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The dangerous dogs act - a dog trainers view

After a number of high profile dog attacks on people, the Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1991 with the aim of removing dangerous dogs from society, but there is a pretty strong consensus that it has completely failed to do this, particularly in light of the terrible attack on Jack Lis. As dog trainers we see a lot of potentially dangerous dogs every day of all different breeds and sizes and it is important that we are aware of how it applies to us as dog owners.

So what does the Dangerous Dogs Act say?

Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act is known as ‘breed specific’. It targets certain types of dog which were traditionally bred for fighting: the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Fila Braziliero and Dogo Argentino and makes it illegal to own such a dog unless the have been made exempt. If a dog has been exempted it is then subject to strict rules such as that it cannot be in a public place unless it is muzzled and on a lead.

By contrast, section 3 applies to any dog that is ‘dangerously out of control’ in any public or private place, whether or not it causes injury.

If you are found guilty of these provisions, you can be imprisoned or fined, the dog can be euthanised and you can be banned from owning a dog.

Breed specific legislation

Unsurprisingly, this is the most controversial part of the Act because it has a disproportionate effect on bull breeds. There are only a handful of Japanese Tosa, Fila Braziliero and Dogo Argentino in this country, and so the main focus of the Dangerous Dogs Act seems to be the Pit Bull Terrier.

The Pit Bull is not a recognised breed in England and Wales, so the government uses the American Dog Breeders Association breed standard as published in the Pit Bull Gazette, vol 1, issue 3 1977. In addition, due to its complicated history and similarity to other bull breeds, the Dangerous Dogs Act uses the phrase "type" instead of breed. A set of measurements are used to determine whether a dog is of type or not, and this means that there is a danger that Staffordshire Bull Terriers or other bully mixes could be captured by the law. There have even been occasions where a litter of puppies whose parents were not pit bull types were classified as pit bull types! Even the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Dangerous dogs law: Guidance for enforcers 2009 itself says:

"There are no photographs provided to assist with this as these animals can look very different yet have a substantial number of characteristics present and be considered a PBT... Although the law does not require a suspected PBT to fit the description perfectly, it does require there to be a substantial number of characteristics present so that it can be considered ‘more’ PBT than any other type of dog"

Furthermore, no consideration is made for a dog's temperament. It is no secret that bull breeds have a bad reputation, but did you know that whilst Pit Bulls were traditionally bred for dogfighting and so are genetically inclined to be aggressive with other dogs, they were also bred to be very human-friendly since they needed to be handled by various people. Similarly, other bull terriers were used for vermin control and animal-based blood sports. It is irresponsible breeding and overbreeding that has created problems and has led to unpredictability and aggression towards humans, and this is a particular problem when it comes to bull breeds due to their natural strength, tenacity and determination.

Now, whilst certain breeds do come with certain characteristics associated with that breed, it is true that a dog's breed alone does not mean that it is automatically aggressive or dangerous. However, the provisions of section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act means that even the sweetest dog that fits into one of the four breed types could be considered illegal, and be euthanised or subject to strict rules under the exemption regime. Furthermore, if a dog is suspected to be a banned breed, the process often involves the dog being confiscated by the police and kept in kennels for months whilst the case goes through the courts, which in itself can have a terrible impact on their wellbeing.

We could go down all sorts of rabbit holes discussing the flaws with breed specific legislation, but we will move onto the part that applies to every single dog owner, regardless of breed, and that is section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Dogs dangerously out of control

This is the part of the Act that most likely applies to you!

Section 3 makes it a criminal offence for any dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place. "Dangerously out of control" is defined as “any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that a dog will injure any person”.

In other words, your dog could be deemed dangerous even if it does not actually injure someone. If a person reasonably believes that your dog could injure them then you could have committed an offence. In addition, you do not need to intend that the incident occur, nor do you need to have any reason to believe that your dog is going to behave in that manner. If someone provokes your dog this is also not a valid excuse, unless they have done (or failed to do) something fairly significant.

This means that you could be guilty of an offence if your dog jumps up at someone, runs towards them or even alarms someone by barking at them. It also means that you could be guilty of an offence even if it is completely out of character for your dog to do something like that. This sounds quite daunting, especially if you have a reactive dog. But the reality is that this law is not often enforced, which is good news for some but very frustrating for others. Whilst it gives us some grace when our dogs unexpectedly growl or bark at something or jump up at someone, it also means that many dog owners are completely ignorant of their obligations when they are in charge of a dog, and have very little control over them. Being approached by rude, pushy dogs is an almost daily occurrence for most of us, and it can put us in a difficult position if we are trying to train our own dogs. Not everyone likes dogs either, and it is selfish to assume that just because your dog is friendly they will not cause anyone alarm.

In theory, this applies to all breeds equally, from Yorkshire Terriers and Chihuahuas to Mastiffs and Akitas. However, the reality is that people are much more likely to feel intimated by larger dogs, or dogs of certain breeds, and so owners of these breeds need to be more careful. This is particularly the case where there are already existing stereotypes about certain breeds such as Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Dobermans. Whilst this may seem unfair, larger dogs can do more damage and so owners do have an added responsibility to ensure that their dog does not add to that stereotype.


Dog behaviour is such a complex thing and it is influenced by so many variables that it is impossible to label some breeds as safe and others dangerous. Regardless of the breed of your dog, you have a responsibility to other people, other dogs and your dog itself to make sure that they are not a nuisance.


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