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Is the Dangerous Dogs Act fit for Purpose?

19 Mar 2024

The Dangerous Dogs Act is one of the most important legal acts governing dog ownership in the UK. Introduced in 1991, its main provisions are banning certain breeds and “types” deemed to be particularly dangerous, while criminalising any dog that is “dangerously out of control”.

Despite being well-intentioned, the Dangerous Dogs Act is frequently criticised and arguably not fit for purpose due to its hyper fixation on five breeds or “types: the American Pitbull, Dogo Argentino, Tosa Inu, Fila Brasileiro, and XL Bully. If a dog is identified as such, then it will either be seized and destroyed, or be added to the Index of Exempted Dogs and allowed to live under strict conditions if its owners can prove to a magistrate that it is not dangerous. These conditions include being neutered, muzzled and kept on a short leash in public, and insured for public liability.

Ironically, the Dangerous Dogs Act fails to account for an individual dog’s characteristics, instead making life and death decisions based on arbitrary aesthetics alone rather than behaviours. Mixed bully breeds are at particular risk of being designated as a banned “type” with no consideration being given to their temperament and disposition towards both humans and other dogs. According to the Blue Cross, “Pitbull terrier types are defined using measurements based on an American breed standard for show dogs from the 1970s” with “no standard set of measurements on which to benchmark the other [then] three banned types” meaning there is no real working definition for what constitutes a Tosa Inu, Dogo Argentino, or Fila Brasileiro. XL Bullies were similarly vaguely described when banned in 2023.

While parts of the Dangerous Dogs Act are technically breed agnostic, they are rarely enforced and singularly fail to incentivise responsible dog ownership. Public awareness of what constitutes a dog being “out of control”, be that dangerously or otherwise is low, and most reported dog bites in the UK are caused by fully lawful breeds.

Although the Dangerous Dogs Act would ideally take a deed rather than breed-based approach, it is unlikely to be repealed or significantly amended in the near future. For now, it is here to stay and as long as it remains in force, owners should fully comply with all its provisions.

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