Dogs and the law: What you need to know as an owner to keep you and your pet out of trouble

Owning a dog is a big responsibility – and here’s everything you need to know about the law when it comes to making sure you and your pet stay on the right side of the rules.

Monday, 19th August 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 19th August 2019, 5:55 pm
Owing a dog is a big task with a host of laws drawn up in the hope of keeping people, other dogs and livestock safe.

A North East family were left relieved and delighted after a court agreed their four-legged friend could remain at home after checks found it was a banned breed.

But what laws are in place governing dogs across England and Wales?

The Dogs Trust guide is very useful in helping owners keep up to speed with the rules, but says it should not be taken as legal advice.

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Breed specific legislation

Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, four types of dog are prohibited: the Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Fila Braziliero and the Dogo Argentin. A dog will be classified as prohibited if it shares a “substantial number of the characteristics” with these breeds.

If police say it is one of these breeds, it will usually be seized, but there is an option to release it under an interim exemption scheme.

Rules also cover breeding and boarding of dogs in addition to rules which cover their care and consequences of bad behaviour.

Criminal proceedings can be brought against the person in charge of the dog at the point police become aware it is a prohibited type, and it is up to that person to prove it is not using expert evidence.

The maximum sentence a court can impose a six-month imprisonment and/or a fine.

If civil proceedings are brought, they can only be taken against the owner and while there is no sentence, the court can order police costs be paid.

In both instances, a court has the power to make a destruction order and/or order a person to be disqualified from having custody of a dog.

An owner can prove the animal is not a danger to the public, that they are a fit and proper person to own that type of dog and if the court is swayed it is not a risk the court can issue a Contingent Destruction Order, which allows the dog to be exempt from the prohibition which will require the dog is:

*Microchipped

*Has third-party insurance in place for life

*Wears and muzzle and is on a lead in public

*Is at the same address as the registered address, with the exception of 30 days in a 12-month period.

Ownership of an exempt job dog can not be transferred, except in circumstances in serious illness or death, and an application must be made to a court.

It is unlawful to breed, exchange or give away a prohibited dog or abandon it or allow it to stray.

Dogs dangerously out of control

This is deemed to be the case if there is a “reasonable apprehension” that a dog will injure a person or an assistance dog, whether or not injury is caused.

An offence is committed by the owner and/or the person in charge of a dog if the animal is dangerously out of control in a public or private place.

If no one is injured, the offence is heard in the magistrates’ court, where a maximum sentence is six months imprisonment and/or a fine.

If a person or assistance dog is injured by the dog, it is a more serious offence. It can still be heard by magistrates, where the maximum sentence is six months or 12 if there is more than one offence.

If it is committed to a crown court, the maximum sentence is five years imprisonment if a person or assistance dog is hurt or 14 years if a dog causes the death of a person.

Animal cruelty

It is an offence to cause or allow a dog you are responsible for to suffer unnecessarily or fail to take reasonable steps to prevent suffering from happening.

The offence can only be handled by a magistrates court and the maximum jail term is six months and/or an unlimited fine.

The court can remove the dog and disqualify the owner from keeping dogs.

Duty to ensure welfare

It is an offence to fail to take reasonable steps to ensure a dog's needs are met.

These are:

*A suitable environment and diet

*To exhibit normal behaviour patterns

*To be housed with or apart from other animals

*Be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

The maximum penalty is six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine and the court can also remove a dog and disqualify an owner from keeping dogs.

As an alternative, an improvement notice can be served, calling on the owner to take steps to improve the living conditions of a dog.

Identification

A dog should wear a collar which states the name and address of the owner on a tag, with a fine for non-compliance.

Microchipping for dogs aged eight weeks has been compulsory since 2016 and owners must ensure microchip details are up to date.

Dogs dangerous to livestock

It is an offence by an owner or a person in charge if a dog attacks livestock or chases livestock where injury is likely or if the dog is not under control in a field or enclosure where sheep are being kept.

A fine and compensation can be ordered, but a court does not have the power to make a destruction order, but could bring separate proceedings to gain one.

Dogs not kept under control

A court can order the destruction of a dog or one which sets out conditions to ensure public safety and owners can be disqualified from keeping a dog.

Owners can also be told to pay costs of bringing the proceedings, but not ordered to pay compensation or a fine or impose a sentenced.

These are civil proceedings heard in a magistrates’ court.

Breeding and boarding

If a dog has five litters across a 12-month period, even if litters are kept elsewhere, the premises will be deemed to be a “boarding establishment” which is unlawful unless licenced by a local authority.

People can be fined as a result.

It is also an offence to keep a “boarding establishment” for dogs unless licenced by the council, with the maximum penalty three months imprisonment and/or a fine.

Public space protection orders

These allow councils to designate areas where dogs can be excluded, have to be kept on a lead or other measures.

Failure to comply can lead to a Fixed Penalty Notice.

Community protection notices

This falls under anti-social behaviour rules and before such a notice can be issued, a warning notice should be given setting out what the owner should and should not do.

The penalty to breach a notice is a fine.

Ownership disputes

As a dog is classed as an item of property, a court can be asked to declare who is the owner and who should have possession.

A court will look at who bought the animal and who has looked after it and paid for its upkeep.

If the dog is microchipped, this can be persuasive, but not conclusive, proof of ownership.

Stray dogs

Responsibility rests with the council and its officer must service a notice on an owner – if they fail to come forward within seven days from the date of the seizure, the authority may rehome the dog or have it put to sleep.

Sale of dogs under the Goods Act

If a dog is not healthy or fit for the purpose it was sold, it may be possible to claim for damaged against the seller, provided the buyer can prove the seller was acting as a business.

If not, the buyer is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of the dog.

Damage caused by dogs

If a dog harms a person, another dog or property, it may be possible for someone to make a claim for compensation from the keeper of the dog.

Noise nuisance

If a complaint is made to the council, it will investigate and may ask the person complaining to keep a diary noting the disruption.

Recording equipment can be installed to monitor the issue and gather evidence and if the council agrees there is a problem, it may serve a Noise Abatement Notice, with a breach of that classed as a criminal offence which can lead to an unlimited fine.

The problem can also be dealt with via a Community Protection Notice.