The Government's latest move to crack down on dangerous dogs is commendable and some will say well over due.

New Zealand is a nation of dog lovers, the vast majority of whom are responsible owners, so it is understandable that the Government would tread carefully around new rules.

But the introduction of "high-risk" licenses - to be trialled initially in Rotorua and Opotiki - is an inventive initiative which will target those dogs and owners already on the radar of local authorities as problem cases.

Dog attacks are all too common in this country and not limited to the terrible and heart breaking cases that make news headlines. Those who deal with them know this all too well.


The tougher rules have been welcomed by the NZ Plastic Surgeons Association President John Kenealy.

In industry publication NZ Doctor he makes that point the dog bites result in an average of two hospital admissions per day.

A study, presented at the NZ Association of Plastic Surgeons annual scientific meeting last year, found that there had been 99,000 reported dog bites in the past decade.

"Data shows that over the last 10 years, over a third of those bitten were children, mostly with facial injuries," Kenealy said.

The law changes will require that high-risk dogs are neutered and fenced in a way that allows visitors dog-free access to at least one house entrance.

Their owners will be required to display signs at the front of their property alerting people and to ensure the dogs wear collars identifying them as high-risk. These dogs must also wear muzzles and be on a leash in public places.

Penalties and fines have also been increased for those failing to control dangerous dogs or in the event of an actual attack.

The plan is not without its difficulties.

Definitions of what constitutes "high-risk" are be largely subjective - at least until someone has been bitten.

High-risk dogs are defined as those that are classified as "menacing" and "dangerous" under the Dog Control Act 1996.

That act defines menacing dogs as those that may "pose a threat to any person, stock, poultry, domestic animal, or protected wildlife because of the behaviour of the dog" or "any characteristics typically associated with the dog's breed or type".

Those definitions will certainly put more power in the hands of dog control officers and council officials and could open them up to accusations of bias.

There are safe-guards in that those dogs required to be licensed as high-risk undergo temperament testing.

But some dog owners may object over the extent to which the measures represent a guilty until proven innocent approach.

They may have a point. But dogs, however lovable, are not humans. There is also a point at which common sense has to come in to play and society is entitled to say enough is enough.

In the end the bigger problem may be that the worst offending dog owners are outside the reach of the regulators - those who are unconcerned about licenses and registration at all.

Just as it is with many of the country's worst driving offenders, the regulations reach the limits of their power with individuals who are comfortable living outside the law.

Thankfully they remain very small and unrepresentative proportion of the dog loving families who will be hitting the parks and beaches around the country this weekend.