Owners of dogs deemed high-risk will have to get them neutered and display warning signs on their property and the collar of their pet, under new law changes.

Louise Upston, Associate Minister for Local Government, has announced the hardline measures as part of a new national action plan to reduce the number of dog attacks.

"I know first-hand the joy that dogs bring to your life and that there are thousands of loved family pets in New Zealand," she said.

"Unfortunately, the statistics clearly show that dog bit incidents are on the rise and children are overrepresented as victims.


"The number of dog bite patients discharged from hospital has increased by 58 per cent since 2005, and the costs of treatment and rehabilitation of the most serious injuries can be more than $200,000 per patient."

She said unregistered dogs and those considered to be "pit bull terrier types" are overrepresented in dog attack statistics.

The action plan comes after Upston wrote to every council in May asking for suggestions and includes Government funding of $850,000 to subsidise the neutering of high-risk dogs.

Law changes expected to be introduced in February will require owners of dangerous and menacing dogs to:

• Neuter all high-risk dogs. Some councils require this already. The Government hopes this measure will reduce the number of high-risk dogs breeding, as well as lower aggression.

• Keep high-risk dogs in a fenced area that allows visitors dog-free access to at least one house entrance. This comes after feedback from victims that they didn't necessarily know they were entering a dangerous situation.

• Put signs at the front of the property warning of high-risk dogs.

• Have dangerous and menacing dogs wear collars that identify them as high-risk.

Animal shelters will also be prevented from adopting out high-risk dogs to new owners - meaning they will likely need to be put down.

Upston is also considering an education campaign to promote responsible dog ownership. There will also be a review of guidance on best dog control practice.

Two classifications of dogs will be considered high-risk:

• Dogs deemed dangerous after the owner has been convicted on an offence where the dog has rushed at a person or property causing injury or damage, or a council believes the dog is a threat to public safety.

• Dogs deemed menacing, because a council believes the animal will pose a threat to public safety because of its actions or its breed. If a dog is a cross-breed but a council believes it should be defined as one of the dangerous breed types it will be able to be deemed as menacing.

Under schedule 4 of the Dog Control Act, breeds and crossbreeds of dogs that are classified as menacing by breed and cannot be imported into New Zealand include Brazilian Fila, American Pitbull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Presa Canario.

Upston said she was also considering additional restrictions on the owners of high-risk dogs.

"I have asked officials to look into further measures to improve dog safety in New Zealand. Suggestions have included stricter requirements for the owners of high-risk dogs and looking at making adjustments to the current infringement regime to let councils take stronger action against irresponsible dog owners."

Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston has announced a crack-down on dangerous dogs. Photo by Rebecca Malcolm.
Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston has announced a crack-down on dangerous dogs. Photo by Rebecca Malcolm.

She also wants to improve the quality of information about dog attacks.

Dog control measures are highly controversial. Upston said the plan targeted high-risk dogs and their owners, rather than all dogs and owners.

Local Government New Zealand called on central government to take a leadership role on dog control following a spate of attacks earlier this year.

Darnell Minarapa-Brown was attacked by his uncle's pitbull in Takanini in April. The 7-year-old was rushed to hospital with severe facial injuries.

He required more than 100 stitches and had a metal plate inserted into his nose and cheek.

The dog involved was surrendered to the council and euthanised.

The incident prompted the New Zealand Association of Plastic Surgeons to call for education, licensing enforcement and even ban breeding of dogs deemed dangerous.

According to two studies presented by New Zealand medical professionals last year, hospital admissions for people with dog-bite injuries average two a day.

Auckland Council began discussions about a plan to deal with menacing dogs soon after the attack on Darnell, and set-up a 10 week "menacing dogs amnesty".

Owners of the 1228 dangerous dogs registered had registration fees for 2015/16 and fines for failure to register waived, and the council also provided de-sexing, microchipping and muzzles for $25.