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Dog Ownership and The Law

12 Sep 2022

In the UK, dog ownership is governed by over twenty separate pieces of law. While legal responsibility may seem intimidating, this need not be the case. In fact, the relevant legislation broadly provides a good framework for responsible dog ownership, especially with regards to understanding welfare.

At a most basic level, owners need to ensure that their dog is not banned under breed specific legislation. The Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) effectively prohibits ownership of American Pitbull Terriers, the Tosa Inu, Fila Brasiliero, and Dogo Argentino “type” dogs. This means that even resembling a banned breed can result in a dog’s destruction. While it is technically possible to own one of these dogs, this is only if a court determines that it is not a danger to the public. “Exempted dogs”, as they are known, are subjected to a range of restrictive conditions including being neutered and microchipped, properly insured, kept on a lead and muzzled in public (including inside privately owned vehicles), and specially tattooed. Exempting a suspected banned breed is expensive and time consuming. Instead, it is easier and better to simply ensure that a dog you are obtaining is fully legal.

The DDA covers more than specific breeds, though. Perhaps its most important stipulation is that dogs must be properly controlled, and that failing to do so is in fact a criminal offence. These requirements apply to all dogs, so focus on deed rather than breed. Although prosecutions for having an out of control dog are rare, they provide a legal incentive for ensuring that your dog is properly trained and handled responsibly in public. At an absolute minimum, this should mean not allowing your dog to free-run off its lead unless its recall is totally reliable. All dogs must also be microchipped and registered on an approved database, as well as wear a collar with their owner’s name and address on. While some exemptions apply to working dog owners, failure to comply with these is a prosecutable offence. It should also go without saying, but a dog’s mess should always be cleaned up if they defecate in public.

The Animal Welfare Act gives all domestic animals the right to live in a suitable environment, be fed a suitable diet, be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, be housed with or apart from other animals as appropriate, and be protected from pain, disease, injury, and suffering. Penalties for being found in contravention of the Animal Welfare Act include fines running into tens of thousands of pounds as well as having pets seized and future ownership being prohibited.

Legal responsibilities carry over into civil as well as criminal law. Owners can be held liable for damages their dog may cause, so it is always worth making sure that your dog is properly insured. Public liability insurance is not hard to find and purchase, and standard cover upper limits can reach as high as £2 million. While many would hope it is never needed, it is better and more sensible to view insurance as a prudential investment that protects against much higher costs in a worst case scenario.

This blog only offers an outline of legislation which governs dog ownership in the UK. If you have any further questions or require advice or representation, you should contact a reputable law firm or solicitor who specialises in this type of legislation.

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