Unlike most offences in English law no criminal intent or recklessness is required for liability to arise and a person can therefore be guilty of an offence even if their dog was on a lead and had never behaved in such a way before.

Dogs Dangerously Out of Control
(Section 3 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991)

Contrary to what the media would have us all believe, most people whose dogs get them into trouble are caring and responsible dog owners. They have never been in trouble before and their pets have never put a paw wrong.

Under section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, an owner, or a person in charge of a dog, commits an offence if the dog causes reasonable apprehension that any person will be injured, whether or not they actually are injured. Unlike most offences in English law, no criminal intent or recklessness is required for liability to arise and a person can therefore be guilty of an offence even if their dog was on a lead and had never behaved in such a way before

Where no injury is caused, the case may only be dealt with in the magistrates’ court and the maximum penalty is six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of £5,000. The court has the power to order the dog to be destroyed or kept under control and it may specify the measures for control (e.g. keeping the dog on a lead in public). The court can also disqualify an individual from keeping dogs and order compensation to be paid to the victim.

If your dog injures a person or an assistance dog (e.g. a guide dog), then this is a more serious offence which is known as the “aggravated” offence. The injury does not have to be a bite; a scratch or bruise would suffice. The aggravated offence can be dealt with in either the magistrates’ court or the crown court and the maximum penalties are as follows:

  • Injury to an assistance dog – 3 years’ imprisonment
  • Injury to a person – 5 years’ imprisonment
  • Death of a person – 14 years’ imprisonment

You could also be ordered to pay a fine and/or compensation and the court has the power to disqualify you from keeping dogs.

When an “aggravated” offence has been committed, the court must order the dog to be destroyed unless it is satisfied that you are a suitable owner and that the dog does not pose a danger to the public. Expert evidence from a suitably qualified animal behaviourist will usually be required on this point.

The police have the power to seize your dog and keep it pending the outcome of the case. At Wheldon Law, our experienced dog law solicitors have excellent contacts within the police and we are sometimes able to persuade them to return dogs to their owners (with appropriate conditions) pending the outcome of proceedings.


It is a defence for the owner of the dog to show that at the time of the incident, they had left the dog in the care of someone they reasonably believed to be a fit and proper person.

Householder Defence

If the incident occurred in, or at least partly in, a building which is a dwelling (or forces accommodation) and the person injured was a trespasser who was inside, or partially inside, the property, then there may be a defence available. This is known as the ‘Householder Defence’.

Dogs Not Kept Under Proper Control
(Section 2 Dogs Act 1871)

Civil proceedings can be initiated against the owner of a dog that is dangerous and not kept under proper control. The dangerousness alleged relates to its effect on people or animals and the legislation applies to incidents in both public and private places. Because the proceedings are civil in nature, the court cannot impose a penalty on the owner or order them to pay compensation but they can order the owner to pay the costs of bringing the application and order the dog to be destroyed or kept under proper control (e.g. by keeping it on a lead in public). These proceedings can only be brought against the owner of the dog, but the application can be brought by anyone. The application must be made to the court within six months of the incident and it must be in a particular format as otherwise the proceedings will be invalid.

In 2014, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was extended to cover private and  public places, and this has seen a reduction in the use of this piece of legislation. However, it is still useful, particularly if a client is charged with a criminal offence and wishes to avoid having a criminal record upon conviction. It is sometimes possible to persuade the Crown Prosecution Service to substitute the criminal proceedings with civil proceedings, thus avoiding the possibility of a criminal record.

Dogs Worrying Livestock
The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953

An offence is committed by the owner or person in charge of a dog if it attacks or chases livestock on agricultural land or if it is off-lead in a field containing sheep.  The definition of livestock includes sheep, goats, cattle, poultry, pigs and horses. The definition of agricultural land is wide and extends to include allotments and orchards. The police have the power to seize a dog if they are unable to identify its owner. The maximum penalty is a fine, but it is possible to lay additional proceedings at the same time that could result in a destruction order.

Expert evidence is essential in cases of this kind as the courts take an understandably serious view when livestock has been killed. As dog law specialists, we have successfully defended numerous cases of this type and always instruct an animal behaviourist with particular expertise in dogs with a high chase-and-prey drive.

If you are under investigation for, or have been charged with a dog law offence, please call us on 01442 242999 for free initial telephone advice or email us at enquiry@wheldonlaw.co.uk.