Dangerous dogs

Dangerous Dogs Act

Happy looking Pitbull

It’s been 30 years since the Dangerous Dogs Act - which prohibits owning certain breeds of dog - was introduced in the UK. 

The aim of the breed-specific legislation was to reduce the number of so-called ‘dangerous’ dogs in the UK and reduce the number and severity of dog bites. We believe the legislation has failed. 

What is Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)? 

Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) prohibits the keeping, breeding, selling or giving away (including rehoming) of four types of dog in the UK:

  • Pitbull Terrier 
  • Japanese Tosa 
  • Dogo Argentino 
  • Fila Brasileiro  

It is illegal to possess, own, breed, sell, exchange or transfer, advertise, or gift a dog identified as being one of these types. These types of dog are identified based on their appearance alone.

The breed of the dog’s parents, the dog’s individual genetics via DNA testing, and behaviour are not considered when assessing whether a dog can be classed as one of these four types.

Why do we believe breed-specific legislation has failed? 

One of the biggest failures of the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) is the emphasis on this breed-specific legislation (BSL). We believe in ‘deed-not-breed’, meaning that dogs should not be judged on what they look like.

Any situation where a dog is showing behaviours of concern should be treated on a case-by-case basis. There is therefore a vital need to overhaul the existing legislation around ‘dangerous’ dogs. 

Other ways BSL has failed:

  • BSL fails to deliver what it was designed to do. It has not reduced hospital admissions from dog bites, it has not improved public safety, and it has not reduced the breeds or types it legislates against.

  • The welfare of many dogs has been compromised because of this law, which results in the seizure and kennelling of dogs for prolonged periods. And exempted dogs have to follow strict restrictions when in public spaces.

  • Thousands of prohibited dogs have been euthanased unnecessarily as it is not legally possible to rehome prohibited dogs to new owners. We believe that all dogs deserve the chance to live a happy life, free from the threat of unnecessary destruction.  

We support the finding of the EFRA inquiry that current Dangerous Dogs Legislation fails to protect public safety and harms animal welfare. We are urgently calling on the Government to reform and consolidate the current dog control legislation. 

What do we want to happen?

The majority of the estimated 9 million dogs in the UK live happy, peaceful lives with their responsible owners. In some cases, dogs can represent a danger to members of the public through unwanted behaviours and/or inadequate control.

We strongly believe that many of these problems are preventable through owners following appropriate advice regarding dogs’ behavioural needs and training.  

This is why we invest in projects such as Dog School and other intervention work, which aim to provide dog owners with the knowledge and skills to avoid common problem behaviours.

We also strongly believe that clear, targeted legislation is needed to deal with those owners who fail to take appropriate action to control their dogs. We will continue to urge the Government to reform existing dog control laws until we are satisfied that any new measures are breed neutral, preventative, and effective — and ultimately protect both dogs and people alike.

New measures are needed that would put more responsibility on owners of dogs who show aggressive behaviours. We cautiously welcomed additional powers given to Local Authorities under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, but we remain concerned that there are insufficient resources to enforce these provisions. There’s also a lack of clarity about where owners should go for information and advice when such problems arise.

Calling for reform

We’ve joined Battersea, Blue Cross, the British Veterinary Association, RSPCA, and The Kennel Club in calling for a reform and consolidation of dog control legislation. BSL needs to be repealed and replaced with breed-neutral legislation. Interventions, such as education, should be introduced to ensure high risk behaviour of people towards dogs is avoided.
Until such time that BSL is repealed we, jointly, wish to see the urgent introduction of a raft of measures which improve the welfare of dogs affected by this law.

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