Dangerous Dogs

Contrary to what the media would have us all believe, most people whose dogs get them into trouble are caring and responsible dog owners who have never been in trouble before and whose pets have never put a paw wrong.  New sentences introduced in 2014 increase the risk of a prison sentence being imposed, particularly if the dog has any known history of aggression so it is more important than ever before to ensure that you have the right advice and representation from a solicitor with a proven track record of defending dog law cases.

Dogs Dangerously Out of Control

Section 3 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

An owner and/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 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine. 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 will suffice, so long as the injury is caused by the dog. The aggravated offence can be dealt with in either the magistrates’ court or the crown court.  The maximum penalty in the magistrates’ court where injury to a person is caused is 6 months imprisonment (or 12 months for 2 offences) or 5 years imprisonment in the crown court.  The maximum sentence where injury is caused to an assistance dog is 6 months imprisonment in the magistrates’ court (or 12 months for 2 offences) or 3 years’ imprisonment in the crown court.

The court will consider the sentencing guidelines when determining sentence and if your dog has been involved in previous incidents the seriousness of the case increases.  Here are the relevant sentencing guidelines for the aggravated offence:


You could also be ordered to pay a fine, costs, compensation and kennelling costs if your dog has been seized.


A defence is available to the owner of the dog to show that they left the dog in the care of someone they reasonably believed to be a fit and proper person.

If the incident occurred in, or partly in, a home 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’.


The police have powers to seize your dog and keep it pending the outcome of the case.  A dog can be seized without a warrant if it is acting dangerously at the time or it can be seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 if the police obtain a warrant from the magistrates’ court or as evidence of an offence under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.  It is not uncommon for the police to unlawfully seize a dog and that seizure can then be challenged. If your dog is seized, our experienced dangerous dog 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.

Destruction Order/Contingent Destruction Order 

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. If a contingent destruction order is made it will invariably have conditions for the future control of the dog with the most common conditions being that it is kept on a lead and muzzled when in public.  Expert evidence from a suitably qualified animal behaviourist will usually be required if the court is to be persuaded that the dog does not pose a danger to the public, but character references from people who know you and your dog well can also be helpful.

Disqualification Order

The court has the power to disqualify you from keeping dogs although this is generally only ordered if someone has shown a high disregard for public safety or where there are animal welfare concerns.

Alternatives to Prosecution

A prosecution is not a foregone conclusion if your dog is involved in an incident.  The police may be persuaded to go down the route of an out of court disposal.  Once such disposal is an Acceptable Behaviour Contract whereby the owner enters into an agreement with the police to keep their dog under proper control in future.  Conditions for control will usually be specified in the agreement.  It is important to take legal advice before entering into such an agreement as the conditions sought by the police can sometimes be unduly onerous.

Dogs Worrying Livestock

Section 1 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 not under close control 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 that could result in a destruction order.

Dogs Not Kept Under Proper Control

Section 2 of the 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 can be towards people or other 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 and must be made to the court within 6 months of the incident.  The application must be in a particular format, 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 sometimes used in dog-on-dog cases or we will sometimes seek to persuade the Crown Prosecution Service to use these civil proceedings if, for example, a client is being prosecuted for a criminal offence and a criminal conviction would have a particularly serious effect upon their employment.

How Can Wheldon Law Help You?

For many people, dogs are not just pets, they are an important and beloved member of their family. As such, we must strive to ensure that their safety and well-being is always protected. Unfortunately, despite dog owners’ best efforts, accidents and mishaps do still occur. However, if your dog does happen to cause a problem, there is no need to worry as Wheldon Law will be on hand to offer our legal expertise. We will provide the expert guidance you need to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your dog.

Call us today on 01442 242999 for some free initial advice to our solicitors in hemel hempstead, or email us at hello@wheldonlaw.co.uk