The law on dangerous dogs refers to specific breeds of dog as ‘dangerous’. However, we believe that breed-specific legislation ignores the most important factors that contribute to biting incidents – primarily anti-social behaviour by irresponsible dog owners who train their dogs to be aggressive or do not train their dogs adequately.
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 did two main things:
- It 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
- It banned specific types of dog include 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 reopened the Index of Exempted Dogs for dogs - a register of banned dogs which the court considered would not pose a risk to the public.
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 – which is based on genetics and ignores the influence of the dog's keeper – has failed to prevent a large number of dog-bite 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's 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 Kennel Club's view
We believe 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. This 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 proven 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'. We firmly believe 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. We believe 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.
The Kennel Club's recommendations to Government
Whilst we welcome recent measures taken by the UK Government to introduce some preventative measures to tackle irresponsible dog ownership, ultimately we believe that this needs to go further. We call on the Government to:
- Update, consolidate and, where necessary, replace existing legislation on dog control with preventative legislation and measures based on the principle of 'deed not breed'
- Investigate all serious and fatal dog bite incidents using the services of a suitable behaviourist to understand the causes, and aid effective preventative measures
- Support education programmes such as The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Training scheme, which teaches people about responsible dog ownership
- As a minimum, time limit breed-specific legislation with a 'sunset clause'
How can you help?
With over 8 million dogs in the UK, the dog-owning population accounts for approximately 25% of the British public, meaning that dog-related issues can have widespread voting appeal.
The way to keep politicians interested in canine welfare is to speak to them about your concerns on a particular issue, e.g. dog walking access, dangerous dogs, puppy farming etc. and ask for their help. You can do this via email, a letter or even a meeting.
The key is to keep their mailbags full with dog issues to ensure that as your elected representative, they keep up to date with the issues that are most important to you, their constituent.
If there is an issue you feel strongly about, write a letter to your parliamentary representative lending your support to one of our many campaigns and letting them know how they can help. Your emails and letters don't need to be long, in fact, the shorter the better as politicians are very busy. By doing this you will be playing your part in keeping the welfare of dogs on the political agenda.
Our guide to letter writing
While we know that it is much easier simply to copy a letter and send it off, your parliamentary representative is far more likely to take notice if you write your own letter. Use the guideline below to draft your own letter:
[YOUR HOUSE NUMBER AND STREET]
[NAME OF POLITICIAN]
[PARLIAMENT OR ASSEMBLY ADDRESS]
Paragraph 1: Why you are writing
The first paragraph of your letter should always introduce your concerns to your parliamentary representative. For example:
‘I am writing to you regarding the issue of [INSERT TOPIC], to ask that you support The Kennel Club’s campaign to...’
(This information can be found on the relevant campaign page of our website.)
Paragraph 2: What you want to change
Each of the campaign’s pages on The Kennel Club’s website outlines the organisation’s official position and what is being done to try and push for change. This information can act as a guideline for telling your parliamentary representative how existing legislation needs to be amended.
If you are writing to request that your parliamentary representative support The Kennel Club on a specific issue, you may wish to use something along the lines of the following wording as an introduction to the paragraph:
‘The Kennel Club acts as a voice for thousands of dog owners across the United Kingdom. Supported by its vast expertise and experience on dog-related matters, The Kennel Club is proposing the following…’
…then write a bullet-point list into your letter.
Paragraph 3: Why these changes are necessary
Providing politicians with evidence will demonstrate that your concerns are valid. Use facts and figures to support your argument, and describe any personal experiences that you may have had to make your case even more powerful.
Paragraph 4: Action points
Tell your parliamentary representative the line of action that you wish them to take on this matter. This could be taking the matter up with their party, raising the issue in parliament, signing an EDM or supporting a specific Bill. If you are unsure what to write in this paragraph, contact The Kennel Club's public affairs team for advice.
Paragraph 5: Signing off
Request a reply. You may also wish to arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issue further. Then all that is left to do is sign off:
‘I look forward to hearing from you.
[INSERT YOUR NAME]’
Once you have received a reply
To help keep us up-to-date on which politicians are aware/supportive of our campaigns, please photocopy or summarise the response you receive and send it to us by email or by post to: The Kennel Club Public Affairs, 1-5 Clarges Street, Piccadilly, London, W1J 8AB.
If your parliamentary representative has agreed to meet with you, read our guide to a successful meeting with parliamentary representatives below.
Our guide to a successful meeting with parliamentary representatives
Most parliamentary representatives hold surgeries where constituents can meet them face to face. Sometimes notices of surgeries appear in local newspapers, but if not you can contact your MP, MSP, AM or MLA’s office directly to book your appointment in advance.
Five steps to success
- Preparation is key. Make a list of questions/topic areas that you want to discuss with your parliamentary representative. Go armed with facts and figures to support your argument. You should also take a notepad and pen to write down any important points for reference
- Be direct. Introduce yourself and what you are there to discuss. State your concerns clearly, countering any opposing points that they may make. Do not become emotional – you will make a stronger argument by being calm and reasonable throughout
- Listen and respond constructively. Once you have made your position, allow your MP/MSP/AM/MLA to present you with his/hers. Listen carefully for areas of agreement and disagreement, always be positive and try to ask questions that will probe their personal viewpoint rather than that of their party
- Be aware of time. Stick to the issue and try not to get sidetracked into general debate - you will have a limited amount of time with him/her and it is important to make sure you get across all the points you wish to make
- At the end of the meeting and beyond… Thank them for the meeting, summarise your discussion and outline the steps you can take going forward. Let them know that they can contact you in the future to discuss the issue further.
For further information or advice, please contact The Kennel Club public affairs department on 020 7518 1020 or by email.