On Tuesday, 13 May, the changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 came into effect.
While we don’t believe these changes will be effective in doing what they set about to do, which is reducing dog bites and anti-social behaviour with dogs. We do support the notion that all dog owners should be responsible for their dog’s behaviour with other people and animals.
There is however a concern that even the most well behaved and well trained dogs could fall foul of this legislation accidentally. For example, if a dog becomes overexcited, jumps up and knocks someone down.
Here are some things every dog owner needs to know…
The Dangerous Dogs Act applies to you and your dog!
Whether you own a large breed dog or a tiny one and however placid and friendly your dog is, the Dangerous Dogs Act applies to you. It also applies to me (I own a tiny chihuahua cross) and all other dog owners in England and Wales. Under the Act, it’s illegal for a dog to be ‘out of control’ or to bite or attack someone. The legislation also makes it an offence if a person is worried or afraid (the term is ‘reasonable apprehension’) that a dog may bite them. So ensure that your dog is kept under control at all times and in all places.
What has changed since May 13th?
Since 1991 it’s been illegal for dogs to be ‘out of control in a public place’. However until recently dog bites and attacks on private property were excluded from the legislation. The main change in the law is an extension to cover incidents which take place on private property. This means in your home, including your front and back garden.
The law also makes it an offence if your dog attacks an assistance dog, and it can carry a penalty of up to three years in prison.
What if my dog is protecting me from an intruder?
The law provides a defence if your dog attacks an intruder in your own home so this may be a comfort to many dog owners. However, rather confusingly, if your dog attacks an intruder in your garden this will be an offence which could land you in court.
What if my dog is attacked by another dog? Is that now an offence?
Unfortunately not, we campaigned for attacks on other animals to be included in the legislation but the recommendation was not taken up. If your dog is attacked by another dog, the incident should still be reported to the police immediately.
What steps should I take to ensure I am complying with the new law?
- Take precautions…
Postal workers, utility providers and other authorised visitors to your property should be able to carry out their work without feeling afraid, being threatened, bitten or coming into contact with your dog.
You know your dog better than anyone else. If your dog reacts to the doorbell or new people at the door, it is sensible to introduce a routine for managing them when the doorbell rings. For example, shutting your dog in another room temporarily with an interactive toy. Or training your dog using reward based methods to go to their bed when they hear the doorbell.
You should also ensure that your garden is secure. This can be done by making sure your back gate can be closed or locked. This is not only to reduce the likelihood of your dog escaping, but to prevent trespassers who could inadvertently cause an incident in which you would be liable.
- Visitors to your home…
Ensure that all visitors are interacting safely with your dog. You could provide your dog with their own personal space. Then make sure that visitors understand not to approach them when they are there.
If you do allow visitors to interact with your dog, make sure your dog is comfortable and can go to their personal space if they want to. This is particularly important in the case of visiting children as children’s’ body language can be confusing to dogs. Children tend to want to make very close facial contact with dogs which many dogs find threatening.
The majority of dog bites treated in hospitals involve children. There are some excellent resources by dog behaviourist Sophie Yin, on child safety around dogs.
Ensure your dog responds to basic commands so that you can keep them under reasonable control when in public places and in your home. Take a look at our advice on finding a suitable dog trainer. Taking part in classes will not only help you keep your dog under control but will strengthen your relationship.
- Seeking advice…
If you are concerned about your dog’s behaviour, take a look at our guide to finding a behaviourist. The behaviourists listed only use techniques which protect your dog’s welfare; some techniques can compromise welfare and in many cases could make matters worse.
We all know that owning a dog is a huge responsibility but with that comes all the joys of dog ownership. How many times a day does your dog make you laugh?
If the correct precautions are taken, the changes in legislation should not stifle the fun you can have with your dog!
Happy walking and wagging.
- Violet, RSPCA campaigner