Dog Law and the Animals Act 1971
We are a nation of animal lovers. It’s estimated that 25 percent of households in the UK have a dog, which is over 6 million dogs at any one time. While we may love our dogs, it seems not everyone is interested in training them, or keeping them under control. Dog bite law is a bit of a mess, there are a couple of specific pieces of legislation that apply, but neither are particularly effective.
When owners are prosecuted for their animal’s actions, the Animals Act 1971 is used, unless their dog is one of the banned breeds under the Dangerous Dogs Act. This law is complicated, and really needs a trained solicitor to translate into everyday language. Dog law, as it’s colloquially known, is in the process of being reviewed, as neither the Animal Act, or the Dangerous Dogs Act are particularly effective.
Essentially, if your dog bites someone it comes down to this: The owner or keeper of the dog may be liable either under the Animals Act 1971 or in negligence. In these cases, dog laws says there is no need to prove the owner or keeper of the dog did anything wrong if the damage was done by a dog. To make things a little more complicated, if that dog is known for certain characteristics, then the injury suffered must result from those characteristics.
The characteristics can be shared with other animals in the species, and might only show at a particular time of year. For example, when on heat or nursing puppies. The characteristic might also be shown in certain conditions, such as when guarding, or being transported in a car.
There are three main points of dog law that need to be proven if your dog bites.
1. If the damage is of a kind which the animal was likely to cause unless it was restrained.
2. The damage was likely to be severe if the animal got the chance to cause it, and the dog had certain characteristics that make it more dangerous that other dogs of its species.
3. That those characteristics were known to its keeper.
Point 1 means if the animal was a certain breed, such as Alsatian or German Shepherd, the bites would likely be severe because of their inherent strength.
Point 2 refers to breeds that are known to be particularly aggressive or show tendencies above and beyond other dogs. It can also refer to situations, like the ones mentioned above, heat and nursing puppies. This is regarded as “temporary abnormal characteristic” under current dog law.
Using the German Shepherd as an example again, if it barked every time the postman came round, but no other time, that’s regarded as a temporary abnormal characteristic. But, if the Shepherd was aggressive when the postman came, then it would be a known characteristic, see point 3.
Point 3. Under dog law, the prosecution has to prove the characteristic was known to the owner. That’s pretty straightforward if there is evidence of other incidents of similar behaviour. For example if the postman had been chased or the dog had tried to bite them before the incident.
If the other side can prove those three points, your dog is likely to be found guilty and action taken against you and the dog.