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A Guide to the Dangerous Dog Act

The 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) makes it an offence for an owner to allow any dog "to be dangerously out of control". The act was introduced to help reduce the number of dog attacks, which at the time, were rising rapidly.

To offer an insight into the reasoning behind the law and the effects thus far, the NHS Hospital Admission statistics show there were 7,227 hospital admissions for dog bites or attacks in the 12 months from March 2014 to February 2015. This is 6.5% up on the previous 12 months and compared with 4,110 in the equivalent period a decade ago. Meanwhile, RSPCA figures suggest that 30 people were killed by dogs between 1991 and 2016.

What does ‘dangerously out of control’ mean?

Since 1991, it has been illegal for dogs to be ‘out of control in a public place’ but in 2014 the law was revised to include incidents on private property too, so this can be inside homes and gardens. A dog is considered to be dangerously out of control if it injures someone or makes someone worried they might be injured.

A court could also decide that your dog is dangerously out of control if it attacks someone’s animal, or if the owner of an animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog attacking their animal.

What dogs are banned?

Under section 1 of the DDA, the Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) makes it illegal to own, sell, breed, give away or abandon specific breeds/types of dog regardless of the animal’s behaviour or temperament. The current illegal breeds are the Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, Pit Bull Terrier and Japanese Tosa.

What are the penalties?

If you are found guilty of an offence under Section 3 of the DDA, the following penalties may apply.

  • If your dog is dangerously out of control without causing injury to a person, the court can issue a fine of up to £5000.
  • You can get an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to 6 months (or both) if your dog is dangerously out of control. You may not be allowed to own a dog in the future and your dog may be destroyed.
  • If you allow your dog injure another person, you can be sent to prison for up to 5 years or fined (or both).
  • If you deliberately use your dog to injure someone you could be charged with ‘malicious wounding’.
  • If you allow your dog to kill someone, you can be sent to prison for up to 14 years or get an unlimited fine (or both).
  • If you allow your dog to injure an assistance dog (for example a guide dog) you can be sent to prison for up to 3 years or fined (or both).

What if you have a banned dog?

With the permission of a court, the police can seize a banned dog, even if a complaint hasn't been made and the dog has not acted dangerously. If your dog is in a public place, the police do not need a warrant, but if it is in a private place, the police must get a warrant.

When a banned dog is seized, a police dog expert will make a judgment on the type of dog you have and whether it could be a danger to the public. Depending on their decision your dog will either be released or kept in kennels before the case goes to court, whilst you cannot visit your dog until a decision has been made. If it does go to court, it would be your responsibility to prove your dog is not a banned type. If you are successful, your dog will be released to you. If you are not, you will be found guilty of owning a banned type of dog. You can choose to give up ownership of your dog, which would mean it could be destroyed before even going to court.

There is, however, a small possibility that if you can prove a dog's safe, despite it being a banned breed, then you can get a certificate of exemption, though you will also be required to take out special insurance.

What other laws do dog owners need to know?

In April 2016 compulsory microchipping was introduced. Dogs must be microchipped by the time they are eight weeks old and if there is a change of ownership, new owners are responsible for updating the microchip’s details. Failure to comply could result in a fine of up to £500. There can also be fines if the local authority serve you a noise abatement notice because your dog’s barking causes serious nuisance to your neighbours.

Why has the act been heavily criticised?

The act has been criticised for its position on banning dogs, because it bases the decision on whether a dog is illegal on looks alone, so a dog’s parents’ breeds, DNA testing and behaviour do not come into consideration.

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home have been very vocal in the media, stating "we have to deal with those consequences - with dogs that are sentenced to be put to sleep on the grounds of their appearance, rather than anything they have actually done or any aggression.” They have also carried out research finding 86% of 215 dog experts stated the way that a dog is brought up by its owner, is a very important in determining their behaviour. Their findings also showed 98% of the dog experts felt that adding more breeds to the banned list would have no effect in preventing further dog attacks.

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