The Emperor's New Clothes (04/11/12)

Man's best friend! He's only playing! He loves children! Come off it, says David Randall – some dogs are dangerous, and that's deliberate

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"Dog free to savage boy was like loaded gun left in garden" (Manchester Evening News, 30 October); "Little Abbie's face scarred for life in savage dog attack" (Essex Chronicle, 5 April); "Pitbull dog kills elderly man" (Daily Telegraph, 9 February); "Savage dog circled my daughter like a shark" (Daily Mirror, 24 January). Just a few of this year's headlines you won't have seen in Dog Lover's Monthly, or read on loveyourpooch.com. To which, after Tuesday, can now be added: "Great-grandmother mauled to death by daughter's dogs in back garden" (Daily Mail, 31 October). And it won't end there. Somewhere in Britain is a little girl or boy destined by some quirk of canine temperament to become the next bit of human Bonio.

Ah, but it's not the dogs, goes the prevailing wisdom from pets' corner. It's the owners. Irresponsible, you see. Never got their doggies trained. Never took them to classes so they could learn, at the bark of their owners' voices, to obey the commands of "Sit!", "Fetch!" and "Put that child down!" Owners. They're the problem.

Really? Let us suppose that the dogs which attacked and killed Gloria Knowles last week had been – instead of barrel-chested animals the size of small cows with jaws that could bite a lamp-post in two – poodles, or Yorkshire terriers. Would she have still died? Unlikely. But the dogs which attacked her weren't slight, small-mouthed breeds. They were – in addition to a mongrel – two French mastiffs, and a pair of American bulldogs. A veritable pack, which duly behaved like one. Silly, perhaps, to keep a pack, but had they been cocker spaniels, for instance, Mrs Knowles could have been patched up with a few stitches and some Elastoplast.

And so, sometime in the next few months, the following scene: "It's all right," says the waxed-jacketed figure, as a child is alarmed while walking across the park, "They're only playing." Indeed they might be. But, if they decide to stop playing, they could knock the child down and crunch its head like a boiled sweet.

It's not the owners. It's certain dogs, and those who have bred them to be that way.

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