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DANGEROUS DOG BREEDS

DANGEROUS DOG BREEDS

 

LEGAL DEFINITION OF A DANGEROUS DOG BREED

The law defines a dog as belonging to a dangerous dog breed where that dog is of a “type” belonging to the fighting dog breeds of Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino or Filo Braziliero or has any characteristics of these dogs that are bred for fighting.[1] These dogs are banned and persons owning, breeding, advertising or selling them will be fined up to £5,000 or  face six months imprisonment. It is the characteristics of  these dogs that has been the focus of the law surrounding dog attacks since the Dangerous Dogs Act was passed in 1991 (DDA 1991). Each of these dogs have been specifically bred to have characteristics which make them good fighting or hunting dogs in terms of their strength and capacity for aggression. The DDA 1991 specifically uses the word “type” instead of “breed” because of the potential for mongrels with the physical and behavioural characteristics of these banned dogs.

IDENTIFYING A DANGEROUS DOG

Where a dog has been seized for being out of control in a public place under §3 DDA 1991 police veterinary experts will determine whether a dog is of the banned types. The dog will be held where it is believed to be dangerous until the case is concluded.[2] The defendant owner of the dog will need to prove that the dog is not of a banned type and the court will decide on the number of pure breed characteristics the dog has. Since pit bulls were not originally bred in the UK the Kennel Club had no breed standard and therefore to determine type it was held in a crown court case that the American Dog Breeder’s Association standard for pit bulls could be used[3]. This ruling could be applied for other banned dog types, but many believe that the past behaviour and past treatment of the dog should be considered instead of type. The courts do consider behaviour of the dog but this evidence, although relevant, will not be regarded as conclusive.[4]

For owners the breed standards can be found on the Kennel Club and RSPCA websites. Dog owners can also check the characteristics of their dog against those outlined in the DEFRA guidance leaflet.[5] Alternatively they can take their dog to their local vet if they suspect that their dog could be of a type banned under the act.

There are other dog breeds that have a reputation for aggression that are not banned under the DDA 1991: Rottweilers, German Shepherds and controversially, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, which share many of the same characteristics of pit bulls and was one of the breeds responsible for the attack on Jade Anderson in March 2013, are not considered dangerous dogs. For these dogs the law previously only allowed the police to act when they became out of control in a public place but now with the passing of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (ASBCP 2014) it will be an offence to own a dog that is out of control in public place or private dwelling[6]. This expands the areas where a dog is out of control to include driveways, gardens and out buildings protecting wayward children, postal workers and visitors to a home with an out of control dog. The owner or keeper of the dog will only be exempt from prosecution and civil cases where the dog has attacked a trespasser who has entered the private dwelling of their home. The ASBCP also extends the time that dog owners can spend in jail for infringing §3 DDA 1991 to a maximum of 14 years where the dog attack results in death. This diminishes the focus on the type of dog attacking a victim but will not prevent the question of dog type being considered closely by the court especially when the owner or keeper decides to apply for an exemption order to prevent the destruction of their dog under a contingent destruction order established in §2 and3 of the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997[7]. It remains to be seen whether the test will diminish in importance in cases brought under the new act.

SOCIAL DEFINITION OF A DANGEROUS DOG

West Midland Police, one of the largest police forces in the UK destroyed 181 dogs under the DDA 1991 – a gradual rise year on year of 50% from 2011. An RSPCA spokesperson stated; “To focus on a specific breed or type of dog is to miss the problem itself. You can only legislate for the actions or inactions of humans (the owners) and not the dog.”[8]

Dog charities within the UK including Dogs Trust, Kennel Club and the RSPCA have all spoken out about the responsibility of dog owners and that breed specific legislation is ineffective in preventing victims of dog attacks. This resulted in two government consultations in March 2010 and April 2012 suggesting changes in legislation that focuses on dog owners and moves the legal focus away from the type of dog. Measures announced in February 2013 such as the introduction of free microchipping for all dogs from April 2016, and price rises from £20 to £77 to add a dog to the index of exempted dogs.[9] However aside from the sentencing changes this may do very little to reassure victims of dog attacks whatever the breed or type may be. Many have looked to the Scottish system of Dog Control Notices where anyone who observes an out of control dog can report its owner or the person in control of the dog to the police who can serve orders and if necessary enforce restrictions.[10]

Britain has a history of being a nation of dog lovers. The recent changes in legislation show a strong dissatisfaction with how dogs have been held responsible for their type or breed whilst irresponsible dog owners have gone unpunished. How the recent changes will benefit the victims of dog attacks remains to be seen.

 

[1] Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 §1(1)

[2] Dog Law: Frequently Asked Questions

[3] R v Crown Court at Knightsbridge ex p Dunne [1993]

[4] Dog’s Trust: Dog Law – England and Wales

[5] DEFRA: Guidance on Prohibited Dogs

[6] Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 c12, Part 7

[7] Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997

[8] Daily Mail: Rise in seizure of dangerous dogs 12th May 2014

[9] Dr Elena Ares and Sarah Coe: Dangerous Dogs Standard Note 4348 – House of Commons Library (2014)

[10] Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 asp.9 §1