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ARCHIVE: Dangerous dogs

Information on the old Defra website currently covers the following:


  • Dangerous Dogs Law – Guidance for Enforcers (pdf 160kb)Control of Dogs, The Law and You (PDF 600 KB) - Guidance on the law governing the control of dogs.
  • Dangerous Dogs Law – Guidance for Enforcers (PDF 160KB) - Guidance to aid enforcers in the use of dangerous dogs law.  The guidance, written in association with the police, local authorities and the RSPCA, explains the law on dangerous dogs and provides examples of good practice when enforcing the legislation.



Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 prohibits four types of dog:

  • the Pit Bull Terrier
  • the Japanese tosa
  • the Dogo Argentino
  • the Fila Brasileiro

It is important to note that, in the UK, dangerous dogs are classified by “type”, not by breed label. This means that whether a dog is considered dangerous, and therefore prohibited, will depend on a judgment about its physical characteristics, and whether they match the description of a prohibited 'type'. This assessment of the physical characteristics is made by a court.

The 1991 Act was amended by the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997. The 1997 Act removed the mandatory destruction order provisions of the 1991 Act by giving the courts discretion on sentencing, and re-opened the Index of Exempted Dogs for those prohibited dogs which the courts consider would not pose a risk to the public. Only courts can direct that a dog can be placed on the list of exempted dogs.

Section 3 of the 1991 Act created a new offence of being an owner of a dog of any type or breed which is dangerously out of control in a public place or a non-public place in which it is not permitted to be.

Detailed guidance on the legislation was issued to police forces and the courts between 1991 and 1998 by the Home Office. The guidance issued can be found below (in PDF format):

Overseas legislation on prohibited types of dog

If you need to know the law on prohibited types of dogs in other countries, please contact the Embassy of the relevant country. Please note that you should contact the Embassy of the country concerned within the UK, rather than a British Embassy abroad. Contact details of embassies in the UK are available.

Dogs out of control in a public place

If a dog is dangerously out of control in a public place - then the owner or the person in charge of the dog is guilty of an offence, or, if the dog while so out of control injures any person, an aggravated offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. In proceedings against a person who is the owner of a dog but at the material time was not in charge of it, it should be a defence for the accused to prove that the dog was at the material time in the charge of a person whom he reasonably believed to be a fit and proper person to be in charge of it.

Section 10(2) of the 1991 Act defines a public place as meaning any street, road or other place to which the public have, or are permitted to have access. This is a wide definition of a public place and one which specifically includes the common parts of a building containing two or more dwellings. It is intended to cover, for instance, those parts of a block of flats where, although there may be a secure front entry door so that the interior of the flat is not a place to which the public has unrestricted access, nevertheless the common parts are, in all other respects, a public place.

A person found guilty of an offence may face imprisonment or a fine, and the courts may disqualify the offender from having custody of a dog for any period.

Other legislation

Under the Town Police Clauses Act of 1847 it is an offence for any person in any street: to let an unmuzzled ferocious dog be at large so that it obstructs or annoys the residents or passengers in the street or puts them in danger; or to set on or to urge any dog to attack, worry or put in fear any person or animal. A dog will not be at large while it is held on a lead. The word 'street' here is given an extended meaning to include any road, square, court, alley, thoroughfare or public passage.

In the Metropolitan Police District a similar offence has been created by the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839. This differs only from the first part of the 1847 Act offence in that it is sufficient that an unmuzzled dog be at large (no obstruction, annoyance or danger need be shown), and that the place of the offence is described as any thoroughfare or public place.

Under the Dogs Act 1871, any person may make a complaint to a magistrates court that a dog is dangerous, or report the matter to the police. If the court is satisfied that a dog is dangerous and not kept under proper control, it may make an order for it to be controlled or destroyed.

The Animals Act 1971 provides that the keeper of an animal is liable for any damage it causes, if he knows it was likely to cause such damage or injury unrestrained.

Dog Control Orders

Dog Control Orders replaced Dog Byelaws in April 2006. Existing byelaws remain in effect until such time as a dog control order for the same issue is made on the same land. Further information on these Orders is available.

Using the legislation

Section 3(5) of the 1991 Act clarifies the application of the Dogs Act 1871. The strength of the 1871 Act is that as it is not part of the criminal law, it operates on a lower standard of proof and proceedings can be taken even when a criminal offence has not been committed. It provides a remedy in a wide range of circumstances for the destruction, or imposition of controls, on dangerous dogs. A particular advantage of the 1871 Act is the fact that it applies everywhere, even in and around a private house which is why it is particularly appropriate for action on behalf of people such as postmen and women who are regularly at risk from dogs in front gardens.

Section 3(5)(b) of the 1991 Act enables a court to make an order under the 1871 Act that a dog is in future muzzled, kept on a lead, tethered or is excluded from specified places. This is a flexible provision which can be used to deal with a number of nuisance complaints about dogsincluding circumstances where dogs in one back garden cause fear of risk or injury to neighbours in another. Section 3(6) enables the neutering of male dogs in addition to, or instead of, other measures or controls.

These laws, when applied individually or in combination, serve as a positive encouragement to the owners of all dogs to exercise safe control over their dogs.

Dogs and trespass

In civil law a dog owner is liable if he or she deliberately sends a dog on to another person's land in pursuit of game. A civil offence is also committed if a dog owner allows a dog to roam at large in the knowledge that it is likely to kill game. No entry on the land by the owner of the dog is necessary in order for the proceedings to succeed.

If a dog of its own accord enters land without permission but does no more, its owner is not liable under civil law for trespass; nor is it a criminal offence unless there is a contravention of regulations made under the Control of Dogs Order. Under civil law it is likely that the dog's owner would be liable for any damage which it is in the nature of a dog to commit.

It is an offence for a dog to be at large, ie not on a lead or otherwise under close control, in a field of sheep. Sheep dogs and police dogs are exempted from this provision.

Dogs worrying livestock

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953

Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 the owner and anyone else under whose control the dog is at the time will be guilty of an offence if it worries livestock on agricultural land. The dog must have been attacking or chasing livestock in such a way that it could reasonably be expected to cause injury or suffering or, in the case of females, abortion or the loss or diminution of their produce. An offence is not committed if at the time of the worrying the livestock were trespassing, the dog belonged to the owner of the land on which the trespassing livestock were and the person in charge of the dog did not cause the dog to attack the livestock. The definition of 'livestock' includes cattle, sheep, goats, swine, horses and poultry. Game birds are not included.

The Animals Act 1971

Civil liability arises from the Animals Act 1971. Anyone who is the keeper of a dog that causes damage by killing or injuring livestock is liable for the damage caused. For the purposes of the Act the keeper is the owner or the person in possession of the dog. The head of the household is liable where the owner is under the age of 16.

The keeper of the dog is not liable where the damage is due wholly to the fault of the person suffering it or if the livestock were killed or injured on land onto which they had strayed and either the dog belonged to the occupier or its presence was authorised by the occupier.

Under the Act there is a defence available to someone who is the subject of civil proceedings for killing or injuring a dog that was worrying or about to worry livestock. The defence can be used where there were no other means of ending or preventing the worrying or where the dog that had done the worrying was still in the vicinity and not under control and there were no practicable means of establishing ownership.

The definition of livestock in the 1971 Act is wider than in the 1953Act. Here it includes pheasants, partridges and grouse whilst in captivity.

Guard Dogs

Only section 1 of the Guard Dogs Act 1975 has ever entered into force. This means that all the other sections relating to a licensing scheme are not in force and neither are there any plans to do so. Section 1, which is in force, relates to the control of guard dogs.

Section 1 states:

(1) A person shall not use or permit the use of a guard dog at any premises unless a person ('the handler') who is capable of controlling the dog is present on the premises and the dog is under the control of the handler at all times while it is secured so that it is not at liberty to go freely about the premises.

(2) The handler of a guard dog shall keep the dog under his control at all times while it is being used as a guard dog at any premises except:

(a) while another handler has control over the dog; or

(b) while the dog is secured so that it is not at liberty to go freely about the premises.

(3) A person shall not use or permit the use of a guard dog at any premises unless a notice containing a warning that a guard dog is present is clearly exhibited at each entrance to the premises.

The owner of a guard dog may be liable for any injury to a person under s 2(2) of the Animals Act 1971, unless they come within one of the exceptions in s 5.

Page last modified: 11 May 2010
Page published: 16 September 2009

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