try to bite you, or he might knock you off your feet or coat you with mud in a playful attempt to interact.
Obviously, that is the major problem with a licensing program that allows dogs to walk among the public without a leash attached: Even if they are friendly and perfectly trained, unfamiliar dogs moving off-lead have the potential to terrify the people they encounter.
To a large extent, the problem can be solved by having the off-lead-licensed dog, and/or his off-lead-licensed human, wear a prominently displayed decal with an identification number to signal to all concerned that both are well trained and positioned to be held accountable for their actions.
Think of all the times that you have encountered a seeing-eye-dog escorting a blind person in a public place. Were you frightened? Did you flee in terror from the service dog? No, of course not. You weren't the least perturbed because you know that professionally-trained companion dogs never represent a threat to those moving around them.
We just need to make the licensing standard high enough so that everyone will know that every dog wearing a licensing insignia is so well trained that it would be silly to waste an ounce of anxiety worrying over the all but non-existent possibility that the dog might somehow prove troublesome.
The problem of reassuring a tooth-shy public can be futher remedied by a well-defined code of conduct for the off-lead dog and his owner.
The Advantage of Providing Increased privledges to Conscientious Dog Owners
It would be a thing of beauty to see the day that, when we encounter a dog walking off lead in public, we could assume he is a friendly, unflappable canine, escorted by someone who has proven himself capable of controlling the dog in any situation, by voice alone.
It's such a sad thing to see dog after dog out for a walk, tied to his owner when he could be moving freely. It appears that those who passed the nation's leash laws believe that every owner is irresponsible and every dog is stupid, while our "anti-barking" laws seem to reflect the view that every owner is responsible and every dog is smart.
As a society, we need to begin extending special privileges to people with well-trained dogs as a means of encouraging others to follow suit. When people with unruly canines arrive at the park and find that people with well-trained companions are free to walk them off lead, then soon, everyone is going to want to have an obedient, under-control dog. And that's the direction in which we should be moving. Let us unleash those dogs proven to be under control and well-behaved and, thereby, encourage responsible behavior among all dog owners.
Separating Fantasy from Reality
I know that for many people, it must sound like somebody's fantasy when they read descriptions of off-lead/level four dogs; the ones that always, immediately obey every command and never enter the street without permission. You may wonder if anybody actually has a dog like that. The answer is, yes, they do.
To be sure, not every dog is predisposed to near perfect behavior, and not every human is capable of handling a dog skillfully enough to train one up to an optimal level of functioning. But the great majority of the dogs coming from the breeds rated high for their obedience training potential, would be perfectly capable of passing a level-four exam, providing that they were raised properly and trained by a handler who knew what he was doing.
That is the real problem, then. Not that our dogs are incapable of learning to behave well, but that so many of us choose the wrong dog because we acquire a companion before we have the knowledge necessary to make an intelligent choice. And the problem is further compounded because so few of us take the time to learn to teach our dogs in ways they can understand.
The On-Lead Public License
The process of obtaining a license at this third level also requires that you successfully maneuver your dog through a series of real world distractions without incident, only you will have the leash to help keep the dog in position. Nonetheless, if at any point it becomes questionable as to whether you have full control over the dog, you and he fail the test. A person with an On-Lead Owner's License would be legally permitted to take their dog walking among the public, but only with the lead attached.
As with the off-lead licensing procedure, the test just needs to last long enough for the evaluator to be able to certify that the owner is able to control the dog in any situation he is likely to encounter, and that the dog does not behave aggressively toward any living creature.
One nice thing about requiring an on-lead test is that it would keep people with vicious, out-of-control attack dogs from taking them out where they endanger the public. If the city of San Francisco had required its citizens to pass an on-lead certification exam before taking their dogs in public, Ms. Whipple would be alive today.
A Minimal License
This second level of licensing would not require you and your dog to undergo a performance evaluation. It would permit you to have the dog on private property and in the car. But when in public, you would be permitted to walk him only on the lead and only in situations where there are no living creatures nearby. You could not, for example, walk him on a well-traveled sidewalk.
The High Security License
This most basic level of licensing is for people who want to keep a dog with an established history of vicious behavior. Obviously the holder of this license would be forbidden from taking his dog out in public. Also, the owner would be required to pass a city inspection of his property to ensure his dog is properly confined in a humane and escape-proof enclosure and that warning signs are prominently posted.
Written by Craig
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