Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 prohibits the ownership of four specific types of dog. These are:
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Japanese Tosa
- Dogo Argentino
- Fila Brasileiro
This law makes it illegal to own, sell, breed, give away or abandon any of these dog breeds (Blue Cross, 2018).
The UK Dangerous Dogs Act classifies dogs by “type” and not breed. The law doesn’t recognise a dog’s family tree or DNA, instead the decision as to whether or not the dog is illegal is usually based upon physical characteristics alone. This can pose a threat to similar looking breeds, which aren’t banned.
Between 1991 and 1997, if a dog looked like one of the prohibited breeds as mentioned above, they would get an automatic death sentence - even if they had never shown aggressive behaviour.
The Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act in 1997 gave courts the right to add dogs that looked like a banned type to an ‘exempted’ list if they passed a behavioural assessment and were thought to pose no risk to the public.
Dogs that are on the exempted dog list are allowed to return home under certain conditions. They must be neutered, and kept on a lead and muzzled in all public places - including car journeys.
If you own one of the blacklisted breeds, it’s unlikely you will be able to take out pet insurance for it. Many insurers are too concerned about costly claims, meaning that you will have no choice but to cover any vets bills yourself.
Should the dog injure another dog, a person or cause an accident of any kind, you will also have to cover any related costs – which could be very significant indeed.
There are, however, some specialist third party liability insurers who will insure your dog if it has a good track record.
As explained above, if the courts decide your dog poses a threat, you risk it being destroyed – whether it is a pure breed or simply conforms to one of the “types” mentioned in the Dangerous Dogs Act.
And all dog owners could be affected by Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1997, which relates to dogs being “dangerously out of control” in public, regardless of the breed or “type”.
Dangerously out of control has been defined as: "Any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that a dog will injure any person".
Charges could therefore be brought against any owner whose dog is a danger to the public, even if his or her dog does not actually injure anyone.
The act has been criticised for many years by pet owners and experts alike, who argue that breed specific legislation ignores the fact that fundamentally the owners are to blame for a dog’s aggressive nature. The law should look at dogs “on an individual case-by-case basis - irrespective of their breed or type” (Dr Samantha Gaines, RSPCA dog welfare expert).
In fact, according to RSPCA figures, out of the 30 people killed by dogs between 1991 and 2016, 21 had been attacked by dogs that were not banned.
On the other hand, there have been cases where banned dogs have lived up to their temperamental nature. Four-year-old Lexi Branson died in 2013 after being attacked at home in Leicestershire by the family's Aylestone bulldog-type breed. Similarly in 2014, a six-month-old, Molly-Mae Wotherspoon, died after being attacked by her family's American pit bull terrier.
Responsible ownership, rearing and training are vital in preventing dog behavioural problems and dog attacks.
If your dog is acting aggressively towards yourself or strangers by growling, showing teeth, lunging or snapping, it’s advisable to determine what is triggering this behaviour.
Certain types of dogs can be more aggressive than others, in particular dogs who are have high guarding or protective tendencies.
For example, research by Pethelpful found that the Chihuahua was actually the meanest breed, followed by Dachshund, Chow Chow, Doberman Pinscher, Dalmatian, Rottweiler and Jack Russell Terrier; none of which are on the banned list.
It’s important to note that should your dog harm someone, or there be reasonable grounds to suspect that it could have harmed someone, both you as the owner and anyone in charge of the dog at the time could face charges as a result.
If you suspect that your dog might be aggressive and pose a threat, you can talk to the police, the RSPCA, or your vet for more advice on the best course of action to take.