Us Brits love our dogs. Around a quarter of UK households have at least one canine chum – that’s a lot of dogs! So it’s probably no surprise that there are over 20 pieces of legislation that apply to dog ownership in Britain.

This owner-friendly guide is designed to help pet owners understand their responsibilities, but it should not be considered legal advice. Please note, the information below applies to England and Wales. The rules may be different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Animal welfare

Keeping your dog happy and healthy

Did you know that all British pet owners have a legal duty to provide for their pet’s welfare needs?

All domestic animals have the legal right to:

  • live in a suitable environment
  • eat a suitable diet
  • exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • be housed with, or apart from, other animals
  • be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

You may hear people referring to these five welfare needs as the ‘five freedoms’.

Dog owners who fail to ensure their pet’s welfare needs are met face prosecution – but importantly, they run the risk of causing suffering to an animal who they have taken into their home and have a responsibility to care for. Failing to meet a pet’s welfare needs could cause them to become sick, hurt, upset or stressed.

Owners can be taken to court if they don’t look after their pets properly and face a prison sentence of up to six months, and a fine of up to £20,000. They may also have their pet taken away from them, or be banned from having pets in the future.

Law: Animal Welfare Act 2006, section 9

Aversive training devices

In Wales, dog collars that are capable of giving an electric shock are banned. These include collars operated by remote control, anti-bark collars, and collars that are linked to electric fences. 

Owners who use these on their dogs (or cats) in Wales can go to prison for six months and face a fine of up to £20,000.

Electric shock collars use pain and fear to train or control dogs. Blue Cross is campaigning for a UK-wide ban on these cruel devices.

Law: Animal Welfare (Electronic Collars) (Wales) Regulations 2010

Tail docking

It’s against the law to dock a pet dog’s tail, in whole or in part. 

Exemptions to the rule are if tail removal is needed for medical reasons, or, if the dog is destined to become a working dog, a puppy’s tail can be docked if they are less than five days old. This exemption only applied to certain breed types, and these defined types are different in England and Wales.

Law: Under the Docking of Working Dogs Tails (England) Regulations 2007, Docking of Working Dogs Tails (Wales) Regulations 2007

Cruelty

Animal cruelty is a criminal offence. Allowing a dog to suffer unnecessarily could land you in prison for six months, a £20,000 fine, and a ban on keeping animals. 

Note: the government has announced its intentions to increase animal cruelty sentences to a maximum of five years in prison.

Law: Animal Welfare Act 2006, section 4
 

At home, in someone else’s home, or on private property

Controlling your dog in your own home or on someone else’s property

Allowing your dog to be ‘dangerously out of control’ is now against the law on private property, as well as in public. This means owners can be prosecuted if their dog attacks someone in their home, including in their front and back gardens, or in private property such as a pub. 

An exemption is in place if a dog bites someone who has no legal right to be in your home, for example a burglar. You will need to make sure your dog is not a threat to delivery drivers, postal workers, health workers and other professionals who may visit your property.

A dog doesn’t have to have bitten or physically injured someone for an offence to take place. If a person feels your dog may hurt them, they may still be considered ‘dangerously out of control’. This applies to all dogs of all sizes, breeds and types.

We strongly recommend reading up on canine body language so you can tell when your dog is uncomfortable in a situation at home, such as a delivery driver knocking on the door or if you have visitors, particularly children. This means you can try training your dog to cope, or move them to a place where you know they will be safe while you deal with visitors. 

Read more about keeping children and dogs safe around each other.

Read more about understanding dog body language.

Law: Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 amends the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

Dog barking too much

All dogs bark sometimes, it’s perfectly natural. But when they bark a lot over a long period of time they can become a noisy nuisance to your neighbours.

If the problem has gone on for too long and has caused a lot of upset, your local authority’s environmental health department can formally ask you to stop your dog from continuing the behaviour, and if you don’t, they can take your dog away from you.

Usually, when dogs bark persistently over a long period of time, it is because they are distressed. Common reasons include being left home alone for too long, because they want attention, or because they are worried by something. We recommend contacting a qualified behaviourist to help you resolve the underlying issue.

Read more about how to stop your dog barking

Law: Environmental Protection Act 1990

Out and about in public

We recommend checking your local authority’s website to find out about any laws or restrictions on dogs in your area.

Dog fouling

Dog fouling consistently ranks as the number one thing local councils receive complaints about, and it’s easy to understand why. It smells, it gets stuck to your shoes, and it causes a hazard to the environment.

You must scoop that poop in most public places, however there are some areas where picking up is not a legal requirement (unless a specific order or bylaw has been placed), and these are heathland, woodland, land used for the grazing of animals.

Your local authority also has the power to introduce Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) to curb dog fouling, including requiring dog owners to pick up after their dogs in certain areas or requiring owners to carry poo bags on them at all times. Owners can be issued with a fixed penalty notice of up to £100 for not complying with regulations. Areas with a PSPO on them should be indicated by signs.

Even if you walk in areas with no legal requirement to pick up poo, it’s important to get into the routine doing so. It might seem like not much harm has been done, but canine faeces can contain parasites that, if not cleaned up, can spread to grass and, if eaten, can cause blindness in people and pregnant cattle to abort their young.

Owners of assistance dogs who have a disability that prevents them from picking up poo, for example a Guide Dog walked by a registered blind person, are exempt from these rules.

Law: Environmental Protection Act (1990), Litter (Animal Droppings) Order 1991; Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

Dogs on leads

There is no blanket law requiring dogs to be kept on a lead in all public spaces, however there are a series of orders that mean you have to leash your dog in certain places in your local area, for example children’s play areas, sports pitches, roads, parks, and beaches.

Local authorities have the power to introduce these orders under a number of different laws, and can issue fines or fixed penalty notices for those who don’t comply. Many local authorities have introduced Public Spaces Protection Orders over the last couple of years to restrict dogs to being walked on lead (or excluded from entirely) in certain public spaces. Look out for signage detailing restrictions. We also recommend checking your local council’s website for details of any restricted areas.

Law: Road Traffic Act 1988, section 27; Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 

Out of control in a public place

Dogs must not be allowed to be ‘dangerously out of control’, which means injuring someone or making someone fear they may be injured. This applies to any breed or type of dog.

Owners (or the person in charge of the dog at the time) who allow their pets to hurt a person face punishments of up to three years in prison for injury, or 14 years for death, an unlimited fine, disqualification from owning pets, and having their dog destroyed. It is also an offence to allow a dog to injure a registered assistance dog.

In cases where no injury is caused, owners can still go to prison for six months, be fined up to £5,000, be banned from owning pets and have their dog destroyed.

We highly recommend taking your dog to positive reinforcement training classes and making sure they are well behaved members of society.

Read our advice on how to approach a dog in a public place.

Law: Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, section 3

Dogs and livestock

Dogs should not be allowed to ‘worry’ livestock. This means owners must prevent dogs from attacking livestock, chasing livestock, or not being on a lead or under close control in a field containing sheep.

Even if your dog does not bite livestock, chasing or barking at them can cause pregnant animals to abort their young through stress.

When walking in the countryside or other areas where you’re likely to come across cattle, sheep, horses and other animals, we recommend keeping your dog on a lead. Be particularly wary of farm animals with their young. If you feel threatened or are chased by livestock, then let go of the lead for your own safety.  It’s usually the dog they see as a threat rather than you and most dogs can easily outrun a cow.

If you are walking across farmland where you can see livestock, or even if you think sheep, cattle, goats or other animals maybe nearby, it’s really important to put your dog on a lead.

Even if your pet does not usually chase, they may become excited by unusual smells, sounds or movements, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Read more about dogs and livestock.

Read more about keeping dogs and horses safe around each other.

Law: Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, Animals Act 1971,section 3

Dogs in pubs, restaurants and cafes

There is no law or any health and safety regulations that ban dogs from being in premises where food and drink is served or sold; however they must not enter areas where food is prepared, handled or stored, for example the kitchen.

It’s up to the owner of establishments that serve food and drink whether they’d like to welcome dogs to join in the fun or not. 

Law: Food Hygiene Regulations 2013, under EU Regulation (EC) 852/2004, Annex II

Dogs and roads

Walking your dog by a road

Your local authority has the power to ask you to keep your dog on a lead when walking along ‘designated’ roads. A designated road is one your local authority has chosen as such, and the designated section of road to which the law applies should be marked with signs. 

While there is no countrywide blanket ban on walking dogs off-lead along roads, we recommend keeping your dog on a lead or under very close control when walking by any road to prevent accidents.

Law: Road Traffic Act 1988, section 27

Dogs and road traffic accidents

If your dog is injured on the road

Drivers who injure dogs with their car, motorbike or other vehicle must give their name and address to the owner, or person in charge of the dog. If there is no person with the dog at the time, the driver should report the incident to the police within 24 hours.

Law: Road Traffic Act 1988, section 170.

If your dog injures someone on the road

Claims can be brought against dog owners who are proven liable if their dog causes a road incident that causes injury, illness or death.

We strongly recommend that dog owners take out third party liability insurance to protect against any costs or compensation you may need to pay if your dog does cause an accident.

Legal costs are expensive and can run into tens of thousands of pounds without insurance.

Law: Animals Act 1971, section 2

Travelling with your dog in a car or other road vehicle

The Highway Code requires dogs (and other animals) to be ‘suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly’ (rule 57).

While breaking the Highway Code is not an offence in itself, allowing a dog to distract you could be taken into account in the event of an accident.

Bear in mind that in a crash, an unsecured dog will be thrown forward with significant force. This could result in your pet’s death, and depending on the size of your dog, could also injure or kill the driver or passengers.

Travelling abroad with your dog

The Pet Travel Scheme allows you to take your dog on holiday with you to other countries within the European Union as well as some additional countries that are also members of the scheme. To do this, your dog will need a pet passport proving that they have been microchipped and vaccinated, including against rabies.

Your dog will also need to visit a vet in the country you are visiting for tapeworm treatment before returning to the UK.

Check the latest requirements on the government’s website.

Law: European regulation (EC) 998/2003

Identification

Dogs need to have two forms of identification when in a public place.

Microchipping

All dogs must be microchipped, and the owner’s detail must be registered on one of the authorised databases.

The law, which came into force in April 2016, applies to dogs and puppies over the age of eight weeks. Exemptions are available if a vet believes there is a valid health reason not to microchip a dog. The vet must issue the owner with a certificate of exemption in this instance.

Owners are required to keep their pets’ details up to date, for example if they move house. If you rehome your dog to someone else, you must give the new owner the correct microchip registration paperwork so that they can contact the database and register as the dog’s new owner.

Owners who do not get their dog microchipped and registered with an approved database by face a fine of up to £500 if caught.

Microchipping puppies

Puppies must be microchipped before they go to their new homes under the new law coming into effect on 6 April 2016. 

The breeder should be the first registered keeper of the puppy – they are breaking the law if they do not register the puppy by the time he or she is eight weeks old. Breeders should also pass on correct microchip paperwork to the new owner when the puppy goes home.

Read more about microchipping your dog.

Law: Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015, Microchipping of Dogs (Wales) Regulations 2015

Collar and tag

All pet dogs must wear a collar and tag with the owner’s name and address on it when in a public place. Even if your dog is microchipped, they still need to wear a tag. Exemptions apply for some working dogs.

It’s up to you whether or not you put your telephone number on the tag as well, but we recommend you add your mobile number so you can be contacted at any time should your dog go missing.

Law: Control of Dogs Order 1992

Lost and found or stray dogs

Local authorities have a statutory duty to hold stray dogs for seven days so missing pets can be reunited with their owners. If the dog is not claimed after seven days, the authority can find the dog a new home (usually through a rehoming organisation) or euthanise them.

Anyone who finds a stray dog must make an attempt to reunite them with their owner if they know who they are, or report them to the dog warden if they do not. The police are not responsible for stray dogs in England and Wales. 

If you find a stray dog and wish to keep them, you must still contact the dog warden first. If you do not, you could be accused of theft.

Read more about what to do if you have lost or found a dog on our advice pages.

Law: Environmental Protection Act 1990

Illegal types of dog

Some types of dog are illegal to own, breed, sell, abandon, or give away. The four banned types are

  • pit bull terrier
  • Japanese tosa
  • dogo Argentino
  • fila Braziliero

These four types are defined by what they look like; not by the dog’s breed, the dog’s parents’ breeds, DNA testing or behaviour.

Since 1997, owners who have been told their dog is one of these types can apply to the court for an exemption order. This means that dogs that look illegal can undergo a behavioural assessment which, if they pass, proves they are no danger to society. If a dog fails this test, they will be euthanised. 

Dogs who pass the exemption process must be muzzled and kept on a lead in public at all times. Owners must also take out third party liability insurance for their pets.

Read more about why we want to see breed-specific legislation overturned so dogs are no longer outlawed on looks.

Law: Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, section 1

Dog breeding and selling

Anyone keeping a breeding establishment for dogs at any premises and is in the business of breeding dogs for sale must be licensed by the local council in England. Licences are not necessary for so called ‘hobby breeders’.

In Wales, additional conditions apply including licensing being a requirement for anyone keeping three or more breeding bitches.

Pet shops must be licensed to sell animals and can apply to sell puppies. People who have concerns about animal welfare in a pet shop should report these to the local council that has issued the license. It is against the law to sell pets in the street, at markets or in public places.

Unfortunately there is no specific legislation governing the sale of pets online, though this is something Blue Cross is campaigning hard to change.

Buying a puppy is a minefield due to inadequate and out of date laws that don’t sufficiently protect animal welfare or consumers. If you want to buy a puppy, please read our advice first.

Read our in-depth report into pet breeding and sales.

Law: Pet Animals Act 1951; Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999, Animal Welfare (Breeding of Dogs) (Wales) Regulations 2014

Dog kennels and home boarding

Establishments that board dogs either overnight or during the day must be licensed by the local authority, and this applies to both commercial and domestic premises.

Law: Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963

— Page last updated 1/05/2018