Dogs and the Law

Posted: 25th January 2012

The recent sad case of a six-year-old girl who was attacked and seriously injured by a bull terrier has thrown the spotlight once again on the laws governing the control of dogs, with some people calling for changes in the light of rising admissions to hospitals for dog bites.
So what is the current position affecting you and your dog? At present, the relevant legislation is contained within several different Acts of Parliament and the remedies available to those who suffer bites span both the civil and criminal law.
The most recent piece of legislation, and probably the most well-known, is the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (DDA) which means that a dog owner, or a person who has control of a dog, will be guilty of a criminal act if the dog is dangerously out of control in a public place. If the dog injures a person, or causes a person to believe that they might be injured, then the dog is regarded as being dangerously out of control and this is an ‘aggravated offence’. The definition of a public place can include, for example, the common areas in a block of flats. Some commentators are calling for the DDA to apply also to all non-public places. Under the DDA, the keeping of certain dogs is also banned. This includes Pit Bull terriers.
Livestock is given some protection under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, which provides that the owner of a dog, or the person in control of it, will be guilty of an offence if the dog worries livestock on agricultural land. Worrying livestock includes dogs chasing animals if it is likely to cause suffering. This is backed by a civil remedy (which might result in a claim for damages) under the Animals Act 1971 if the dog causes damage by killing or injuring the livestock.
A civil remedy also exists under the law of trespass if a dog enters land of its own accord without the permission of the landowner and causes damage whether to livestock or in some other manner.
The Government held a consultation on the current law in 2010 but no substantive changes have been made as a result. In the light of this recent case the calls for revision of the present law may be intensified.