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Which dogs are in the Dangerous Dogs Act?

Which dogs are in the Dangerous Dogs Act?

The Dangerous Dogs Act makes it illegal to own a dog that’s considered to be ‘out of control’. It even goes so far as to ban four specific breeds of dog – considered to be the most dangerous.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Dangerous Dogs Act and the consequences of owning a dog that’s listed on it. 

Tom Harrison
Content writer
minute read
posted 27 JANUARY 2020

What is the Dangerous Dogs Act?

The Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1991 following a spate of dog attacks – including a number involving young children.

The Act made it illegal to have a dog that’s ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place and was updated in 2014 to include private properties. ‘Dangerously out of control’ could manifest in a dog injuring a person, or giving someone ‘reasonable apprehension’ that it might do so. It’s also an offence for a dog to attack an assistance dog, i.e. a guide dog.

If a dog is found to be behaving dangerously, owners could face serious consequences, including a ban on dog ownership, a fine and even a prison sentence.

The Dangerous Dogs Act applies to all breeds of dog, and there are a few notable breeds that are now forbidden by law.

Which dogs are banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act?

The four breeds banned by the Dangerous Dogs Act are:

  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Fila Brasileiro

This means that it’s illegal to own, sell, breed, give away or abandon any of these dogs. The law also applies to cross-breeds.

What’s more, whether a dog is considered illegal or not can depend on its ‘type’, not just its breed. This means that if a dog shares physical characteristics with one of the four banned breeds, it could also be considered illegal. 

Why are these dogs on the Dangerous Dogs list?

Pit Bull Terriers, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro are on the Dangerous Dogs Act list because the UK Government considers them a risk to the public. Pit Bull Terriers and Japanese Tosas were bred for blood sports. The latter was originally used to hunt animals like wild boar and puma in South America, and was brought across to the UK for dog fighting. The Humane Act of 1835 banned dog fighting in England.  

The Dogo Argentino was also bred for big-game hunting, in Argentina. The Fila Brasileiro was bred to be an aggressive hunting dog, and fully-grown males can weigh as much as 50kg. 

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has said that the banning of these dog types under the Dangerous Dogs Act has been crucial to guard against the risk they potentially pose to the public.  

What is the Index of Exempted Dogs?

The Index of Exempted Dogs is a national record kept by the UK Government, of dogs that have been granted special status by a court. The court can decide that the dog in question does not pose a danger to the public, and grant the dog owner a certificate of exemption. 

Once the certificate is issued, the dog will be put on the index of exempted dogs. The owner – who must be over 16 - can keep the dog, providing they have it neutered, microchipped, kept on a leash and muzzled in public. The dog has to be kept in a secure space where it can’t escape, and the owner must insure the dog against the risk of it hurting other people. 

How is the Dangerous Dogs Act enforced?

The Dangerous Dogs Act is enforced through civil proceedings in a Magistrates’ Court. Dog wardens and the police can seize your dog if they think it falls into one of the four banned category types – even if a complaint hasn’t been made. They require a warrant to seize the dog, if it’s on private property. A police dog expert will then decide what kind of dog it is and whether it poses a risk to the public. The dog could be released, or put in kennels until the court case, which the dog owner must attend. 

A dog owner can also be brought to court if a complaint is made by a local authority or a member of the public. The complaint might relate to a dog owner whose dog is believed to belong to one of the banned dog types. A complaint can also be made against a dog owner whose dog is suspected of being out of control, or causing injury. If the Magistrate believes there are grounds for the complaint, they can order that the dog be destroyed, stop an owner from keeping the dog, or grant the issuing of a Certificate of Exemption. 

In 2015 the law was updated. It raised the maximum penalty for dog attacks that cause human death, to a maximum 14-year prison sentence for the dog owner. Owners can also be jailed for five years, if their dog has injured someone. 

What happens if I own a banned dog?

If you own one of the dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act, the police (or a dog warden) have the legal right to confiscate the dog, even if it hasn’t behaved dangerously and no complaint has been made.

Once a dog has been seized, the police or a council dog expert will assess what type of dog it is and whether it could pose a danger to the public.

If they do consider the dog to be a threat to public safety, you’ll have to go to court to prove that it isn’t – and doesn’t share characteristics with – a banned breed or dog type. If you’re successful, you’ll be able to take your dog home with you. If not, however, you could face a hefty fine or even imprisonment.

Are there any circumstances in which you can own a banned dog?

If your dog is one of those banned by the Act, but it’s deemed not to be dangerous by the court, it may be able to return home with you and be put on the Index of Exempted Dogs (IED).

For dogs to be given a Certificate of Exemption, their owners must:

  • be over 16
  • have the dog neutered and microchipped
  • have the dog muzzled and on a lead when in public
  • house the dog in a secure place
  • be able to produce the Certificate of Exemption within five days of being asked by the police or a dog warden
  • tell the IED if they move house or if the dog dies
  • have pet insurance that covers public liability.

Controversy around the Dangerous Dogs Act

The Act has attracted criticism from animal rights charities, such as the RSPCA and The Dogs Trust, who argue that the legislation is in serious need of an overhaul.  

The biggest criticism is that the emphasis is on banning ‘types’ of dog, based on the way they look. This means that a dog could be put down just for sharing physical characteristics with one that’s considered illegal.

Animal welfare groups also argue that a dog’s breed is not a good indicator of aggression levels, which is far more likely to be linked to how they’ve been raised and trained.

Can ‘dangerous dogs’ be covered by pet insurance?

An animal that’s successfully registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs must have pet insurance that includes third party liability cover. Compare the Market doesn’t currently offer quotes for dangerous dogs, so it may be best to contact insurance providers directly to see which ones will provide cover. 

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