As a dog owner, one of the most important pieces of UK legislation you need to be aware of is the law against dogs dangerously out of control. Unlike the majority of offences, your dog can be deemed to be “dangerously out of control” even if there is a lack of criminal intent or recklessness. Sound knowledge and understanding of the relevant law will help you avoid situations that could put you, as a dog owner, in a difficult predicament.
At Wheldon Law, we have endeavoured to answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (“the Act”). The objective is to give dog owners some useful advice so they are never faced with the problem of unwittingly committing a criminal offence or their dog causing harm to others.
What is the definition of ‘dangerously out of control’ under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991?
A dog is deemed “dangerously out of control” on any occasion where there is reasonable apprehension that it will injure a person or an assistance dog (e.g. a guide dog). So if someone reasonably fears that a person or an assistance dog will be injured, then an offence is committed under section 3 of the Act. If a person or a guide dog is injured then a more serious offence, known as the “aggravated” offence is committed. The injury does not have to be a bite, a bruise or a scratch will suffice.
Dog-on-dog offences are not covered by the Act unless a person is injured in the process or reasonably fears that they will be injured if they try to stop the dog in question.
Liability arises for the owner and/or the person in charge of the dog at the relevant time. When the Act was first introduced it only applied to dogs that were dangerously out of control in a public place. However, the Act was extended in 2014 to include incidents on private properties. This means you can be held legally responsible if your dog, or a dog that you are in charge of harms someone or causes them to reasonably apprehend an injury whilst they’re in your home or garden or any other private place.
What if the victim provoked my dog?
The Dangerous Dogs Act is designed to promote responsible pet ownership in the UK. As a result, it is your duty to keep people safe in the presence of your dog, not the other way around. If your dog injures another party, you can still be held liable even if it was provoked.
Are there any defences?
It is a defence for the owner to show that they left the dog in the care of someone they reasonably believed to be a fit and proper person to be in charge of the dog.
It is also a defence if the incident occurred inside, or partially inside, residential property and the person who was injured was a trespasser. This is known as the “Householder defence”
What are the penalties for owners of dogs dangerously out of control?
The law against dogs dangerously out of control imposes strict penalties on individuals who are in violation of any of its provisions. However, the punishment depends on the severity of the incident. For instance, if there is no injury involved, it may only be dealt with by the magistrates’ court. The maximum penalty is a six-month prison term and/or an unlimited fine. The court may also order either the dog’s destruction or make a contingent destruction order with strict conditions for its future control, such as keeping it muzzled or on a lead when in public.
If the more serious “aggravated” offence is committed where your dog injures a person or an assistance dog,the maximum penalties are as follows:
- Injury to an assistance dog – imprisonment for three years
- Injury to a person – imprisonment for five years
- Death of a person – imprisonment for 14 years
The court may also order you to pay an unlimited fine and/or compensation, and you could be disqualified from keeping dogs in the future.
Does an incident always result in a criminal prosecution?
Certain cases can be resolved without the need for prosecution or the authorities seizing your dog. Rather than bringing a prosecution against you, the police could ask you to enter into a written agreement relating to the dog’s future control or alternatively, they may issue a police caution.
However, bear in mind that it will ultimately depend on the seriousness of the particular incident. For example, the authorities are less likely to be lenient if injuries are involved, your dog has a history of aggression or you are found to be an irresponsible owner.
What happens if I breach a contingent destruction order?
There is no statutory offence for breaching a contingent destruction order made for a dog that is dangerously out of control or causes injury whilst dangerously out of control however, if the conditions of a contingent destruction order are not observed, the police/prosecution can ask the court to re-visit the order which could result in it being changed to a destruction order. It is therefore very important to keep to the terms of any such order as failure to do so could result in your dog being destoyed.
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Owning a dog in the UK is a huge responsibility. Besides keeping it safe and healthy, you must also ensure that it is not dangerously out of control or a threat to public safety. Otherwise, there could be serious consequences for both you and your dog. Having a comprehensive understanding of the Dangerous Dogs Act will help you in this regard. For this reason, it is in your best interests to keep yourself informed and up to date with the relevant legislation.
As experts in UK dog law, our team at Wheldon Law strive to provide the best possible outcomes for our clients and their dogs. If you have a legal problem concerning your dog, we can offer you the assistance you need to navigate the intricacies of the law. Please do not hesitate to contact one of our team to receive some free preliminary legal advice.