It should be mandatory to pass a theory test in order to obtain a dog license, dog behaviour expert Nanci Creedon has said.

This would be the most effective method of owner education, she told the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture on dangerous dog breeds and sheep worrying on Wednesday.

The concept can be very similar to the driving theory test where it could be completed online, she added.

“It'll be basic information about why punishment leads to an increase in aggression, all scientifically based, why when dogs get hyperactive it increases the risk of bites and so on.

“If the additional cost of this turns people off, it means they probably aren't invested enough to care enough and learn enough about dogs to become then responsible owners," she said.


This, she argued, will instantly filter out the people who are not fully committed.

When it comes down to dogs worrying sheep and dogs being out of control in public, an increased number of dog wardens is also needed, she said.

"I was reading a study recently that showed that sheep will recognise the difference between a dog on a short lead and a dog on a long lead or off lead, just the concept of the dog being there off lead is enough to worry the sheep," she said.

Sheep worrying has massive welfare issues for the sheep and financial issues for the farmer and more dog wardens with a decent education behind them would help this, she said.

When dogs are in hind brain mode, they are dangerous

She is also calling for a dog bite prevention organisation to be established to investigate serious attacks.

"Very minimal investigations are carried out by the guards and dog wardens, who are untrained in this very specialist subject matter, so appointing dog behaviour experts to investigate the incidents from a bite prevention approach is critical," she said.

Sheep worrying

Creedon said that owners are given a false sense of security when they have dogs who are not on the restricted list.

When dogs get wound up, their body moves into its sympathetic nervous system, she said, and if they see other dogs following sheep, they will join in and do whatever the rest of dogs are doing.

“As soon as this adrenaline kicks in, the dog starts to use the back part of their brain where all their impulsive, reactive and emotive behaviours are deterred from.

"When dogs are in hind brain mode, they are dangerous,” she said.

In 2017, Creedon's research on dog bites in Ireland was published in the Irish Veterinary Journal and it found no significant difference between a bite from a dog on the restricted breed list or a dog on the non-restricted breed.

A dog displaying aggressive behaviour is not doing so because of its breed, instead the aggressive behaviour is a product of the environment the dog is in, she said.

"As a dog behaviourist that sees many, many cases of dog bites and aggressive dog behaviours, almost always the aggressive behaviours could have been avoided if the dogs’ owners had a better understanding of dog behaviour," she said.