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Which dogs are in the Dangerous Dogs Act?

In the UK, 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 five 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.

In the UK, 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 five 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.

Written by
Anna McEntee
Home, pet and travel insurance expert
Last Updated
18 JANUARY 2024
8 min read
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What is the Dangerous Dogs Act?

The Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1991 following a spate of serious, and in some cases fatal, 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. The law was updated in 2014 to include private properties – including the owner’s home. In the eyes of the law, a dog can be considered ‘dangerously out of control’ if it injures someone or a person is worried that it could injure them.

A dog could also be considered dangerously out of control if it attacks another animal, or if the animal’s owner is concerned that they could be injured if a dog did attack and they had to intervene. It’s an aggravated offence for a dog to attack an assistance dog, in other words, a guide dog.

Although there’s an exception for dogs who attack trespassers inside your home, you could still be prosecuted if your dog attacks an intruder in your garden. This provision is there to protect ‘trespassers’ with good intentions, such as a child coming to collect a wayward ball from your garden.

The Dangerous Dogs Act applies to all breeds of dog. But there’s a few breeds that are forbidden by law. 

Which dogs are banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act?

The five breeds banned by the Dangerous Dogs Act are:

  • XL Bully
  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Fila Brasileiro.

It’s illegal to own, sell, breed, give away or abandon any of these dogs. The law also applies to crossbreeds.

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

XL Bully

An American Bully XL, known as an XL Bully, is the largest of the American bully dogs. They’re not a registered breed with the Kennel Club in the UK. Male XL dogs stand from 51cm high at the shoulder, with females only a little smaller. The government has published guidance to help identify whether a dog is an XL Bully.

XL Bully dogs were added to the list of dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act in December 2023. From that date it became illegal to breed, sell, advertise, give away, rehome, abandon or allow an XL Bully dog to stray, or have an XL Bully in public without a lead and muzzle.

From 1 February 2024, it will be illegal to own an XL Bully in England and Wales unless the dog has a Certificate of Exemption.

Pit Bull Terrier

The Pit Bull Terrier, also called the American Pit Bull Terrier, is a medium-sized, intelligent, short-haired and solidly built dog, whose early ancestors came from the British Isles, where they were first bred for blood sports like bull-baiting.

Although Pit Bulls can be loyal, affectionate and good-natured in temperament, it was an attack by a Pit Bull Terrier that led to the creation of the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991.

The UK isn’t the only country to ban this breed. New Zealand, Spain, France, Denmark, Poland, Finland and Norway have laws to limit ownership of or completely outlaw Pit Bull Terriers. There are also bans on pit bulls in a couple of Canadian provinces and several US states.

Japanese Tosa

This rare breed of dog was originally bred in the Tosa province on the island of Shikoku, Japan, as a fighting dog. In Japan, Tosas are the dog equivalent of sumo wrestlers and are highly respected. They’re sometimes called Japanese Mastiffs, for their courage and athletic abilities.

As a result of their breeding, Tosas are large – weighing 40-60kg – solid and strong. They have short coats, reddish, blocky heads and thick, muscular necks. 

Dogo Argentino

The Dogo Argentino is a large, white, muscular dog. It was originally bred in the Cordoba province of Argentina as a fighting dog, but proved to be a good hunting dog. The Dogo Argentino’s athletic prowess, strength and intelligence made it ideal for hunting big game like wild boars and even puma.

Fila Brasileiro

The Fila Brasileiro, or Brazilian Mastiff, is a large working dog developed in Brazil. It was originally bred to herd cattle, catch large animals and act as a guard dog.

Male Fila Brasileiros stand 63-76cm from the shoulder and can weigh around 45kg. Females are slightly smaller, at between 58-71cm tall from the shoulder, and weigh around 40kg.

Fila Brasileiros have a strong instinct to guard and can be fiercely protective of their family, but when well socialised and trained they are said to be a quiet, loyal and confident breed.  

Why are these dogs on the Dangerous Dogs list?

XL Bullys, 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.

But critics of the Dangerous Dogs Act, and ‘breed-specific legislation’ (BSL) in general, argue that banned breeds can make great family pets when properly trained and cared for. And that just because a breed was originally bred for fighting or hunting, it doesn’t make it inherently dangerous.

How is the Dangerous Dogs Act enforced for ‘out of control’ dogs?

The Dangerous Dogs Act is enforced through civil proceedings in a Magistrates’ Court.  A dog owner can be brought to court if the local authority or a member of the public makes a complaint that their dog is dangerously out of control or has caused injury to a person or animal.

If a dog owner is convicted of owning a dangerously out of control dog, they could face an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison. Their dog will be put down and they may be banned from owning a dog in future. In the cases of dog attacks, owners can be sentenced to:

  • Five years in prison if the dog has injured someone
  • Three years in prison if the dog has injured an assistance dog
  • A maximum 14-year prison sentence if the dog causes a human fatality. 

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. They require a warrant to seize the dog if it’s on private property.

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. Their judgement on whether your dog is from a banned breed is based on size and physical characteristics, rather than genetic testing.  Depending on the results of the assessment, your dog could be released or put in kennels until the court case, which you, as the dog owner, must attend.

If you can prove to the court that your dog is not a banned breed, your dog will be returned to you. If, however, you’re found guilty of owning a banned dog, your dog could be put down and you could face an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison.

There are, however, some circumstances in which you can own a banned dog. If your dog is classed as a banned breed but the court decides it’s not dangerous, your dog could be put on the Index of Exempted Dogs and you’ll be allowed to take your dog home.

What is the Index of Exempted Dogs?

The Index of Exempted Dogs (IED) is a national record, kept by the UK Government, of dogs that have been granted special status by a court. When a banned dog is reported, 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, which is valid for the dog’s lifetime.

Once the certificate is issued, the dog will be put on the IED. The owner – who must be over 16 – can keep the dog, providing they:

  • Have the dog neutered
  • Ensure the dog is microchipped
  • Keep the dog on a lead and muzzled in public
  • House the dog in a secure space where it can’t escape
  • Have pet insurance that covers public liability
  • Notify the IED as soon as possible if they change address or if the dog dies
  • Produce the Certificate of Exemption within five days of being asked by the police or a dog warden.

Controversy around the Dangerous Dogs Act

The Dangerous Dogs Act has attracted criticism from animal rights charities and organisations, such as the RSPCA, Blue Cross, Battersea Cats and Dogs Home, The Dogs Trust and the UK Kennel Club, 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.

Critics of the breed-specific legislation of the Dangerous Dogs Act say that the law is misleading and promotes the idea that other dog breeds are safe. In the first 10 months of 2022, nine people – including several children – were killed in dog attacks, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Of the nine deaths, four have been linked to American Bully XLs, which aren’t on the banned list and can weigh up to 60kg. Defra also said it was ‘exploring measures to reduce dog attacks and promote responsible ownership’.

The RSPCA also points to the statistic that from 1989-2017, 48 people have died in dog-related incidents, and 53 of the 62 dogs involved in these fatal attacks were not from banned dog breeds.

Animal welfare groups argue, and academic research from Middlesex University reveals, 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, and the situation the dog is in.

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. However, if you own one of these dogs, you’ll almost certainly have to look for a specialist provider as most pet insurance providers won’t cover them. Comparethemarket doesn’t offer quotes for dangerous dogs, so it may be best to contact insurance providers directly to see which ones will provide cover.

Frequently asked questions

Can I report a banned dog?

Yes, you can report any dog, and their owner, to the police. The dog doesn’t need to be a banned dog for you to do so. You could also report a dangerous dog to your council’s dog warden service.

What is the Control of Dogs Order 1992?

The Control of Dogs Order is a law that states that your dog must wear a collar and a tag when in public. The tag must have your name and address on. If your dog doesn’t have a collar on, it could be treated as a stray and seized.

When should I start training my dog?

If you own a dog, you should start training as soon as possible. Training can start at any age – older dogs might be more receptive to training, while puppies may pick it up quicker. You could also choose to work with a dog trainer. In this case, you should make sure they’re registered with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC).

How much does it cost to microchip a dog?

On average, it costs around £15 to get your dog microchipped at your local vet, but prices vary from vet to vet.

Can a farmer legally kill my dog?

Yes, if your dog is worrying a farmer’s livestock, they are legally allowed to kill your dog. If your dog chases or attacks livestock this is classed as worrying.

Legally, your dog must be kept on a lead or in close control when walking in a field or enclosure containing livestock. Allowing a dog to worry livestock is a criminal offence, with a maximum fine of £1,000.

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