MARK COLVIN: Over the last half century, waves of anger at dog breeds from German Shepherds, through Rottweilers, to Pit Bulls have led to calls for them to be banned.
Now the peak body representing vets in Australia is calling on governments to ditch bans on breeds.
The Australian Veterinary Association says the latest research shows that banning particular breeds does nothing to address aggression in dogs, and nothing to increase public safety.
The vets say a focus on registration, education and temperament testing would be more effective.
But a critic says they're advocating a risky strategy that allows every dog at least one free bite, and that bite could be fatal.
Ashley Hall reports.
ASHLEY HALL: In the past five years or so, each of the Australian state has moved to ban a selection of dog breeds considered to be dangerous.
Among them, the American Pit Bull terrier and the Japanese Tosa.
In each case, the ban followed a ferocious attack, and a brief debate about whether the dog or its owner was to blame.
KERSTI SEKSEL: Breeds specific legislation is not the answer. It hasn't decreased the number of dog bites.
ASHLEY HALL: Dr Kersti Seksel is a veterinary behaviourist who speaks for the Australian Veterinary Association, which has launched a new strategy today to deal with dog bites.
KERSTI SEKSEL: Regardless of breed, dogs are capable of biting, just like people are capable of fighting regardless of our origin either.
ASHLEY HALL: Don't some dogs do more damage though when they do bite?
KERSTI SEKSEL: I guess the simple answer to that is the larger the dog, the more potential for damage.
If you're a Great Dane and you dig a hole in the backyard, it's a much bigger hole that you're going to dig in the backyard than if you're a Chihuahua.
If you're a Great Dane and you bite someone, the sheer size of you is going to make more damage than a Chihuahua will.
But there are three kilo Yorkshire Terriers that have also killed human beings. So it's not just about size.
ASHLEY HALL: The vets are proposing an alternative framework to dog breed bans.
They want to see all dogs identified and registered, a national mandatory reporting system for dog bites, temperament testing when a dog is sold, and a community wide education campaign on bites for pet owners, breeders, parents and children.
KERSTI SEKSEL: We know that owning pets and owning dogs is good for us. There's been lots of studies to show that they decrease blood pressure, decrease cholesterol and there's even been studies showing that we could save millions of dollars in the annual health budget in Australia if people actually owned pets.
And dog bites, on the other hand, do cost the health budget a lot of money so in fact the way that I would see one way of getting it on the national agenda is to get the Federal Minister for Health on board.
ASHLEY HALL: The president of RSPCA Victoria, Hugh Wirth, was once a supporter of banning dangerous dog breeds.
He advocated for the breeding out of the American Pit Bull Terrier, saying they were "lethal" and "time bombs waiting for the right circumstances".
But not anymore.
HUGH WIRTH: The truth about breed-specific legislation is that it doesn't work, you don't decrease the numbers. In fact you send the breeding of that particular breed of dog underground.
ASHLEY HALL: Now you're on the record as being an advocate for breeding out American Pit Bulls, for example, what's brought your change of heart?
HUGH WIRTH: Well, I've kept up to date with veterinary research, behavioural research on dogs.
What I believed years ago, when I made those statements, as pertinent to the RSPCA, was the common approach that even the veterinary profession was using.
Now that this research has been done and it's quite widespread, we've discovered that our understanding of dogs and their behaviour was completely wrong.
GRAEME SMITH: The old system of "deed not breed" is a system that allows dogs one free bite.
In the case of American Pit Bull terriers one free bite can often be a fatal bite.
ASHLEY HALL: Graeme Smith of Victoria's Lost Dogs Home says the AVA's recommendations are a backward step.
GRAEME SMITH: I've seen what American Pit Bull Terriers do and people are fearful of them and we need to protect the community from these dogs.
ASHLEY HALL: The AVA will send a copy of the new strategy to each level of government in an effort to have the plan adopted nationally.