It might be controversial, but it’s the law. So it pays to know the details of this legislation, especially as some changes have come into force over the last few weeks.
Section 3 of the Actapplies to every dog owner in England and Wales. Under this section, it is a criminal offence for the person in charge of the dog to allow it to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place. But it’s important to realise that a dog doesn’t have to bite to be deemed dangerous in the eyes of the law. Not many dog owners know this, and it is important to hold that thought when looking at the changes. Anyone who deals with dogs needs to be aware of these changes – but they are much more detrimental to rescues, in particular as they are rehoming dogs without knowing their history. And placing them in the wrong hands can lead to all sorts of problems if the dog bites someone.
What changed on the 13th May?
The biggest difference is the Act now covers incidents on private property as well as public places. This includes your own house and both front and back gardens. These are the recent additions:
It will now be an offence for your dog to attack an assistance dog (Guide Dog, Hearing Dog, etc.).
Prison sentences will be increased for those convicted of some offences.
Police or an appointed local authority now have powers to seize a dog considered dangerously out of control in a private place. The existing legislation already covers public areas
The court must also take account of whether the owner of the dog, or the person in charge of it, is a fit and proper person to have a dog.
To protect your dog, plase make sure you consider the following
Ensure your gardens outside areas are secure.
Manage your dog when someone knocks
Keep unexpected visitors or delivery drivers safe on your property. The requirement for the law to cover private places as well as public ones has long been campaigned for by the Communication Workers Union. Numerous Royal Mail and other delivery services employees are injured by dog bites each year and up until now there has not been the legislation to enable action to be taken to ensure their future safety.
Make sure that any visitor can safely access your front door without encountering your dog.
You also need to consider how your dog greets people. What you view as a dog being friendly by jumping up at visitors may be seen as threatening behaviour by a stranger.
What about burglars or trespassers? It is not entirely clear. Your dog may be considered dangerously out of control if it is in a building that is your private dwelling at the time of the attack. But this does not cover incidents in your front or back garden. So while the law is yet to be tested you should ensure that all areas of their gardens where their dogs could encounter unexpected visitors are secure. You might also consider talking to your neighbours and asking them not too let their children climb fences to retrieve balls etc. to be on the safe side.
It’s common to hear people involved in rescue saying that the DDA of 1991 was badly drafted and not well thought through. Sadly, this year’s amendments do not help put right this situation. The incidents of attacks by dogs on people have risen, and that is the result of irresponsible breeders and irresponsible owners. Until we have legislation that tackles the latter, and that includes breeders in the UK, as well as abroad in places such as Ireland and Eastern Europe, where many puppies are now coming from, this situation will worsen.
The DDA 1991 mainly proscribed 4 ‘breeds’ – they had to be neutered, microchipped, tattooed and muzzled in public. The owner was also unable to give them away or sell them. The idea obviously was if they were neutered, they would gradually die out. Twenty three years on from this Act we have clear evidence from the statistics that it is not working because the Main ‘breed’ the Government of the time wished to get rid of is not a breed at all, but a lookalike. So out of one litter some puppies when they grow up might be identified as pit bullterriers, and some not. The categorization of this ‘breed’ being solely on looks and measurements of the head and body. Here are the interesting figures that prove how futile that Act was.
Numbers of registered dog types on the Index of Exempted Dogs for the last four years
- 2010 – 800
- 2011 – 1129
- 2012 – 1519
- 2013 – 2004
- 2014 – 2658
For a professional analysis of the act see here