Brown Pitbull on a leash

Four dog breeds are banned in the UK

© Brezhneva.od - Shutterstock

Banned dogs in the UK

By Nick Whittle Author

Updated on the

The State has considered certain breeds to be potentially dangerous to the public, and a law has been banning four of them in the UK since 1991.

In the UK, it is illegal to sell, abandon, give away or breed the following dogs: Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro. Ownership of the crossbreeds of the four banned breeds may also be subject to the same law, depending on their size and characteristics. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also announced that the American XL Bully would be added to the list before the end of 2023.

If you are found guilty of owning a banned dog it is your responsibility to prove that it is NOT one of four (soon to be five) 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. Soon, it will also be illegal to own an American XL Bully. That is because these breeds are banned under the enactment of the Dangerous Dogs 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.

Dogs that are illegal in the UK: List of banned dog breeds

The Act was brought in after a bout of 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. 

The Pit Bull Terrier

The Pit bull terrier ©Ivanova N - Shutterstock

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.

The Japanese Tosa or Japanese Fighting Dog

The Japanese Tosa ©SubertT - Shutterstock

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.

The Dogo Argentino

The Dogo Argentino ©Grisha Bruev - Shutterstock

The Dogo Argentino was bred in the early 1900s for big game hunting (e.g. wild boar and puma), and for guarding. 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.

The Fila Brasileiro or Brazilian Mastiff

The Fila Brasileiro ©Shutterstock

The Fila Brasileiro is thought to have first come about in the 1400s in South America. The dog has been and is still used on farms to protect herds and to catch predators. 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.

The American XL Bully

The American XL Bully©BAUER Alexandre - Shutterstock

The American XL Bully will be banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act by the end of 2023. This comes after a bout of attacks in the UK. Indeed, the breed has been responsible for 70% of dog-attack related deaths in the UK since 2021. American XL Bully dogs are not an officially recognised breed, much like the Pitbull Terrier. Dog experts will have to work hard on determining a breed standard so that the dogs can be correctly identified.

What happens if you have a banned dog?

If you are with your banned breed in a public place, the police can take it off you without a warrant. The dog will then be held in kennels while the police apply to a court.

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. 

What is a certificate of exemption?

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

Arguments against the State’s definition of a “dangerous dog"

Most people would agree that dogs that have been bred for fighting should be controlled. However, some will argue that dogs just as powerful as these, such as the Dobermann and the German Shepherd are not banned, and that this reflects the inconsistency of the Act.

In addition, 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. After all, how can we judge what type of dog is dangerous, based solely on the way they look?

Finally, the RSPCA has also argued that the legislation hasn't acheived what it was supposed to - i.e. reduce hospital admissions from dog bites; improve public safety; and reduce the breeds or types it legislates against. According to animal charities in the UK, it is time for us to improve our understanding of dog behaviour, and what makes a dangerous dog dangerous (hint: it's not just about the breed!).

The differences of opinion about the legislation will continue into the future, but it seems unlikely that dogs belonging to the current banned breeds will be allowed into the UK any time soon.

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Frequently asked questions

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