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The Dangerous Dogs Act

What is the Dangerous Dogs Act and how does it affect me?

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Written by  Rebecca Goodman
5 min read
Updated: 12 Jun 2023

The Dangerous Dogs Act first came into force in the UK in 1991 to protect members of the public from dog attacks

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.

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.

What does a ‘dangerous dog’ look like?

Between 1991 and 1997, if a dog looked like one of the prohibited breeds mentioned above, it would be euthanised even if it 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, kept on a lead, and muzzled in all public places and on car journeys.

Dangerous dog collar

Are some breeds more aggressive than others?

Certain types of dogs can be more aggressive than others, in particular dogs who have high guarding or protective tendencies.

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 these dog breeds are on the banned list.

It’s important to note that should your dog harm someone, or if there are 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.

How could the Act affect my dog and me?

If the courts decide your dog poses a threat, you risk it being destroyed. This rule is applied whether it is a pure breed or simply conforms to one of the “types” mentioned in the Dangerous Dogs Act.

All dog owners could also 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.

Are there exemptions to banned dogs?

Your dog type may be banned, but a court may rule that it is not a danger to the public. The dog will then be added to the Index of Exempted Dogs (IED) and you will be allowed to keep it. You will be given a Certificate of Exemption that is valid for the life of the dog.

Some conditions must be met to achieve this. Your dog must be neutered, microchipped, kept on a lead and always muzzled when in public, and kept in a secure place so it cannot escape.

As the owner, you must also be aged over 16, take out insurance against your dog injuring other people, show your Certificate of Exemption within five days of a request by a police officer or council dog warden, and inform the IED if you change your address and when your dog dies.

Can I insure a banned breed dog?

If you own one of the blacklisted breeds, it’s unlikely you will be able to insure your dog. Many insurers are too concerned about costly claims, meaning that you will have no choice but to cover any vet bills yourself.

Should the dog injure another dog or person, or cause an accident of any kind, you will also have to cover any related costs. These costs could be very significant.

However, some specialist third-party liability insurers will insure your dog if it has a good track record.

Are Pit Bulls more expensive to insure?

If you find an insurer that is willing to provide cover for a dog on the banned dog list, you should expect to pay more money. This is because Pit Bulls and other banned dogs are considered high risk due to potential attacks. This, in turn, may lead to higher policy rates.

In terms of health, Pit Bulls and similar purebred dogs are also more likely to suffer from specific health and genetic conditions such as hip dysplasia and myotonia are common issues for Pit Bulls. Their high energy use and larger diets can also lead to bloating. Steps can be taken to help prevent medical problems, but insurers will likely charge a higher premium due to these factors.

How can you prevent your dog from becoming dangerous?

Responsible ownership, rearing, and training are vital in preventing dog behavioural problems and dog attacks.

If your dog is acting aggressively towards you or strangers by growling, showing teeth, lunging, or snapping, it’s advisable to determine what is triggering this behaviour.

Is it worth getting dog insurance in the UK?

Pet insurance can help cover the costs of treating your pet should they suffer an illness or are involved in an accident.

For their health, pet insurance can help cover medical and dental bills which can cost thousands over their lifetime. Pet insurance can help save or spread the cost of this throughout their life.

Meanwhile, if your pet has behavioural problems, pet insurance could cover you if they act aggressively. In this circumstance, as an owner, you could be held liable for their behaviour.

Ultimately, pet and dog insurance can help save you from unexpected and potentially high vet bills.

Find insurance for your pet

It can be difficult to find dangerous dog or Pit Bull insurance in the UK. However, you can try to find an insurer that specialises in your dog's breed or type. MoneySuperMarket can help find out if we have an insurance policy for your pet. Let us know about your animal and we’ll compare deals from leading insurers for you to consider.

Rebecca Goodman:

The important thing to realise, before you become a pet owner, is the responsibility involved with having a dog. You’ll need to thoroughly research what will be required of you when you take on a dog – not just things like its daily needs and exercise routine, but also the liability if it injures someone else, and what is covered (and not covered) if you take out pet insurance.

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