What Is The Dangerous Dog Act?
You have probably heard of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. This act banned certain types of dogs in the UK and was aimed at protecting people from dangerous animals which have been bred to fight. Unfortunately, the legislation is far from perfect as there can be confusion over what is and what is not a banded breed.
To make matters worse, since the act was brought in, over a third of the people who have been killed by dogs were attacked by legal breeds.
Which Dogs Are Banned?
The banned breeds are the Pit Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino Japanese Tosa and Fila Brasiliero. The Pit Bull was originally bred for fighting and for bear bating both of which took place in pits. The Japanese Tosa was also bred for fighting whilst the the Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero were originally hunting dogs in South America but were then used for fighting in the UK. All four breeds are illegal to own, breed from or sell.
The trouble is that the decision as to whether a dog is a banned breed is made on the basis of its looks. If your dog matches any of the characteristics of a banned breed, then it could be considered to be a dangerous dog. The responsibility is then on you to prove that it isn’t. Dogs which are deemed to be a banned breed can be taken away from their owners whether they have been aggressive or not.
Animals can be seized in public places but a warrant is required to remove a dog from your home. If you can prove that your dog is not a banned breed it will be returned to you. If you can’t, then the dog will be destroyed and you could face a custodial sentence and an unlimited fine. On rare occasions a court may rule that a dog is a banned breed but does not pose a threat. It will then be issued with a Certificate of Exemption. This certificate is valid for the life of the dog but the animal must be neutered, microchipped, kept on a leash, muzzled in public and kept in a secure place.
The Dangerous Dogs Act and All Owners
Even if you definitely do not own a banned breed, you still have responsibilities under the Dangerous Dogs Act which you should be aware of. Section 3 of the Act applies to every single dog owner in England and Wales. This makes it a criminal offence for the person in charge of a dog to allow it to be ‘dangerously out of control’. Here, ‘dangerously out of control’ can mean threatening behaviour as well as biting.
In 2014 some changes were made to the act and it is important to be aware of these. The legislation now covers incidents which take place on private property as well as in public places. This includes your own house and garden. It is also now an offence for your pet to attack as assistance dog such as a guide dog or hearing dog.
Battersea Calls For Review of Dangerous Dogs Act
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is "flawed" say Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and should be reviewed. Intended to protect people from being attacked by aggressive dogs, the act bans certain breeds but Battersea believe that it should target bad owners instead of their dogs.
The law bans the pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, dogo argentino and fila braziliero breeds which may be put down if they are discovered. Battersea assert that this is leading to many well behaved and innocent dogs being put down unnecessarily. This practice does not enhance the safety of the public. Any dog has the potential for aggression if cared for improperly. Battersea do not believe that the law has improved public safety at all. Since 1991 there have been 30 fatalities as a result of dog attacks. These involved 16 children and 14 adults. These attacks, and others across the world have involved a variety of breeds. The pit bull has been responsible for what appears to be a disproportionately high number of aggressive acts but this could be because they have been the most likely choice of breed for irresponsible people. Had Labradors been in these people’s hands then it is possible that they would now be getting a bad press.
The Most Aggressive Breeds
Indeed there has been much research into the aggressive behaviour of dogs and this tends to reveal what some might consider to be surprising culprits as the most aggressive breeds of dog. One study named dachshunds, chihuahuas and jack russels as the most aggressive dogs. Jack russells have been responsible for fatalities in children. These breeds are aggressive but small and so do not present the same threat as larger, more powerful breeds. Nonetheless, this research does tend to indicate that the current legislation is problematic.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home have surveyed 215 canine behaviour experts seeking their opinions as to the most likely causes of dog attacks. 74% of the experts said that breed was either irrelevant or only slightly important in determining the level of aggression in a dog. 86% stated that the way a dog is reared by its owner was an important factor in its level of aggression.The home has revealed that in 2015 it took in 91 pit bull terriers which the law forced them to euthanize. 71% of the dogs were good natured and could have been successfully rehomed.
The Dangerous Dogs act was amended in 1997. The mandatory destruction of banned breeds was removed leaving the fate of the animals in the hands of the courts. If an owner is perceived to be a responsible carer, they can keep their dog but must adhere to strict conditions including the muzzling of the dog in public. The controversy is clearly set to continue. The Dangerous Dog act is obviously flawed and most experts agree that it should focus on the owners and not the specific breeds of dog. Pressure is mounting on the Government to make changes. It will be interesting to see what happens.
MPs set to reopen discussion of ‘Dangerous Dogs Act’
MPs are planning to reassess the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, seeking to examine whether or not the piece of legislation is effective. The push to question the usefulness of the act set up almost three decades ago has been occasioned by recent figures which suggest that the number of dogs attacking people has increased of late. According to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in fact, the instances of such attacks leading to hospital admissions have increased by 76% in the last ten years. The reassessment, then, presupposes the notion that the blanket banning of the pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, dogo Argentino and fila Brasileiro is an insufficient or irrelevant response to concerns of human welfare.
Ineffective and Unjust
Meanwhile, the RSPCA have long made the point that this law is not only ineffective but also unjust, for of course a key consideration with regard to the safety of people should also be how well dogs are trained, not simply whether they have the capacity to attack. In this way, the examination of the act will take both the issue of attacks and the issue of animal welfare into account in coming to conclusions on three main points:
- Whether the law is preventing dog attacks.
- What lessons can be learned from other countries.
- Whether any changes are needed.
Neil Parish, who chairs the committee, picks up on perhaps the most striking piece of information that suggests changes do need to be made and that sharply focuses on what is the main discrepancy in the governments approach thus far and the results it has yielded: ‘Four types of dog were banned in the UK in 1991, but since then 70% of dog-related deaths have been caused by those not prohibited by legislation.’
Time for a new approach
Parish goes on then to set forth one of the potential shifts in approach that may need to take place both to ensure the safety of UK citizens and to be fair when it comes to which dogs should and should not be allowed: ‘Our inquiry will look at whether the government should be taking a more individualised approach to judging the threat posed by dogs, or whether blanket bans remain the most appropriate means of regulation.’ This point in time marks the culmination of a growing pressure which has built up over many years since the banning of four specific breeds from organisations such as the RSPCA who suggest, in line with some of the introductory hypothesis that the current review seems to be seeking to verify, that behaviour of dogs is primarily a result of how they are treated by their owners and indeed that evidence that some breeds are more aggressive than others remains scant at best. The argument recently has been echoed not only by the ‘Kennel Club and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home’ but also by MPs such as Andrew Rosindell, who called for a review two years ago, similarly claiming that the act was 'simply not effective' and furthermore that the problem was not with the dogs but with their owners.
Education over Discrimination
At present, we are clearly in a situation whereby people are being attacked more often, but also more dogs are being put down or kennelled. This is without doubt a sign of the 1991 approach failing in all respects. All those invested are hopeful that this decision to review the act at long last will lead to legislation which better protects the public whilst also valuing dog welfare. And indeed it seems that the answer of how one should better protect the public might come through an increased valuing of dog welfare, an approach which focuses on teaching and training rather than blanket discrimination and what essentially in some cases amounts to violent retribution.