The history of the dangerous dogs act

2 March 2022 - 4 min read

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The Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1991 after a spate of horrific dog attacks. There were 11 in just one year. Seven of the victims were children, sparking public outrage against irresponsible owners.

The Act has come under fire over the years for failing to address the real issues and instead stigmatising certain types of dog, when in reality any breed or type of dog can bite in the right circumstances. Four of the 11 attacks that prompted the legislation involved Pit Bull type dogs but the rest were a variety of non-banned breeds.

The RSPCA, Battersea Dogs Home, Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, The British Veterinary Association and the Kennel Club have all called for changes to parts of the Act because it effectively places dogs on death row because of how they look.

What does the dangerous Dogs Act cover

The original Act covers three main areas:

Dogs bred for fighting – This prohibits the ownership of certain types of dog and is the most controversial part of the Act. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘breed-specific legislation’. In the original Dangerous Dogs Act any dogs of the banned types were placed under a mandatory destruction order.

Keeping dogs under control – This made it a criminal offence for any type or breed of dog to be ‘dangerously out of control’. The dog’s owner can be prosecuted for allowing it.

Destruction and disqualification – This covers court orders to destroy dogs and bans for owners on keeping dogs for periods of time.

How the Dangerous Dogs Act has changed over time

1997 - An amendment was made to remove the mandatory destruction order on banned types. Instead, there was an Index of Exempted Dogs. This is a register of banned dogs where a court has decided they do not pose a risk to the public.

2014 - The original act made it illegal to allow your dog to be dangerously out of control in a pubic place, but in 2014 this was extended to include private property, including the owner’s home and gardens.

Dangerously out of control means that your dog injures someone or makes someone afraid it would injure them, so this covers, for example, a dog chasing a delivery person as they try to put a parcel in the garden.

There is a defence if your dog is defending your home from an intruder, but only in the house itself and not the garden.

Maximum jail sentences for dog attacks were also significantly increased:

  • 14 years maximum for a fatal dog attack, up from two years maximum

  • Five years maximum, up form two years maximum, for an injury

The changes also introduced a new offence to cover attacks on assistance dogs, with a maximum jail sentence of three years.

Judge Julian Goose, a member of the Sentencing Council, said: "Most dog owners are responsible, care for their pets properly and keep them under control but some irresponsible owners put others at risk of injury or death and we want to ensure that the courts have the guidance needed to help them sentence offenders appropriately.

"In drawing up our proposals, we have been very aware of the potentially devastating impact of these offences on victims. Long sentences are available for the most serious offences."

2018 – A parliamentary inquiry was launched into breed-specific legislation. No changes have yet been made to the legislation.

What dogs are banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act?

The Act doesn’t ban specific breeds. It bans ‘types’ of dogs. That means each dog will be assessed by a dog legislation officer to decide whether it belongs to one of the banned types.

The four types are:

  • Pit Bull Terrier

  • Japanese Tosa

  • Dogo Argentino

  • Fila Brasileiro

It’s also illegal to breed, sell, give away or abandon these dogs or cross breeds of them.

Exemption from the Dangerous Dogs Act

The Dangerous Dog Exemption Scheme allows individual dogs that fall under the four banned types to be individually assessed.

If they’re deemed not to be a danger to public safety they’ll be issued with a certificate of exemption and put on the Index of Exempted dogs which means they won’t have to be destroyed.

Veterinary surgeon Dr Kendal Shepherd noted in an article for the British Veterinary Association that "The ultimate irony is that only friendly, non-aggressive dogs thought to pose no risk to anyone are allowed onto the Index of Exempted Dogs.”

Although these dogs keep their lives, owners need to comply with these conditions at all times:

  • The dog must be neutered and microchipped

  • The dog must be muzzled and on a lead at all times in a public place

  • It must be kept securely at home to prevent escape

  • Any changes of address need to be notified

  • The owner must hold third-party liability insurance coving the dog

The exemption doesn’t just assess the dog. It certifies that the owner is a ‘fit and proper person’ to keep the dog. Because of this, the ownership of the dog can only be transferred if the owner dies or becomes seriously ill.

Dog insurance for banned breeds

Unfortunately, most pet insurers, us included,  can’t cover dogs or cross breeds of dogs listed in the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Owners of these dogs that have jumped through all the hoops to get them on the Index of Exempted Dogs will find this particularly frustrating because they’re required by law to hold third-party insurance for their pet.

Don’t despair if you’re in this position – there are specialist insurers who can provide third party cover for banned types that have an exemption certificate.

If you become a Dogs Trust Member your membership includes third party liability insurance for your dog. It includes the four banned dog types, as long as the dog is registered with the Index of Exempted Dogs or has been released under the Interim Exemption Scheme. All conditions of the relevant scheme must be met for the cover to be valid. Membership costs £25 a year.

Derri Dunn
Content marketer

Derri is a personal finance and insurance writer and editor. After seven years covering all things motoring and banking at GoCompare, Derri joined ManyPets in 2021 to focus on pet health. She has fostered cats and kittens for Blue Cross and Cats Protection and is owned by tabby cat Diggory and two badly behaved dogs.