APBC Views on Dangerous Dogs Legislation

dangerous dogs legislation apbc

In March 2010 the UK Government Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) issued a consultation document seeking views on whether current legislation relating to dangerous dogs adequately protects the public and encourages responsible dog ownership (www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/dangerous-dogs/). The consultation document consists of a series of questions for which, having taken views from APBC members, we have provided our answers for consideration (see below).

The APBC believes that this consultation is basically flawed in that it attempts to address the criminal use of dogs (“status” dogs used as weapons and organised dog fighting) and the incidences of dogs biting or threatening humans, which, although there may be overlap in places, are not necessarily linked.

We would support the view that those people who use dogs to threaten, and those contravening the Animal Welfare Act, should be robustly pursued by the enforcement agencies. However, most dog bites are still inflicted on young members of the dog owner’s household. Even in those cases where a current S3 offence is recorded, most dog owners do not want their dog to threaten or bite anyone, but lack the necessary education to prevent that happening. Education is the key to preventing the incidence of dog bites, not criminal prosecution.

If the purpose of this consultation is to reduce the incidence of dog bites to humans, it should focus on education.

If the purpose of this consultation is to reduce the incidence of dogs used as weapons, or the incidence of organised dog fights, then prosecution may be part of the answer, although examining the human societal reasons may be more productive.

David Ryan PG Dip (CABC) CCAB
APBC Chair

David has a post graduate diploma in companion animal behaviour counselling and trained police dogs for over twenty six years. You can find out more about him at www.dog-secrets.co.uk
 

 

Annex A
Summary of questions and APBC response
 

Option 1: An extension of criminal law (i.e. Section 3 of the 1991 Act) to all places, including private property.

 
1. Do you think that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 should be extended to cover all places, including private property where a dog is permitted to be? Why?
We do not think that the Sec 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 should be extended to cover all places. The wording of Sec 3 is too subjective and the strict liability too proscriptive to criminalise a householder on the perception of their dog by a third party, and as the law stands it can include dogs that act without malice, for example by jumping up in greeting or play. People visiting private property may also come into closer contact with a household dog than they would normally do in a public place. There is less room for manoeuvre and more risk of close interaction on private property. A dog that would not normally threaten may do so if it is inadvertently trodden on in its home by a visitor, an accident that instantly criminalises its owner because of the wording and strict liability of the Act.
Rather than extending Sec 3 to public places, consideration should be given to removing the criminality of a dog’s actions from its owner in public places. The Dogs Act 1871 was correct in that, whilst these actions should be controlled, it is wrong to make criminals out of owners who are not able to manage their dogs. The threat of criminalising an owner does nothing to stop a dog from biting; only education about dogs and their interactions with humans can do that. 
 
2. Do you think that extending the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to cover all places could have a financial impact upon the police/court service/Crown Prosecution Service? Why?
The impact of such an extension of the current law is such that there would inevitably be a greater demand for prosecution, as visitors to private property take advantage of the newly introduced law. There will also inevitably be more defended prosecutions as owners who previously would have been subject to a complaint under the 1871 Act try to avoid criminalisation.
 
3. Do you think that extending the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to cover all places could have a financial impact upon welfare organisations/dog homes? Why?
Whilst it is possible that there may be some abandonment/relinquishment of dogs by owners, this is unlikely to be sufficient to seriously impact upon welfare organisations.
 

Option 2: Additions or amendments to (including possible repeal) of Section 1 of the 1991 Act

 
4. Do you think that breed-specific legislation, in its current form, is effective in protecting the public from dangerous dogs? Why?
It is self evident that the “breed-specific” legislation in its current form is not effective. The reason that it is not effective is that it is not “breed-specific” but “type-specific”. “Breeds” are formed by breeding true to type; physical and behavioural conformation can be selected for and, to some extent, predicted. “Types” can be formed by breeding two disparate dogs together; neither physical nor behavioural conformation can therefore be reliably predicted. A “type” cannot be eradicated by legislation, because the dogs that contribute to its formation are not legislated against. It takes only one random mating of two dissimilar dogs to produce a dog of the “type known as the pit bull terrier” as defined by the Act and subsequent stated cases. It is no coincidence that the true breeds in Sec 1 have been eradicated in the UK, whilst the “type” hasn’t. To eradicate all dogs of the “pit bull terrier type” (as defined) it would be necessary to remove all bull breeds, mastiffs, boxers, labradors, mongrels that look a bit “typey”, and any other breeds that subsequently arose that could contribute to the appearance of type.
Identification by appearance is frequently incorrect1 and the advent of canine DNA identification in the UK may well preclude any further convictions of “pit bull type”.
1. Voith, V. et al, (2009) “Comparison of Adoption Agency Identification and DNA Breed Identification of Dogs”, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, July 2009.
 
5. Do you think that breed-specific legislation should be extended to include other breeds or types of dogs? If yes, which?
Breed-specific legislation cannot work to protect the public from dangerous dogs. Dog aggression is a product of the individual and, whilst it is recognised that some breeds may be more predisposed to develop a propensity to use aggression in an inappropriate context (such as Dachshunds and Chihuahuas2), there are those within the breed that will not, and others in non-legislated breeds that will.
Banning “status” breeds is also counter productive in that it increases their demand as exactly because they are illegal.
2. Duffy, D., Hsu, Y. & Serpell J. (2008)Breed differences in canine aggression Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 114, Issue 3, Pages 441-460

6. If breed-specific legislation were extended to include other breeds or types of dogs, what is the evidence to justify doing so?
There is no evidence that breed specific legislation protects the public from dangerous dogs.
 
7. Do you think that breed-specific legislation should be repealed? Why?
The current breed-specific legislation contained in Sec 1 DDA should be repealed simply because it is not working and is seen to be not working. On one hand the police seize family pets because they look like the given “type” and, on the other, dogs are deliberately encouraged to be dangerous to confer “status” on their owners. 
 
8. Do you think extending breed-specific legislation would have a financial impact upon other organisations, such as the police, court service and dog shelters? If yes, in what way?
Dog shelters would have an immediate rise in relinquishment of the newly banned breeds by responsible pet owners. Irresponsible dog owners would fail to comply with the new legislation, requiring increased enforcement and prosecution by crown agencies. As enforcement of the current legislation is haphazard and piecemeal, new legislation is likely to place an extended burden on the police and courts.
 
9. Do you think repealing breed-specific legislation would have a financial impact upon other organisations, such as the police, court service and dog shelters? If yes, in what way?
Repealing breed-specific legislation would remove the need to police the “Pit bull terrier” problem, which has existed since its inception; however it should be replaced by both a programme of education for dog owners and robust measures to control dogs that are actually dangerously out of control, which will probably result in no net financial gain.
 

Option 3: Repeal of the 1997 Dangerous Dogs Act to prevent any more dogs being added to the Index

 
10. Do you think that the exemption introduced by the 1997 amendment should be removed? Why?
The index is now failing to provide a function for which it was not initially intended. Figures illustrate that many of the dogs entered onto the index are not complying with the provisions required of owners. Repeal of the index should accompany repeal of the breed-specific legislation, but be replaced by a robustly policed index of dogs subject to control orders.
 
11. Do you think that the exemption should be kept, but with tighter restrictions? If yes, what sort of restrictions do you think should be added?
Without breed specific legislation (see Q7 above) there is no need for exemption with tighter restrictions, which would require greater policing than is now applied.
 
12. Do you think that introducing an alternative monitoring system to the Index introduced by the 1997 amendment would improve the current situation regarding dangerous dogs? Which system would you consider best?
Without breed specific legislation (see Q 7 above) there is no need for an index of exempted dogs.
 
13. Do you think that removing the exemption introduced by the 1997 amendment would allow more effective enforcement of the current dangerous dogs legislation?
Removing the exemption introduced by the 1997 Act would effectively outlaw all dogs of the pit bull terrier type. As “type” is not “breed” (see Q.4) policing would consist of a constant round-up and destruction of randomly bred dogs that appeared to conform to “type”. This problem would continue for as long as there are dogs that can be brought together either accidentally or purposely to produce offspring resembling “type”.
 
14. Do you think that removing the exemption introduced by the 1997 amendment could have a financial impact upon welfare organisations/dog rescue homes? Why?
Removing the exemption would make owning such a dog illegal, so the dogs currently on the index and any others appearing in the future would need to be destroyed. There would be an ongoing financial impact as “type” dogs are continually produced and destroyed. Some of this would be borne by rescue homes as dogs are abandoned or relinquished.
 
15. Do you think that removing the exemption introduced by the 1997 amendment could have a financial impact upon the police force/other enforcement agencies? Why?
Police and courts’ burden probably wouldn’t significantly increase, other than through the defence of dogs by owners who would be happy to see them entered onto the index, but not destroyed. Neither will it reduce because of the constant supply of dogs of the pit bull terrier “type”.
 

Option 4: The introduction of Dog Control Notices

 
16. Do you think Dog Control Notices might be an effective preventative measure for tackling dogs which are not being properly controlled?
Properly implemented provisions for Dog Control Notices might be an effective preventative measure for “tackling” the owners of dogs which are not being properly controlled, if they are complemented by a coincidental programme of education for owners. Many owners of dogs that are out of control would actually relish the opportunity to bring them under their control, but do not have the means to establish that control because of lack of education on canine behaviour.
 
17. What sort of incidents do you think could be covered by Dog Control Notices?
Dog Control Notices should be used as a preventative measure, highlighting the potential for a dog to indulge in behaviour that may later prove to be a danger. They should force owners to take action to prevent further lack of control of their dogs in either public or private places, catering for all eventualities from threatening delivery workers in the home to fighting with other dogs in the street. To this end it would be necessary to have the dog assessed by a competent behaviourist and a programme of change developed to help the owner improve the behaviour of the dog. Remedial measures (as proposed in Q18 below) may also apply. Without educating the owner there can be no long term change.
Instances of intentionally using dogs to intimidate (“status” dogs) and instances of deliberate dog fighting should be robustly dealt with under the criminal law that currently stands, and NOT control notices. The dog is being used as a weapon, or to fight illegally, and the degree to which the individual offends is readily catered for in criminal law.
 
18. Do you think the proposed remedial measures are appropriate or would you remove any of them? Why?
The proposed remedial measures are appropriate and may include the provision to apply on private property where applicable. It should be noted that they should also include provision at Q 17 above because as they stand they do not correct the problem but merely contain it.
 
19. Do you think it should be possible to issue Dog Control Notices which apply to private property, where a dog has the right to be? Why?
Dog control notices could be applied to private property where a dog has the right to be if their intention is preventative, not punitive or criminalising.
 
20. Do you think there should be an appeal process for all Dog Control Notices?
There should be an appeal process through the Magistrates Court to safeguard owners and their pets from the overzealous application of all dog control notices.
 
21. Who do you think should be responsible for Dog Control Notices, if they were to be introduced?
The responsibility for the issue of dog control notices could rest with local authority dog wardens, but only if the quality of dog wardens is standardised across the country. This will involve a considerable programme of education. Failing that the responsibility should rest with the police, who will also require education. Both dog wardens and police will need to take advice from a qualified behaviourist in order to formulate an action plan for each individual dog and owner. A case could be made for either the police or dog wardens applying temporary dog control measures (for example muzzling and being kept on a lead in public) whilst longer term advice is sought from a competent behaviourist. It should be noted that the permanent muzzling and restriction to lead-only walking may have severe welfare implications for some dogs.
 
22. Do you think enforcement authorities should have powers to ban dogs from certain areas on public safety grounds? Why?
Whilst it is appropriate to separate dogs from people in certain areas, for example some children’s play areas, “public safety” is an ephemeral concept when relating to dogs generally. Rather than a blanket approach, which still has to be policed, efforts should be aimed at the control of specific dogs that have been shown to cause concern, by issuing the individuals with dog control notices. This approach targets the guilty individual rather than demonising the innocent majority.
If dogs are to be banned from certain areas as a means of displacing gatherings of individuals with “status” dogs, exactly that will happen, The individuals will gather somewhere else, simply displacing the problem.
If dogs are to be banned from certain areas on the grounds of public safety, other areas should be made available for owners to take their dogs.
 
23. Do you think that introducing Dog Control Notices will have a financial impact on enforcement agencies?
Inevitably, dealing with problem social behaviour, be it human or canine, incurs extra costs to society. Enforcement agencies issuing dog control notices are no different. However, this would be balanced by the reduced costs to NHS through the treatment of fewer dog bites. The costs to society therefore do not increase.
 

Option 5: A requirement that all dogs be covered by third party insurance

 
24. Do you think that third-party insurance should be compulsory for all dog owners? Why?
The APBC does not support the introduction of compulsory insurance for all dog owners as a stand-alone measure. Introducing compulsory third party insurance may assist in making society more responsible in terms of dog ownership, but it will not address the issue of status dogs, or reduce the incidence of dog bites on its own. The incidence of reported bites is likely to rise as injured parties have an opportunity for financial gain. As part of a package that includes microchipping, licensing, neutering, regular vaccination and parasite control, compulsory insurance may go some way to making owners aware of the responsibilities they have for their dogs.
 
25. If you support the requirement that all dogs should be covered by third-party insurance, how should such a requirement be introduced and enforced?
Whilst insurance on its own may not be beneficial (see Q24) it could be introduced and enforced with a package of licensing, that includes the opportunity for microchipping, neutering, regular vaccination and parasite control to encourage owners to take responsibility for their dogs.
 
26. Do you think that third-party insurance should be compulsory for owners of only certain breeds of dogs? If yes, why and which breeds?
No, this is breed-specific legislation by the back door. See Q 5.
 
27. Do you think that requiring all dogs to be covered by third-party insurance could have a significant financial impact upon individual dog owners? Why?
The package of including it in licensing with vaccinations and parasite control reduces the perceived impact, and welfare exemptions would need to be introduced, but obviously it will impact on owners.
 
28. Do you think that requiring all dogs to be covered by third-party insurance could have a significant financial impact upon welfare organisations/dog homes? Why?
Depending upon how it is introduced there could be a mass relinquishment of pets at that point; however, a sensitive or staged introduction would reduce the impact, with encouragement for voluntary take-up initially.
 

Option 6: a requirement that all dogs, or puppies, are microchipped.

 
29. Do you think that all dogs should have to be microchipped? Why?
Microchipping alone will not prevent or address the issue of dangerous dogs.
As part of a package that includes licensing, insurance, neutering, regular vaccination and parasite control, it may go some way to making owners aware of the responsibilities they have for their dogs.
 
30. Do you think that all puppies born after a specified date should have to be microchipped before they are one years old? Why?
If microchipping is to be instigated it would be easiest to target breeders. Pups should be chipped before they are sold and responsibility for registering the owner remain with the breeder. The puppy-buying public would police the scheme by not buying unchipped puppies.
 
31. How do you think such a requirement could be introduced and enforced?
The public would define a responsible breeder as one who has had their pups already microchipped. The requirement would therefore police itself.
 
32. Do you think that it should be compulsory for some specific breeds of dog to be microchipped? If so, why and which breeds?
If introduced, all breeds should be microchipped.
 
33. Do you think that requiring all dogs to be microchipped will have a significant financial impact upon individual dog owners? Please provide evidence.
The cost of microchipping should be borne by the breeder who may pass it on in the sales price. This does not represent a significant increase in the price of a puppy.
 
34. Do you think that requiring all dogs to be microchipped could have a financial impact upon welfare organisations/dog homes? Why?
Dogs would continue to be relinquished for the reasons they are presently. No increase would be caused by a requirement to microchip, but abandoned dogs’ owners could be identified and pursued for costs.
 
35. Do you think that maintaining an up-to-date database of owners‟ details would have a financial impact? Who do you think should be responsible for maintaining this database?
The database could be administered by a coalition of local authority dog wardens. Inevitably this will have a financial impact 
 

Option 7: More effective enforcement of the existing law including a consolidation of existing statutes into one new updated Act

 
36. Do you think that all legislation relating to dangerous dogs should be consolidated into a single piece of legislation? Why?
Consolidation of the DD legislation would probably make it easier for enforcement agencies to understand and therefore they may be less reluctant to administer it. It will do nothing to prevent “status” dogs, reduce the number of pit bull type dogs in the overall population, nor prevent dogs from biting people. Rather than simply consolidating the current law, there needs to be an understanding that owners who are not able to manage their dog need education, not criminal prosecution. 
No changes to legislation should be undertaken before the Defra commissioned report into human-directed dog aggression, being undertaken at Liverpool University, reports later this year, so that findings can be considered and taken into account.
 
37. Do you think that more effective enforcement of current legislation would improve the current situation regarding dangerous dogs? Why?
More effective enforcement of current dangerous dogs legislation is unlikely to address the issues of status dogs or reduce the incidence of dog bites. 
More effective use of legislation to target offences of intimidation by individuals using dogs would improve the “status dog” situation.
Only education can reduce the incidence of dog bites to humans. 
More effective enforcement of Sec 1 DDA cannot remove pit bull types (see Q 2).
 
38. Do you think further training for police officers to become Dog Legislation Officers would improve the current situation regarding dangerous dogs?
Further training for police officers will not improve the current situation with regard to pit bull types (Sec 1 DDA) –see previous.
Further training for police officers may help the current situation with regard to “status dogs” if that training is targeted at prosecution of individuals for socially unacceptable behaviour.
Further training for police officers will not reduce the incidence of dog bites because they only become involved after the event.
Further training for police officers will be necessary if they are to issue Dog Control Notices.
 
39. Do you think the Government needs to do more to raise public awareness of the existing law and what to do if you are aware of a possible breach?
The public is confused about the law because the law is confusing and applied haphazardly across the country. By making it clear what is and is not acceptable, and enforcing that uniformly, the public will have a clearer understanding of what constitutes a breach of the law and report them accordingly. This MAY address some of the breaches of criminal law by the owners of “status dogs” but will not prevent dogs being out of control – only owner education can do that.
 
40. Do you think there are better ways for the Government to communicate with the public and dog owners, including owners of “status” dogs?
Given that the government appears not to be communicating with the public, dog owners and status dog owners at all, there must be better ways to do so. How that takes place will depend on the finances available, but it must be based on a scientific approach to understanding both human and canine behaviour in order for it to be sustainable.
This entire consultation has confused the criminal issues of “status” dogs, which are deliberately encouraged to act in a way that is seen to enhance the criminal status of certain individuals, illegal dog fighting and the issues surrounding the prevention of dog bites to humans. The first two are a matter for social and criminal legislation, and the latter is a matter of public education. 
Criminalising the owners of dogs that have been deemed to be dangerous through their actions, with no intention by the owner, does nothing to prevent further dog bites. The situations in which dogs bite are extremely predictable, even before the event, by someone with knowledge of canine behaviour. That the incidence of dog bites continues to rise tends to show that this knowledge is not in the public realm, although it is available. Only through teaching children from a young age to interact with dogs in ways that minimise their risk of being bitten and through identifying dogs, or encouraging owners to identify their own dogs, that are likely to develop behaviour patterns that may lead them to become a source of danger, can the incidence of dog bites in the overall population be reduced. This can only be achieved through a concerted programme of education.