What the law says about dangerous dogs and what your rights are
The act was aimed at reducing the number of attacks by specific breeds, which were held to be particularly aggressive.
The legislation has proved controversial, however, with some critics claiming it is unclear on how to establish a dog’s breed, and others that it encourages owners of other dogs to be too complacent about the risk their pet may pose.
What does the act say about ‘banned breeds’?
The 1991 Dangerous Dog Act outlaws the owning of any ‘specially controlled dogs’ without a court-authorised exemption issued by the courts.
These breeds are:
Pit Bull Terrier
Even with such an exemption, dogs within these specific categories must still be muzzled, kept on a leash at all times when in public, and registered and insured by their owners.
Animals must be neutered or spayed to prevent them from breeding and must be tattooed and microchipped to ensure they can be identified and returned to their owner in the event of an escape.
The act also bans breeding, sale and exchange of such dogs, even those exempted by the court.
What does the law say?
It is an offence for any person to be in possession of a banned breed or breed type – even if they are not its owner.
If a pet dog is at home, officers will need a warrant and you are within your rights to refuse entry if they do not have one. A warrant gives police a right of entry even if you are not present.
An appointed breed ID expert will examine your dog if it is seized and it will be returned to you if they conclude it is not a banned breed.
You may be asked if you wish to ‘disclaim’ your dog. If you do so, your dog will be euthanised. Unless you consent, the relevant authority must make apply to a court for a destruction order.
You have a right to a court hearing to challenge the presumption of ‘type’.
The seizing authorities can then bring criminal charges against you or a civil application.
For a criminal charge, a file will be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide if there is sufficient evidence to bring about a prosecution.
If convicted, you have the right to appeal against this decision. As with any criminal charge, if you are found guilty you will receive a criminal record.
Civil applications can be made where it appears no person has been or is to be prosecuted for an offence, either because the owner cannot be found or for some other reason or the dog cannot be returned to the owner for legal reasons.
You have the right to appeal this decision and must do so within 21 days of the order.
What are the criticisms of the Dangerous Dogs Act?
As well as covering the four specific breeds, the act also extends to any dog that appears to be a cross of one or more of them.
Critics say the act takes no account of whether a dog is actually dangerous and ignores the importance of how the dog is raised and trained.
The RSPCA says there is no research to demonstrate that these breeds or types are any more aggressive than other dogs and that whether or not a dog is aggressive can be influenced by factors such as how they are bred and reared and experiences throughout their life.
The four types identified by the act 1991 are not recognised breeds in the UK and critics say the act contains no descriptions of them, making it difficult to decide whether ort not an imlal is ocovered by the legislation.
My dog is not one of the breeds on the banned list. Does the Dangerous Dogs Act still apply?
Whatever breed of dog, you own the Dangerous Dogs Act still applies to you.
The act makes it illegal for a dog to be 'out of control' or to bite or attack someone, and also applies if a person has a ‘reasonable apprehension’ that a dog may bite them.
The original act applied only to public places, but the law was amended in 2014 to include incidents on private property.
The law does provides a defence if your dog attacks an intruder in your own home – but NOT in your garden.
It is an offence if your dog attacks an assistance dog but attacks on other animals, including pet dogs, are not.
Keeping your dog safe.
The RSPCA has issued the following guidelines for owners:
If your dog reacts to the doorbell it is sensible to introduce a routine for managing them when it rings. For example, you could train your dog with reward based methods to go to their bed when they hear the doorbell.
Ensure your garden is secure with locked gates.
If you allow visitors to interact with your dog, make sure your dog is comfortable and can retreat to his own personal space where he won't be bothered if needed.
This is particularly important in the case of visiting children as children's body language can be confusing to dogs.
Ensure your dog responds to basic commands so that you can keep it under reasonable control when in public places and in your home.