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Dangerous dogs

Dangerous dog

It is an offence to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place or in a private place where it is not allowed to be. In addition, the ownership of certain types of dog, such as the Pit Bull Terrier, is prohibited. It is also an offence to breed from, sell or exchange (even as a gift) a prohibited type of a dog.

The case for government action

People need to be assured there are laws in place that enable the police, local authorities and the courts to respond when owners have failed to prevent their dogs becoming dangerously out of control.

Latest news

7 February 2011 – Home Office public consultation on proposals to establish a new streamlined approach to tackle anti-social behaviour – powers affected include those applicable to dogs. Those concerned about the control of dogs may wish to respond to the Home Office. Last year Defra issued a public consultation exercise on possible changes to the dangerous dogs legislation.  Defra Ministers are considering all the comments received, before making an announcement on the proposed way forward in the near future. Note: this Home Office consultation is a separate exercise to any future Defra proposals on other issues relating to dangerous dogs.

25 November 2010 - The summary of responses to the consultation on dangerous dogs legislation is now available. A news release has been published.

Key facts and figures

  • There are approximately 8 million dogs in UK.
  • Prohibited dog types are:
    • Pit Bull Terrier
    • Japanese Tosa
    • Dogo Argentino
    • Fila Briziliera
  • In England in 2008/09, there were over 5,000 hospital admissions resulting from being bitten or struck by a dog (excludes people treated in minor injury units (MIU) or accident and emergency (A&E) departments, without being admitted as an inpatient).
  • In 2009, dog attacks on people in England cost the Health Service £3.3 million.
  • Estimate of 6,000 dog attacks on postmen/women each year.
  • Police and local authorities have powers to seize dogs they consider to be dangerously out of control.
  • Police, local authorities and animal welfare groups work together in some areas to promote responsible dog ownership.

Relevant legislation and regulations

Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 prohibits four types of dog:

  • the Pit Bull Terrier
  • the Japanese tosa
  • the Dogo Argentino
  • the Fila Brasileiro

It is important to note that, in the UK, dangerous dogs are classified by “type”, not by breed label. This means that whether a dog is considered dangerous, and therefore prohibited, will depend on a judgment about its physical characteristics, and whether they match the description of a prohibited ‘type’. This assessment of the physical characteristics is made by a court.

The 1991 Act was amended by the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997. The 1997 Act removed the mandatory destruction order provisions of the 1991 Act by giving the courts discretion on sentencing, and re-opened the Index of Exempted Dogs for those prohibited dogs which the courts consider would not pose a risk to the public. Only courts can direct that a dog can be placed on the list of exempted dogs.

Section 3 of the 1991 Act created a new offence of being an owner of a dog of any type or breed which is dangerously out of control in a public place or a non-public place in which it is not permitted to be.

Detailed guidance on the legislation was issued to police forces and the courts between 1991 and 1998 by the Home Office. The guidance issued can be found below (in PDF format):

Key publications and documents

  • Control of Dogs, The Law and You (PDF 600 KB) – Guidance on the law governing the control of dogs.
  • Dangerous Dogs Law – Guidance for Enforcers (PDF 160 KB) – Guidance to aid enforcers in the use of dangerous dogs law.  The guidance, written in association with the police, local authorities and the RSPCA, explains the law on dangerous dogs and provides examples of good practice when enforcing the legislation.

Other related dog issues (including overseas legislation)

Page last modified: 28 February 2011

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