"Dangerous Dogs": Deal with the Deed, Not the Breed

 

Key Statistics

  • In a recent consultation held by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regarding dangerous dogs, 71% of respondents agreed that breed specific legislation should be replaced.
  • There were 6,740 hospital admissions for dog bites and strikes nationally in 2013

Current Legislation

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 did two main things:

  1. Made it a criminal offence for the owner and/or the person in charge of the dog to allow a dog to be 'dangerously out of control' in a public place or be in a place where it is not permitted to be.  As a result, if a dog injures a person, it may be seized by the police. Penalties can include a prison sentence and/or a ban on keeping dogs. There is also an automatic presumption that the dog involved will be destroyed (unless the owner can persuade the court that it is not a danger to the public, in which case it may be subject to a control order). The owner may also have to pay a fine, compensation and/or costs.
  2. Banned specific types of dog including the Pit Bull Terrier, the Fila Brasiliero, the Dogo Argentino and the Japanese Tosa. Any dogs of these types were subject to a mandatory destruction order.

The Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997 amended the 1991 Act by removing the mandatory destruction order provisions on banned breeds and re-opened the Index of Exempted Dogs for dogs - a register of banned dogs which the court considered would not pose a risk to the public.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, amended in 1997, failed because:

  • It only applied after an incident had taken place, rather than taking a preventative approach
  • Persons entering a private place where the dog was permitted to be had no protection
  • The Act only applied to dogs that displayed aggression towards people
  • The Act cost a great deal in police resources since coming into force - for instance, millions of pounds have been spent in kennelling and associated costs

These issues have recently largely been addressed through further legislative changes across the UK (see below).  However the Act continues to determine what is a dangerous dog based on physical conformation.

The problem

Breed specific legislation ignores the most important factors that contribute to biting incidents - primarily anti-social behaviour by people who train their dogs to be aggressive and irresponsible dog ownership by those who do not train their dogs properly. Consequently, current legislation based on genetics that ignores the influence of the dog's keeper has failed to prevent a large number of dog biting incidents and has cost the police millions of pounds in kennelling associated costs. Sadly, it has also resulted in the unnecessary euthanasia of dogs simply because of their breed or type.

No breed of dog is inherently dangerous. Scientific research has proven that the pit bull terrier and related breeds are physiologically no different from any other breed of dog.  Dr Lehr Brisbin at the University of Georgia has proved the skeletal structure of the pit bull terrier jaw is no different from that of any other dog with respect to 'jaw locking' - they simply have strongly muscled jaws in common with many other breeds.

The KC view

The Kennel Club believes Government should act to 'deal with the deed, not the breed' and that it is unacceptable to ban an entire breed or type of dog based on the actions of a single animal. Dog ownership has many health and social benefits, but all dog owners must take responsibility for their dogs as any dog in the wrong hands has the potential to be dangerous - as is proven by the number of biting incidents involving dogs that are not classified as dangerous under current legislation.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has proved that demonising certain breeds makes them more attractive to people who want to flout the law and use dogs in this way. This contributes to the problem of creating so called 'status dogs'. The Kennel Club firmly believes that doing away with breed specific legislation would lessen the appeal of these dogs and also reduce cases of animal cruelty.

The problem of dangerous dogs is a social one and needs to be tackled through the enforcement of effective legislation that seeks to curb irresponsible owners of all types of dog and better educate the dog owning public to prevent incidents before they occur. The Kennel Club believes that preventative legislation should be based on the principle of 'deed not breed' and centre around the introduction of dog control notices (a form of statutory improvement notice for dog owners of all types of dog).

Where we are

i)  England

The Government recently introduced legislative changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and introduced the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill to:

  • Make microchipping compulsory for all dogs
  • Extend section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 in order that it covers incidents that take place on private property (as well as in public places)
  • Remove the mandatory requirement for police to seize and kennel prohibited dogs which they do not consider to be of risk to the public
  • Introduce Control Orders to prevent incidences of dog aggression.

ii)  Scotland

In Scotland, the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 came into force in February 2011 to tackle irresponsible dog ownership through the introduction of Dog Control Notices. The legislation also allows for prosecutions to be made in cases where an incident has occurred on private property, as well as in public places.

iii)  Northern Ireland

The Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 was recently updated with the Dogs (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. The Act:

  • Makes the microchipping of dogs compulsory
  • Allows for dog wardens to attach conditions to a dog licence where a dog's behaviour has led to a breach of the Dogs Order (similar to a dog control notice)
  • Extends dangerous dogs legislation to cover private property
  • Increases the dog licence fee to £12.50 (with some exceptions)
  • Makes it an offence to have a dog that attacks and injures another person's pet

iv)  Wales

Following the Welsh Referendum in 2011, the Welsh Government can now look to update and improve substandard dog control legislation without needing prior permission from the UK Parliament. However the Welsh Assembly has announced it will not pursue its own Control of Dogs Bill because it wants to unify legislation on dangerous dogs with Westminster. 

Proposed solution

Whilst the Kennel Club welcomes recent measures taken by UK government to introduce preventative measures to tackle irresponsible dog ownership and dog aggression, ultimately we remain disappointed with the continued existence of the breed specific elements of Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, and believe this should be repealed and replaced with a single Dog Control Bill to remove the breed specific element of legislation and ensure consistent enforcement of dog control legislation. If breed specific legislation cannot be removed, it should be time limited with a 'sunset clause' commitment from the government to reassess the issue at a specified period.

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