This page is part of Section Nine:
the Cure section of

A Four-Tier System for Licensing People to Keep Dogs


This section builds on information presented in two previous links, The barking laws, law enforcement, and the courts, and The root cause of our barking epidemic and the source of all of America's dog related problems. This section will be more meaningful and easier to follow if you read those sections first.

The Case For Exclusionary Licensing

When you look at the amount of barking and biting and the number of dogs suffering and being euthanized, it couldn't be more clear that, every year, millions of people who are not fit for dog ownership, acquire dogs. The question is, why do we continue to allow it? How many millions of canines have to be put to death each year before we are ready to admit that dogs are falling into the hands of people who should not have them? How many millions of people have to be bitten and how many years of our lives have to be spoiled by the punctuated barking of untrained dogs before we are ready to acknowledge the obvious?

The fact is, allowing unfit people to acquire dogs is ruining the experience of dog ownership for the rest of us. Due to the growing number of unleashed dog attacks on park users in recent years, the city of New York has instituted a new leash law with a vigorous program of enforcement to go with it. Now all residents of the city must walk their dogs on the lead. Everyone, even master trainers whose dogs are under perfect voice control must still keep them on the lead at all times. The problem was caused by the irresponsible, but the consequence befell everyone.

Similarly, the city of Rockland, Maine, was plagued by ruffians who intimidated the citizenry by loitering on main street with their out-of-control Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. Local government responded by banning all dogs from its historic downtown. Now the street thugs with their vicious dogs are gone, and so are the well behaved canine companions who, in a happier time, daily traveled downtown with their masters to keep them company in their place of employment.

Now we see one city after another banning Pit Bulls. Why? Is it because Pit Bulls can't be controlled? No, not really. Pit Bulls make first rate canine citizens when they are raised from puppyhood by knowledgeable, conscientious owners who train them rigorously using meticulous kindness, and take care never to let aggressive behavior get started.

True enough, it has been proven that those who are unfit for dog ownership are going to cause problems if they are allowed to acquire Pit Bulls. It has also been proven that those who are unfit to drive automobiles will wreak havoc if we let them get behind the wheel. But the answer is not to make it illegal for anyone to ever drive, the answer is to learn to tell the difference between those who know what they are doing and those who do not.

However, rather than learning to discriminate between the fit and the unfit, and then taking action to hold in check the behavior of those who do not have what it takes to own such a creature, the animal control system is again reverting to the lowest common denominator as, increasingly, they pass laws declaring that no one, regardless of their qualifications or expertise, will ever again be allowed to keep a Pit Bull.

Pit Bull attacks have reached epidemic proportions because an enormous number of ignorant, belligerent, and aggressive dog owners keep that breed. But when Pitt Bulls are outlawed, all the nut cases will purchase Rottweilers who, as a result, will also bite a large number of people. When Rottweilers are subsequently outlawed, the lunatic fringe will all rush out and buy German Shepherds, who will soon thereafter, also fall to the legislator's ax.

Where will it end? Few people much like Pit Bulls, but how will you feel when they come to take away your Welsh Corgi? Don't laugh. Corgi's have now been outlawed in Germany, where they are just the most recent on a growing list of breeds that no one is any longer allowed to have. So don't think it can't happen where you live.

The writing is on the wall. If we continue to allow irresponsible people to acquire dogs, they will continue to behave in irresponsible ways that will result in increased restrictions in the future, on all dogs and all dog owners.

It may seem strange to you to hear talk of allowing someone to acquire a dog. But, society has the right to prohibit any individual from having a dog and to place whatever restrictions on ownership we see fit. Because, as far as the law is concerned, no one has a right to own a dog. Like driving a car, dog ownership is a privilege.

Licensing People to Keep Dogs

Up to this point, dog licensing has been a pro forma affair, consisting of little more than documenting the animal's immunizations and paying a nominal fee. To date, we have licensed only dogs, as opposed to also licensing dog owners. However, if we hope to loosen the ever tightening noose of restrictive dog laws, and protect both dogs and humans from abuse and injury, we need to institute a program in which we not only license dogs, but license people to keep dogs.

When I see someone in public with an imposing canine, unless the animal is obviously friendly, I move in another direction, because I know that most people have only minimal control over their dogs. However, automobiles are many times more dangerous than dogs, yet I don't head for the hills every time I see someone coming in my direction from behind the wheel of a car.

The difference is, before you receive a driver's license, you must first prove that you have learned everything you need to know to safely operate a motor vehicle. And you must take the automobile out into the real world and prove to a trained evaluator that you can control the car and control yourself in stressful, real life driving situations.

We need a licensing system sufficiently rigorous to move us from our current expectation that any given dog owner we encounter, probably cannot control his dog, to one in which we can safely assume that every dog on the street is under near-perfect control. And that every owner is trained, disciplined and committed to behaving responsibly.

Mislead by the Lead, or Unleashing a New Way of Thinking

A dog leash is a good way to remind a well-behaved dog of what he is supposed to do, but it is an extremely poor means of restraining an out-of-control dog determined to follow his own agenda. A powerfully built dog, or most any dog that takes you by surprise, can break loose or work up enough slack on the leash to get in range to trip or bite someone walking nearby, attack another dog, or get into other mischief. It happens every day. Millions of Americans can tell you from first hand experience that a dog on the lead is not necessarily a dog under control, and they have the scars to prove it. If you doubt the potential for an on-lead disaster, remember that one of the dogs that mauled Diane Whipple to death was, at the time, being walked with the lead attached.

So the real issue is not whether a given dog is on the lead, but whether the dog is under control. If he's under verbal control, then he is under control whether or not he's on the lead, and if he is not under control, then he's not under control, period, whether or not a leash happens to be attached to him at the moment.

Three Erroneous Assumptions

The current dog licensing system seems to be based on three erroneous assumptions:

  1. Everybody is responsible and
  2. already knows everything they need to know about owning a dog, so
  3. anybody who wants one should be able to have one, even if he is totally ignorant of the species and has made no commitment to care for and properly socialize the animal.

Four Levels of Licensing

To ensure the public safety and the right to unfettered interactions with our dogs in public places, we need a four-tier system of licensing that works very much like the process of getting a driver's license. In the new system, anyone can get licensed at whatever level they want, but they have take a test and prove that both they and their dog can function at that level.

The Off-Lead Public License

There are many people who can manage their dogs exquisitely well using only their voices. They can command the dog to walk by their side and he will do so indefinitely, unfailingly, step for step like a shadow, never wavering, regardless of even the most provocative distractions. He'll stay where he's told for a half-hour or more, he will instantly obey the command "no" to stop whatever he might be doing at the moment. A dog like that will never go after a cat, jump up on or trip anybody, growl at anyone, or disregard a command. Such people have better control of their dogs off lead than what most people are able to achieve on lead.

Therefore, the fourth and highest level of licensing should be the off-lead license, which would permit the holders to publicly walk their dogs off the leash. To get licensed at that level, the applicant would have to demonstrate the following:

  • That he is able to control his dog in a busy area, well enough to keep the animal close by his side, never wavering from the heel position, as he guides him past a series of severe distractions, without any physical restraints, using only his voice.
  • Upon being called, the dog, under all circumstances, always immediately returns to his master's side, even in the face of severe distractions, and remains there until he receives further instructions.
  • The dog will never enter the street, even in the face of extreme provocation, without first receiving the okay to do so.
  • The dog does not approach any human, dog, or other animal without first receiving the go-ahead.
  • The dog is not aggressive toward any living creature

The idea is to gauge the dog's ability and propensity to follow verbal instructions and, thereby, to be controlled effectively and reliably off lead. Therefore, like the performance component of a driver's license test, the owner must demonstrate for an evaluator, his ability to control the dog off lead, in the real world, on busy sidewalks and in the presence of bicycles, skateboards, dogs, cats and every other distraction common to daily life.

Depending on the conditions at the time of the test, the evaluation could be fairly quick or it could last several hours. It just needs to continue long enough for the evaluator to be able to say with near certainty that the owner is able to control the dog off lead in any situation he is likely to encounter. And that he knows with near certainty that the dog is not aggressive and poses no danger to man nor beast.

The Problem with Off-Lead Dogs

On average, I walk the local streets for about an hour each day without a problem. But once or twice a year I have to think quick or move fast to avoid being bitten by one of the dogs that I encounter along the way. There are many other poorly supervised dogs that deliver a bad scare, simply because they approach, perhaps suddenly, and you have no idea how the dog is natured, or what his intentions might be. Thus, even a friendly dog can send your heart racing and spoil your outing before you are able to decipher his intent.

Even if you love dogs, those negative experiences still make you gun-shy after a while. You get to the point where nearly every dog you meet engenders anxiety, because you never know, the one moving toward you at the moment could be one of the ones that will try to bite you, or he might knock you off your feet or coat you with mud in a playful attempt to interact.

Obviously, that is the major problem with a licensing program that allows dogs to walk among the public without a leash attached: Even if they are friendly and perfectly trained, unfamiliar dogs moving off-lead have the potential to terrify the people they encounter.

To a large extent, the problem can be solved by having the off-lead-licensed dog, and/or his off-lead-licensed human, wear a prominently displayed decal with an identification number to signal to all concerned that both are well trained and positioned to be held accountable for their actions.

The problem of reassuring a tooth-shy public can be futher remedied by a well-defined code of conduct for the off-lead dog and his owner.

The Advantage of Providing Increased privledges to Conscientious Dog Owners

It would be a thing of beauty to see the day that, when we encounter a dog walking off lead in public, we could assume he is a friendly, unflappable canine, escorted by someone who has proven himself capable of controlling the dog in any situation, by voice alone.

It's such a sad thing to see dog after dog out for a walk, tied to his owner when he could be moving freely. It appears that those who passed the nation's leash laws believe that every owner is irresponsible and every dog is stupid, while our "anti-barking" laws seem to reflect the view that every owner is responsible and every dog is smart.

As a society, we need to begin extending special privileges to people with well-trained dogs as a means of encouraging others to follow suit. When people with unruly canines arrive at the park and find that people with well-trained companions are free to walk them off lead, then soon, everyone is going to want to have an obedient, under-control dog. And that's the direction in which we should be moving. Let us unleash those dogs proven to be under control and well-behaved and, thereby, encourage responsible behavior among all dog owners.

Separating Fantasy from Reality

I know that for many people, it must sound like somebody's fantasy when they read descriptions of off-lead/level four dogs; the ones that always, immediately obey every command and never enter the street without permission. You may wonder if anybody actually has a dog like that. The answer is, yes, they do.

To be sure, not every dog is predisposed to near perfect behavior, and not every human is capable of handling a dog skillfully enough to train one up to an optimal level of functioning. But the great majority of the dogs coming from the breeds rated high for their obedience training potential (New Animal Control.Org), would be perfectly capable of passing a level-four exam, providing that they were raised properly and trained by a handler who knew what he was doing.

That is the real problem, then. Not that our dogs are incapable of learning to behave well, but that so many of us choose the wrong dog because we acquire a companion before we have the knowledge necessary to make an intelligent choice. And the problem is further compounded because so few of us take the time to learn to teach our dogs in ways they can understand.

The On-Lead Public License

The process of obtaining a license at this third level also requires that you successfully maneuver your dog through a series of real world distractions without incident, only you will have the leash to help keep the dog in position. Nonetheless, if at any point it becomes questionable as to whether you have full control over the dog, you and he fail the test. A person with an On-Lead Owner's License would be legally permitted to take their dog walking among the public, but only with the lead attached.

As with the off-lead licensing procedure, the test just needs to last long enough for the evaluator to be able to certify that the owner is able to control the dog in any situation he is likely to encounter, and that the dog does not behave aggressively toward any living creature.

One nice thing about requiring an on-lead test is that it would keep people with vicious, out-of-control attack dogs from taking them out where they endanger the public. If the city of San Francisco had required its citizens to pass an on-lead certification exam before taking their dogs in public, Ms. Whipple would be alive today.

A Minimal License

This second level of licensing would not require you and your dog to undergo a performance evaluation. It would permit you to have the dog on private property and in the car. But when in public, you would be permitted to walk him only on the lead and only in situations where there are no living creatures nearby. You could not, for example, walk him on a well-traveled sidewalk.

The High Security License

This most basic level of licensing is for people who want to keep a dog with an established history of vicious behavior. Obviously the holder of this license would be forbidden from taking his dog out in public. Also, the owner would be required to pass a city inspection of his property to ensure his dog is properly confined in a humane and escape-proof enclosure and that warning signs are prominently posted.

Go to New Animal Control.Org for more information about animal control reform.

This page is part of Section Nine:
the Cure section of