A canine behaviour expert has called for the Government to introduce a mandatory theory test for potential dog owners to make sure they are educated about how to look after their animal.

Nanci Creedon appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture this evening to discuss how best to deal with dangerous dog breeds in Ireland.

She suggested the theory test could be structured using the exact same model as the current driving theory test and would cover many topics which focus on dog safety and minimising dog bites.

Ms Creedon told committee members that a lot of aggressive behavior by dogs could be avoided if the owner had a better understanding of dog behaviour, and how to manage their dog's environment and handling.

The committee also heard from the Department of Agriculture's Head of Animal Welfare Dr Eoin Ryan, who said that policy responsibilities for dog control and dog welfare each lie with separate departments.

However, he said a working group established on the issue will enable the State to take a coordinated approach.

All dogs over 12 weeks old must be microchipped and the possession, movement, sale, or supply of an unchipped dog is an offence.

Dr Ryan outlined that the data indicates a high level of compliance, with over 700,000 dogs microchipped since 2017, including over 122,000 registered in 2022.

Principal Officer with the Department of Rural and Community Development - which monitors dog breeding - Paul Geraghy told the committee there were 245 registered breeding establishments in 2021.

"This figure includes 92 Commercial Dog 4 Breeding Establishments (CDBEs), 83 Hunts Clubs and 49 Commercial Boarding Kennels (CBKs). The remainder comprises Animal Welfare Shelters (17) and training kennels (4).

"It is the department's intention in 2023 to begin to interrogate the statistics provided by local authorities more rigorously than in previous years to ascertain where more focus could be brought on any local issues".

He also pointed to discussions which are under way on a new provision to allow for Dog Control Notices, (DCNs) – that is a notice issued to a dog owner whose dog has been found to be out of control.

"We also intend to introduce increased penalties for the offence of 'Livestock Worrying' which continues to be an issue in our rural areas. 217 incidences of Livestock Worrying were reported to the local authorities in 2021, with 241 reported in 2020.

"There have been recent very serious and damaging attacks and we are very aware of the upset and loss that these attacks can cause to farmers across the country."

Ms Creedon wants to go even further. She is calling for a Dog Bite Prevention Organisation to be established to investigate serious attacks.

In her opening statement she said "the investigations carried out by gardaí and dog wardens following an incident are minimal. This new organisation could assess the dog prior to euthanasia, and begin to build a picture of the characteristics of serious dog bites."

"A dog of any breed and size can cause a fatality", Ms Creedon noted, adding that "a dog displaying aggressive behaviour is absolutely not doing so because of its breed".

"The challenge in this country is finding responsibly-bred dogs", she said.

Under law, restricted breeds in Ireland must be muzzled and kept on a leash. "Banning the breeds just glorifies them," Ms Creedon warned.

She cited several instances where dogs had killed people in Ireland, adding that "the Control of Dogs act was not breached" in any of the cases.

She said there is a lack of data on dog attacks, as when an attack occurs "everything is swept under the rug."

Dr Ryan said that the recently-established working group on dog control will hold its third meeting tomorrow.