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Blue Cross guide to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

What is the Dangerous Dogs Act?

The Dangerous Dogs Act is a law introduced in 1991 following a spate of attacks by aggressive or uncontrollable dogs. It was hoped that this act, which was later revised in 1997, would help to protect the public.

An important part of the act is that it banned four types of dog. They are:

  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Fila Brasileiro

Dangerous dogs are classified by type, not breed, which means that a dog’s physical appearance will determine whether it’s deemed to be prohibited under the law. This judgement is made by a court.

If your dog is seized by the police and found to be a banned type, the court can use its discretion to place them on the list of exempted dogs. This means that instead of them being destroyed, you can own them provided you follow certain conditions. The dog has to be muzzled and kept on a lead in public, they must be registered, insured, neutered, tattooed and microchipped.

Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act is not breed specific, and applies to all dogs regardless of breed or breed-type. Section 3 makes it an offence for any dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place.  Dangerously out of control has been defined in law as " Any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that a dog will injure any person". This means that a dog could be considered dangerous even if it does not actually injure anyone. If a person believes that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the dog could injure them then charges can be brought. 
 
The offence is considered to have been committed by the owner of the dog, and by whoever is in charge of the dog at the time of the offence. This means that if you allow someone else to be in charge of your dog and an incident occurs, then you could be held responsible.

Updates to the act  

Throughout 2013, the government has announced several changes to the law. They include: 

  • All dogs must be microchipped from 2016 
  • Owners of dogs who attack on private property can be prosecuted
  • The government has committed to making attacks on guide dogs an aggravated offence 
  • New laws in England and Wales will raise the maximum sentence for the owner of a dog that kills someone from two years to 14 years (the equivalent of death by dangerous driving) 

What does Blue Cross think of the Dangerous Dogs Act?

Blue Cross, along with many other organisations, believes the Act has completely failed to adequately protect the public.

In the last five years, the number of dog bite incidents has actually risen by 79 per cent in London and 43 per cent nationally.

The current law has failed to eradicate the pit bull terrier in the UK and has, in fact, created a status symbol out of dogs of these types and their lookalikes.

All dogs have the potential to be dangerous or wonderful, well-behaved pets and it is people, not the dogs themselves, that make dogs dangerous.

In November 2010 a public consultation by Defra revealed that 88 per cent of respondents believed breed specific legislation in its current form was not effective in protecting the public from dangerous dogs.

What is Blue Cross doing about it?

We are working with a wider group of stakeholders, including other leading animal charities and the Association of Chief Police Officers, to lobby the government to introduce a more consolidated piece of dog legislation.

What would we like to see instead?

We would like to see an early preventative strategy so that action can be taken against irresponsible owners at the first sign of aggression. 

There would no longer be banned types, ensuring that preventive measures can apply to all dogs regardless of breed type. Research supports the principle of deed not breed and proves that genetics play only a part in the temperament of a dog with environment and training having a much greater effect.

A new law would better protect the public by making owners accountable at all times and in all places.