Every year there are reports of dog attacks around the UK. Although the majority of attacks do not involve animals legally banned in the UK, the State has considered certain breeds more than others to be potentially dangerous to the public.
It is thus illegal to sell, abandon, give away or breed these dogs.
Furthermore, ownership of the crossbreeds of the four banned breeds may also be subject to the same law, depending on their size and characteristics. We look at which dogs are banned in the UK, why they are banned, and whether or not the law allows any exceptions.
If you are found guilty of owning a banned dog it is your responsibility to prove that it is NOT one of four types of dangerous dog breed. Learn how the law governing dangerous dogs applies and what will happen if you are convicted of owning a banned dog.
What dog breeds are banned in the UK?
In the UK it is against the law to own a Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino or a Fila Brasileiro. That is because these breeds are banned under the enactment of the Dangerous Dog’s Act of 1991. In that year an Act of Parliament was passed which prohibits the ownership of certain types of dog. The Dangerous Dog’s Act also strengthened the legal responsibilities of owners of all types of dog, and made it clear that if any dog misbehaved in public its owner would pay the consequences.
Why were certain breeds of dog banned?
The Act was brought in after a bout of savage dog attacks on people. In the years running up to 1991 there had been a surge in the number of dogs bred to fight and to intimidate. Some still say the law that was passed doesn’t go far enough to protect the public, while others opine that it is a pointless law that discounts the behaviour of every dog, regardless of their breeding. Who is right? And why are certain breeds banned?
Banned dog: Pit Bull Terrier
Pit Bulls were for centuries bred for blood sports: these were usually fights to the death between the dog and a bear or a bull. The forward-thinking Victorians eventually banned blood sports, but that led to the Pit Bull being bred in secret to take part in dog fights. As a result, the breeds have gained an unsavoury reputation that, some argue, is unfairly based upon the actions of a handful of unscrupulous breeders.
Nevertheless, it was a series of tragic dog attacks involving the Pit Bull breed that ultimately led to the instigation of the 1991 Act, in turn pronouncing the breed and its variants banned.
Banned dog: Japanese Tosa
The Japanese Tosa was, and still is, a popular fighting dog of the Japanese. In the 1800s it was bred with various other breeds such as the bulldog and mastiff to produce a dog that was heavy, agile and powerful. Its breeding as a fighting dog has led to its being banned under UK law. The dog is banned in 14 other countries, besides the UK.
Banned dog: Dogo Argentino
The Dogo Argentino was bred in the early 1900s as a big game hunting dog and guard dog. Since it was first bred, successive generations have been bred with the Great Dane, Mastiff and English Pointer to produce an even stronger dog. It was brought to the United States in 1970 and has since made its way around the world.
Due to being large, muscular and powerful, the Dogo Argentino is banned in the UK, although if an owner seeks lawful authority some exceptions may apply. In other countries ownership restrictions exist.
Banned dog: Fila Brasileiro
This breed is thought to have first come about in the 1400s in Brazil (it is also called the Brazilian mastiff). The dog has been and is still used on farms to protect herds and to catch predators. The breed’s tracking instinct and exceptional unwillingness to give up the chase make it an attractive dog to farmers.
Unfortunately, the breed was also used to chase and capture slaves who wanted to escape captivity. The dog’s successive breeding has led to its developing an instinct for this sort of antisocial and unwanted behaviour, thus it is banned in the UK.
Argument against the State’s definition of “dangerous dog"
Most people would agree that dogs that have either been bred over decades to relish the prospect of a fight or of harming a human being should be controlled. However, some lobbyists for a change of the law will argue that dogs just as powerful as these, such as the Doberman and the German Shepherd are not banned, and that this reflects the inconsistency of the Act.
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the British Veterinary Association, breed-specific banning does not take into account the fact that among the four dangerous breeds there are many dogs that pose no harm to the general public.
In its report of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), the RSPCA said the law of 1991 “fails to deliver what it was designed to do: reduce hospital admissions from dog bites; improve public safety; and reduce the breeds or types it legislates against.”
Furthermore: “It has created a difficult set of circumstances that police and welfare charities have been forced to manage.”
Banned dogs: the argument for
To compound the problem still further of which dogs to ban, data from the Met Police reveals that 20% of the most serious cases of dog attacks were seen of current banned breeds. And in support of the Met, the government department concerned with animal legislation, DEFRA, told a parliamentary committee in 2018 that banned dogs are still responsible for a disproportionate number of attacks.
The Courts: What is the punishment for keeping a banned dog?
If you are convicted of owning a banned dog or a dog born of a mix of banned breeds you can expect an unlimited fine or a six month prison sentence, or both. If the court deems the dog to belong to a dangerous breed it can also order the dog to be euthanized. That ruling will be the case regardless of whether the dog has behaved itself in public. If the dog has caused a nuisance or worse, the sentence will also reflect the seriousness of the offence.
The Courts: What is the IED?
If you do own a dog of a banned breed, all is not lost. If a court believes your dog not to be a danger to the public it may rule that the dog is put on an Index of Exempted Dogs (IED). If this happens, you will be able to keep your dog.
But: there are certain conditions associated with owning a dog on the IED:
- You must prove that the dog is not a danger to the public
- You need to prove you are fit and proper in order to look after the dog
- The dog must be neutered and microchipped
- You must take out 3rd party insurance to cover accidental harm to another person
- You have to keep the dog muzzled and leashed while in public
- The dog must be kept securely in the home
The subjects of the Dangerous Dog’s Act and what makes dogs dangerous are hotly debated. It has long been suggested that unscrupulous owners are to blame for the sullying of some breeds, while others argue that generations of breeding has brought to the fore an instinctive desire for blood.
Only last year The Independent wrote that not only is the government’s dangerous dog’s strategy “riddled with inconsistencies” but it has led to the unnecessary death of “safe dogs”.
Clearly, the differences of opinion will continue into the future although it seems unlikely that dogs belonging to the current banned breeds will be allowed into the UK any time soon.
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