The Dangerous Dogs Act sets forth laws intended to keep the public safe from dog attacks, but it remains one of the UK’s most controversial pieces of legislation.

We found out what the laws mean for owners, why it is so often criticised, and other important laws dog owners should know.

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What is the Dangerous Dogs Act?

The Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1991 in response to a spate of dog attacks.

The legislation made it a criminal offence to have a dog ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place or somewhere where the dog is not permitted to be.

The law was updated in 2014 to extend the law to also cover dogs on private property.

It also banned ‘Specially Control Dogs’ – these are also known as banned breeds.

What does ‘dangerously out of control’ mean?

A dog that is dangerously out of control is one that has injured another person, or has given another person reasonable apprehension that it may do so.

This may be something as simple as your dog chasing, barking or jumping up at another person or child if it leads to a complaint.

Consequences for owners may include a prison sentence and a ban on owning dogs.

If your dog is seized, the presumption is that your dog will be destroyed unless you are able to persuade the court that your dog is not a danger to the public.

You may also have to pay a fine, compensation and costs.

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What are the banned breeds?

Currently the banned types are the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasiliero.

It is also illegal to sell, abandon, give away or breed from a banned dog.

Whether or not your dog is considered a banned type does not depend on its breed name, but on what it looks like. So if you own a dog which has many of the characteristics of a Pit Bull Terrier, it may be considered a banned type.

What if I have a banned dog?

Police and dog wardens are able to take away your dog and keep it even if the dog isn’t acting dangerously and there hasn’t been a complaint, though they will need a warrant to seize your dog on private property.

If your dog is seized a police or council dog expert will decide what type of dog it is and whether it is currently, or has the potential to be, a danger to the public.

It will either be returned to you or remain in kennels while a court application is made, in which case, owners are not permitted to visit.

If your dog is a banned type but deemed not dangerous by the court it may be put on the Index of Exempted Dogs (IED) and you will be allowed to keep your dog.

In this case you will be given a lifelong Certificate of Exemption and you must ensure your dog is neutered, microchipped, muzzled and on a lead at all times when in a public place and kept in a secure place where it won’t be able to escape.

The owner must be over 16, have insurance against the dog injuring others, produce the Certificate of Exemption within five days of being asked by police or a dog warden and inform the IED if they move house or their dog dies.

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Why is the Act criticised?

The Act is often criticised for taking an approach of banning the breed rather than the deed.

Most recently, a report was published by Battersea Dogs and Cats home which found 86% of 215 dog experts said the way a dog was brought up by its owner, and 73% identifying the way a dog was brought up by its breeder, are very important in determining their behaviour.

98% believed adding more breeds to the banned list would have no effect in preventing further dog attacks and 78% of experts supported the compulsory training of new dog owners.

The Home also estimated that 71% of the 91 Pit Bull Terriers it took in last year could have been rehomed due to their friendly nature but instead all of them were put to sleep because of the legislation.

What other laws do dog owners need to know?

Compulsory microchipping was enforced in April 2016. Dogs must be microchipped by the age of eight weeks old and any new owners are responsible for updating the microchip’s details.

Failure to comply could result in a fine of up to £500.

If your dog barks and causes serious nuisance to your neighbours, the local authority can serve you with a noise abatement notice which can lead to fines and legal fees.

You can also be liable for damage caused by your dog under the Animals Act.

In Northern Ireland, owners are still required to have a licence for their dogs. This costs £12.50, although there are some concessions available.