Preventive measures can avoid increase in shelter dogs and bite incidents

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a surge in dog sales, resulting in an unprecedented number of dogs in Europe. In recent years, more dogs have ended up in shelters, and bite incidents have increased. However, research shows that preventative measures can significantly reduce these problems.

The dog population has grown significantly as more people bought pets to help them through the loneliness of the pandemic lockdowns. Many of these pets have since ended up in shelters because owners underestimated the demands of caring for an animal.

As people often failed to appreciate what it meant to bring a dog into their home, many of these animals didn’t get off to a good start. This could be because the owner didn’t know how to handle a dog. A lack of attention and exercise can cause a dog to behave in a problematic way because it is not feeling well.

Unwanted behaviour

Unwanted behaviour can range from excessive barking and destructive behaviour to developing a fear of people or other dogs. In the worst cases, unstable dogs can resort to aggression, posing a risk to public health. A recent British study confirms this trend, showing that adults are increasingly involved in bite incidents. In fact, the number of incidents has tripled in the last 20 years.

Men are more likely to be bitten than women, with incidents increasing faster in the latter group. Specific breeds cannot be linked to bite incidents, although larger breeds naturally inflict more severe bites than smaller breeds. However, the study highlights that it’s mainly dogs from “puppy mills” that have health and behavioural problems.

Undesirable behaviour is the number one reason for dog surrenders and euthanasia worldwide, and the increase in traumatised imported animals is having an impact on shelters. Despite the rise in purchases and adoptions during the pandemic, animal shelters are overwhelmed.

Shelter animals

In Belgium, about 68 per cent of shelter animals are surrendered by their owners, while 28 per cent are confiscated. More dogs have behavioural problems, leading to increased long-term residents and unadoptable animals, while shelter capacity is decreasing.

However, there’s a growing trend for people to surrender their pets within the first two years of ownership. In many cases, this decision is driven by a lack of time, knowledge, experience and patience, resulting in young dogs being abandoned and left with emotional scars.

Preventive measures

Research shows that preventive measures can significantly reduce animal suffering and neglect. Better informing consumers and implementing preventative measures make it possible to have less unstable dogs. This could lead to a reduction in bite incidents and dogs entering shelters.

Since many of these dogs come from mass breeders in Central and Eastern Europe, reviewing dog imports can also help solve these problems. However, this will require political commitment and courage to make these changes at the European and local levels.

As Belgium takes over the presidency of the EU in the first half of 2024, it may be a unique opportunity for Belgian animal welfare ministers to address this issue.