Dog law – The changes in the Dangerous Dog Act

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Nick Titchener

Managing Partner

In Brief

There are two main dangerous dog offences in the UK and four illegal dog breeds. The police may seize your dog if they believe it is illegal and refusing to cooperate is also an offence. Dogs may be returned if they are found not to be dangerous, and do not have to be destroyed on the basis of a single attack.

types of dangerous dogs

What are the main types of dangerous dog offences in the UK?

There are two main types of offence relating to the ownership of allegedly dangerous dogs in the UK:

  1. Offences alleging ownership of a dog which the police classify as an illegal breed
  2. Offences committed when your dog bites or attacks another dog or person

What dangerous dog breeds are banned in the UK?

There are a number of breeds that are illegal under UK dog law as specified in The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. To own a dog of such a breed or, crucially, a dog of that ‘type’ – which can include crossbreeds – is a criminal offence.

The most common illegal dog is the pit bull terrier. Often dogs which have been described and sold as a Staffordshire bull terrier or a bull terrier have in fact been bred with a pit bull somewhere in the past.

Other dog breeds which are illegal under UK dog law include:

  1. Japanese Tosa
  2. Dogo Argentino
  3. Fila Braziliero (Brazilian Mastiff)

The Act states that It is illegal to:

  1. Own a banned breed of dog
  2. Further breed from a banned breed of dog
  3. Sell a banned breed of dog
  4. Give away or abandon a banned breed of dog

Are Staffordshire bull terriers going to be banned in the UK?

It is not illegal to own and keep a Staffordshire bull terrier – more frequently known as a ‘Staffy’ – in the UK, as the breed is not listed in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Seizure of a dangerous dog

If a police officer considers that your dog might be an illegal breed they are entitled to seize it and it will be held in police kennels. The police will arrange for an expert in dog identification to assess your dog to consider whether it is illegal. These experts are usually, in the first instance, police officers who are experienced and trained in dangerous dog law. They are not always veterinary experts.

If the designated police expert decides that your dog is an illegal breed under UK dog law, they may tell you that if you sign over ownership of your dog to them, you will not be charged with an offence of possessing a dangerous dog. If you do so, your dog will be destroyed. You do not have to agree to this.

What happens if you refuse to sign a dangerous dog over to the police?

If you refuse to sign your dog over to the police you will be charged with a criminal offence, so it is imperative to seek expert legal advice as soon as you are able to do so. A specialist firm of solicitors such as Lawtons can instruct a veterinary expert to assess your dog and consider if it is an illegal breed. Even if your dog is found to be an illegal breed, it does not automatically mean that it will be destroyed.

The veterinary expert will go on to assess your dog’s temperament. UK dog law allows an otherwise illegal dog to be kept if the animal is assessed and found not to be a danger to the public.

Certain conditions must also be met and maintained to adhere to the law, including:

  1. Neutering the dog
  2. Microchipping the dog
  3. Fully insuring the dog
  4. Muzzling the dog and keeping it on a lead in public

What should you do if your dog attacks another dog or person?

If your dog has bitten or attacked another dog or a person, you do not have to agree to a suggestion from the police to simply sign your dog over to them for destruction. Even if your dog did bite or attack the person or other dog as alleged, if this is a one-off incident and the assessment of temperament is positive, it is possible to prevent destruction of your dog.

At Lawtons we have considerable experience and success in dealing with such complex cases. Get in touch with us before you agree to any police proposals to sign over your dog as we may be able to help you to prevent your dog being destroyed. We have criminal defence offices in London & the surrounding areas.

Nb. This guide is intended to give general information only and not intended to be used as the basis upon which advice is given nor should it be relied upon as giving advice specific to a case or individual. Lawtons do not accept liability for anyone using this guide. Should you require specific advice in connection with a real case or situation, please contact us immediately so that we can provide specific advice.

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