The following notes outline three varied dog expert witness cases in 2019, whereby I have been asked to assess the dogs in my capacity as a dog expert witness and thankfully in all of these cases the dogs have been successfully returned to the owner and matters have resolved successfully. It is common however that some basic measures are put in place with dogs that are not on the banned breed list and these measures are usually to use a muzzle in public and to keep the dog on a short lead, though I have had cases that have ended with no control measures at all (a rare outcome - see case three at the end) and many others that have allowed the dog to be exercised on longer lines to enable a greater degree of freedom when in public.

In the vast majority of cases, the result is positive and dogs can continue with their owners prior to the events that led to my involvement. The dogs I assess are either still with the owner, or if a suspected banned breed (virtually always the Pitbull terrier) the dog will be held at a kennel contracted by the police and I assess the dogs at that location.

My aim is to set out all of these notes with a minimum of legalese talk so as to make it readable and easily consumed by the regular dog owner. This is not a technical document, but case notes to provide the regular dog owner with an insight as they may be going through a similar stressful experience, may have had their dog removed, or maybe going through the process of having a dog that is alleged to have been ‘Dangerously out of control in a public place’. If you have a number of questions in this regard, you might like to look at my web page that sets out a number of Q&A’s on this subject. Scroll to the bottom of the page.

I myself do not have formal legal training and I often remind myself that I am a dog behaviour expert and not an expert in the law. For expert legal assistance, I recommend that you contact the solicitors at www.doglaw.com. Having said that, I have become well versed in the laws that affect dogs and their owners and for the best part, my involvement in dog law pertains to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and the various amendments since its first inception. To see a list of some of the acts that I have worked on, see my blog post here.

So, let’s begin by looking at three recent cases in 2019. *Names have been removed to protect the individuals involved, though permission has been obtained to use the cases in this article.

Dog Expert Witness. Case Number 1. Pitbull type.

‘Drum’ 5-year-old Male dog that was found to be a ‘Pitbull type’.

The initial contact from the acting solicitor says:

“We have a client whose dog has been seized as a dog of the pit bull type, contrary to S1 (1) (a) and (3) Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. This follows an examination by an experienced police dog handler. It is chipped and its veterinary vaccination record has it as a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The dog has not attacked anyone but was seized when our client was arrested for other offences (which she denies). We would be grateful if you could confirm your charges for carrying out an assessment on a private basis so that we may advise our client's family. The dog is currently in a secure police dog pound, but we do have a couple of photos on file. We look forward to hearing from you and thank you in anticipation of your assistance.”

I shall openly state from the outset that a case that reads like this and presents a dog that has not been removed for aggressive behaviour is more often than not a straight forward assessment. The dogs are usually calm and biddable and the whole process can run very smoothly; as it did in this case. There were some delays in gaining access to the dog due to police staffing and leave commitments, but once my assessment had been carried out, the process was relatively quick. I always try to be the ‘fastest’ cog in the big machine, in terms of how these cases are resolved. I can usually assess the dog within a week or two being given the go-ahead and my report (along with a DVD of the assessment) is with the solicitor within 24-48 hours of my assessment. Frustratingly, some dogs have been kennelled for many months prior to my involvement and I do wish that such delays could be addressed across the board.

As already suggested, the actual assessment of Drum was very straight forward, in that he was calm and biddable from the outset and I was able to manage him with ease throughout the assessment. As I approached his kennel he was the first in a long row of separate kennels all containing dogs waiting to be assessed at various times. There was a great deal of noise in this kennel environment, but Drum just stood there looking calm and quiet with a relaxed look on his face.

Dog Legislation Officers (DLO’s) are in my experience helpful and professional and I had already been told that the dog was calm and pleasant to interact with. Despite being offered this reassuring information, I still need to take my own precautions in the way I approach him and not to take liberties or to become complacent in the process. My assessment was overseen by a DLO and a civilian dog expert with the police and I am quite comfortable with this. I video all dog behaviour and breed type assessments, and so this case was no exception. It’s not uncommon for the police to also film my assessment of the dog.

There is often a limit on what you can do with a dog in a small area, away from the public and other dogs when also keeping that dog on a short lead. Despite these limitations, you can still get a good feel of how that dog is and its innate behaviours that one might expect to see in public as well as in the kennelled environment. I make mental notes on the dog from the outset and the way I can initially approach a dog and place a lead on it is a good indicator of the dog’s temperament. I then look at tests such as the dog’s ability to carry out basic obedience commands, the ability to listen when called upon to do so (such as to drop and leave a squeaky toy) and then the ability for the dog to be handled all over. Some assessments may require me to test a specific element of the behaviour: I recall a case a few years ago whereby it was alleged that the dog had been directed to attack a police officer by a whistle from its owner and so I tested a variety of whistles, both physical and human, to see if the behaviour could be replicated - the dog didn’t respond to any of my whistles. Imagine my relief.

The following is an excerpt from my report on this dog:

1) Initial impressions of Drum's behaviour

PC XX and a civilian XX, met me at the kennels to assess the dog Drum and I was able to carry out a preliminary inspection of the assessment area set aside for this purpose.

Before assessing Drum, I asked about his conduct in the kennels and he has been able to mix freely with members of staff and there have been no incidents of aggressive behaviour recorded during his time in kennels, which now spans some 5 months. I first saw Drum when he was stood in his kennels looking calm and quiet, despite being surrounded by many other barking dogs in the same kennel block. I was able to place a lead over Drum’s head without concern and he was then keen to exit the kennel space and I walked him across the yard into a larger grassed area that had been set aside for the assessment.

2) Drum’s behaviour towards me

Once in the grassed space, Drum was highly biddable and I was able to carry out my assessment feeling relaxed and confident in his behaviours towards me throughout. I gave Drum time to explore the area a little and to toilet before I looked at him more closely.
At no time did Drum show aggressive behaviour towards me, XX or XX, who were both in the same enclosure with me, watching quietly as I carried out my assessment. Drum remained calm and under my control throughout.

3) Additional dog behaviour tests carried out

During the assessment, Drum would sit and stay for brief periods when requested to do so. He would not lie down when asked to do so. I was able to touch Drum all over with my hands, from looking at his teeth, his ears and all along his body, including his feet and undercarriage. He did not flinch throughout and I felt at ease carrying out this physical inspection. Drum remained relaxed as I carried out the above inspection. I was able to place Drum back into his kennel free from concern. He was easy to manage and he remained polite and respectful to me - a stranger, managing him as set out above.

Dogs that are suspected of being a Pitbull type undergo a number of measuring tests to establish if the dog meets various breed standards as set out by the American Dog Breeders Association. During my time with Drum, I measured him and made notes of his physical composition to enable me to make comments on him in relation to the breed standard as specified by the American Dog Breeders Association as published in the Pitt Bull Gazette, Vol 1, Issue 3 in 1977. This is the standard used in the stated case of R v Dunne on 2nd July 1993 at the divisional court, Knightsbridge.

In summary, Drum had a large number of attributes that make up the characteristics of a Pitbull terrier type, and as such is a reasonable example of the breed being banned under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Drum was found to be ‘of type’ by both me and the police. His behaviour was excellent and the owner was found to be a ‘fit and proper person’ to own him.

The “fit and proper” person test for dog ownership

Regarding the ‘fit and proper’ person, the police are often in a better position to provide the court with an insight in this regard, as I often don’t meet with the owner and simply assess the dog in the kennelled location and provide my report accordingly. However, I have been asked more frequently to visit with the owner as well as to assess the dog and this allows me to provide a more balanced assessment on the two elements - even if I am assessing both parties separately in the process. The following has been written with regards to a fit and proper person here:

Further amendments to the 1991 Act in The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 introduced a requirement for the Court when considering the “public safety” test to also consider whether the owner or person in charge is a “fit and proper” person. (This rectified the law following R (Sandhu) v Isleworth CC [2012] EWHC 1658 (Admin) which ruled that only the characteristics of the dog were to be considered when making the “public safety” determination.) 

The current law regarding dogs and public safety

In deciding in accordance with 4(1B) and 4B(2A) whether “to be satisfied” that a prohibited dog is no danger to public safety the Magistrates’ Court must now have regard to 

  • The temperament of the dog and its past behaviour, and 
  • Whether the owner of the dog or the person for the time being in charge of the dog is a fit and proper person.

The court may also have regard to “any other relevant circumstances”. It is suggested a court should at least consider:

  • Any relevant previous convictions etc.
  • The intended long-term arrangements for the dog i.e. who will look after and walk it 
  • The nature and suitability of the premises that the dog is to be kept at
  • Where a dog has been released by the police under the new Interim Exemption Scheme (“dog bail”- see below) any failure to comply with the requirements.

CPS.Gov Source for the above - Word Doc

My dog behaviour assessment recommendations were as follows:

Drum has an excellent behavioural profile. He was very calm and relaxed in my presence (a stranger to him), has been equally as well behaved during his time in the kennels (a stressful situation that can test the most well-balanced dogs) and this same positive behaviour has been witnessed by PC XX in his dealings with him since seizing him in November 2018.

In light of this behavioural profile, Drum can be returned to his owner along with the recommendations as set out below:

  1. Not to destroy Drum.
  2. To return Drum to his owner.
  3. To be registered with a certificate of exemption.
  4. To be microchipped.
  5. To be castrated.
  6. To be muzzled in public.
  7. To wear a lead in public.
  8. Insured against third-party risks.

There was a hearing in May 2019 whereby the solicitor later updated me to state: 

Hi Nick, You’ll be pleased to know all went well at the court application regarding Drum and will be being returned to the client. She was very happy.  Many thanks again. 

Greg went on to provide some positive words as a reference for my work:

“We required assistance for a client who was facing proceedings under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and instructed Nick to carry out an assessment on our behalf.  From the outset, he was very approachable and helpful and more than willing to discuss the issues with us at any time.  The police officer in charge of the matter also remarked favourably on his dealings with him and we are pleased to say that Nick’s report was a factor in having the dog returned to our client under the Court Ordered Exemption Scheme.” Greg Weaver – Mander Hadley Solicitors.

Dog Expert Witness. Case Number 2. Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

‘Star’ 4-year-old male Staffordshire bull terrier.

The initial contact from the acting solicitor says:

“I’m looking to instruct a dog behaviourist for the purposes of assisting the Crown Court Judge with sentence of my client and dealing with his dog that bit a person that had attacked my client. My client is charged with having a dog which was dangerously out of control and injured an unknown person contrary to section 3 (1) and (4) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. The dog is still housed with my client and we would be grateful if the dog could be assessed for the purposes of the Judge deciding whether it should be destroyed. The report will be needed for the next hearing on the 8th March 2019 (ideally before).”

Once the go-ahead had been given by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), I was able to make an appointment to visit the dog Star and his owner. It was a very warm day given that it was the end of April. Unlike the first assessment on Drum above, I was able to attend the owner’s home address and to assess the dog and owner together in the usual day to day environment. This provides me with a much better insight as to how the dog behaves alongside the owner and I can provide a more precise report as a report.

The Aims of the dog behaviour assessment

To establish if Star is dangerous by nature.
To establish if Star is uncontrollable.
To establish Star’s general demeanour towards others and me.
The suitability of Star staying with his owner, XX

Accompanying dog behaviour assessment DVD

During the period of assessment, I filmed Star and have produced a short DVD (edited version of this is seen above) to reflect my time spent with him and his owner. It is important to view the DVD that has been made as a record of my time spent with Star, observing his behaviour as it was during the period of the assessment. It will also assist the reader to formulate a better picture in his or her own mind, based on footage of the assessment alongside my written report.

First impressions of the dog

As can be seen in the accompanying video, I was met at the front door of XX’s home and Star exited the home on a lead and was calm and under control. There was no jumping or barking and I could see that XX was able to exercise good levels of control over Star from the outset. Star was suitably muzzled and had a strong lead on him. Star did not bark or demonstrate any aggressive or domineering behaviour towards me or any other person throughout the assessment and this remained the case throughout my time with XX and his dog Star.

The public dog walk

During my walk with XX and his dog Star, we encountered many distractions in a busy town-like location, including children in pushchairs, scooters, cyclists, traffic and people of all ages. There were a good number of children out and about with parents, as it was the bank holiday Easter Monday at about 11am. Star is a young, friendly dog that was not at all perturbed by these distracting events that you would expect to encounter in a busy location and he was able to walk by them all at a close distance.

XX was able to demonstrate good levels of control as he navigated his way through the busy location. All of these events can be seen in the accompanying video.

XX also struck me as a genuinely responsible person in the care that he demonstrated with Star on the day of our assessment together. He came equipped with poo bags (he stopped to pick up his dog’s toilet), water and a bowl all in a rucksack, as it was a very warm day.

It would be easiest for me to make a broad comment that Star did not react negatively to any of the situations that he encountered and was able to walk up the busy high street location without concern.

A stressed dog in busy public locations might bark, lunge or become very difficult to handle on the lead. Star however simply walked alongside XX completely free from concerns and was, in essence, a model dog during our walk together.

The public walk with Star and XX was a calm and controlled event, and I am satisfied that this is representative of their day-to-day experiences.

Once we returned home, Star was able to settle, drink some water and freely interact with me in a positive and playful way. He demonstrated nothing but a pleasant and calm personality during my time at the address in and out of the home and I felt at ease in his company at all times.

Dog behaviour assessment summary

Under ‘The Aims of the Assessment’ I set out that my objectives were to establish the following:

To establish if Star is dangerous by nature.
To establish if Star is uncontrollable.
To establish Star’s general demeanour towards others and me.
The suitability of Star staying with his owner, XX

Star passed on all accounts.

Dog behaviour assessment recommendations:

  1.  Star should remain with XX
  2.  Star should be muzzled in public. This is already in place
  3.  Star should remain on a short lead (6’ max.) in busy public locations
  4. Star can be exercised on a fifty-foot training line and muzzled when in open locations such as parkland and wooded areas

The training line measure was accepted and is a good example of how specific agreements can be made that transcend the usual ‘lead and muzzle’ recommendations.

After the hearing, I received an email from the acting solicitor stating: "Good news - Star has returned home with XX with your recommendations. His Honour Judge Everett clearly found your report helpful. XX has also asked me to pass on his thanks!"

I continued to discuss the dog’s behaviour with his owner and he was kind enough to write the following words:

“I would like to give a big thank you to our dog expert witness Nick Jones for his help with Star.

Nick was tremendous upon meeting Star. I was quite anxious about Star meeting a stranger (Nick) for the first time due to a traumatic incident which took place not so long ago, but I could see how relaxed Star was around Nick, which made me feel more and more at ease. As time went by seeing how good Nick was with Star made me really happy.

The work Nick did with Star has been a brilliant help with his confidence around people and I have noticed a great change in his interaction and trust in other people, I can only put this down to the time Nick spent talking to and playing with Star and showing him trust which made Star more happy and comfortable. I would also like to thank Nick for not judging Star and giving him the chance to interact and be himself and also helping me with my anxieties in doing that.

Nick saw how much Myself and Star love and care for each other and words can't describe the appreciation and gratitude I have for the work Nick did. Thank you again.”

Such an outcome gives me a great deal of satisfaction when I can see dogs and owners that should be allowed to carry on as they did before a certain event that took place and brought the dog and owner in question.

Dog Expert Witness. Case Number 3. Bulldog Cross.

‘George’. Male Boxer cross.

The first two cases started with contact from a solicitor, but in this case, the initial contact was made by the owner who wrote:

“I’m contacting you because we’ve had an incident where we left our dog under the care of a family member and someone entered the house unannounced, scaring our dog in the process, causing the dog to bite the stranger at the door. It was an unfortunate accident that was completely out of character for him but the family member has been charged by the police with having a dog dangerously out of control in a public place. Our lawyers have said that we need to get him assessed and so this is why I am contacting you. Is this a service you offer and how would we go about it?”

The Dangerous Dogs Act now includes your home property including front and rear gardens and is for the purposes of this law considered a ‘public place’. This relatively new measure has opened the floodgates so to speak, as bites to anyone entering the home are now being pursued under this act. People that are on the property without a legal right to be there (e.g. a person committing a burglary) do not come under the act.

In essence, someone called at the door of the address that two dogs were living at the time. An unsupervised child opens the door to the caller and behind the child are the two dogs. The person at the front door sustains an injury to the upper thigh by one of two dogs that are litter-mates and essentially identical, so there remained a little confusion as to which dog in actual fact bit the person at the door. The offence is reported and contact is made to me as set out above. 7 days later I attend the new address that the dog George now lives with his owner and I carry out an assessment upon his behaviour both in and out of the home.

The video that pertains to this case study is an edited down version of the original one used in court, as it removes various parts of our conversation that I don’t want to share to Youtube and so on. The video shows a young, exuberant dog that is otherwise highly sociable and rather lovely towards me and others we encounter. 

Please keep in mind that the walk together is not a training session, but an opportunity for me to gain a genuine insight as to how the dog behaves in public and how much control the owner has of the dog. This remains the case in every assessment that is carried out in public spaces with the dog and the owner. This is a much better way to assess dogs and owners, in comparison to looking at the dog alone in a confined and noisy kennel space. I may offer advice in terms of improving owner handling skills and safety, but otherwise try to remain in ‘assessing mode’ rather than ‘training mode’, though there can be a small overlap on same assessments.

The following is a precis of the report that was provided and sits alongside the video that can be seen above:

First Impressions of the dog

As can be seen in the accompanying video, I was met at the front door of XX’s home and George was enthusiastic to meet and greet me. He did jump up at me, but this was not an aggressive act and he did nothing other than sniff me over and XX was able to calm him quickly. 

George did not bark or demonstrate any aggressive or domineering behaviour towards me or any other person and this remained the case throughout my time with XX and her dog George.

The Public dog walk

During my walk with XX and her dog George, we encountered many distractions in a busy town-like location, ranging from electric scooters, cyclists, traffic and people of all ages and races. George is a young, friendly dog that was not at all perturbed by these distracting events that you would expect to encounter in a busy location.

George was able to sit and wait nicely at the edge of the road each time before crossing and XX was able to demonstrate good levels of control as she navigated her way through the busy location. All of these events can be seen in the accompanying video.

It would be easiest for me to make a broad comment that George did not react negatively to any of the situations that he encountered and was able to walk up the busy high street location without concern.

A stressed dog in busy public locations might bark, lunge or become very difficult to handle on the lead. George however simply walked alongside XX completely free from concerns and was, in essence, a model dog during our walk together.

The public walk with George and XX was a calm and controlled event, and I am satisfied that this is representative of their day-to-day experiences.

Once we returned home, George was quick to settle and ate some food and lay on the sofa as he fell asleep. He demonstrated nothing but a pleasant and calm personality during my time at the address and I felt at ease in his company at all times.

Dog behaviour assessment summary

Earlier, I set out that my objectives were to establish the following:

  1. To establish if George is dangerous by nature.
  2. To establish if George is uncontrollable.
  3. To establish George’s general demeanour towards others and me.
  4. The suitability of George staying with his owner.

George passed on all accounts.

Dog behaviour assessment recommendations:

  1. George should remain with XX.
  2. George should be muzzled in public.
  3. George should remain on a short lead (6’ max.) in busy public locations.
  4. George can be exercised on a fifty-foot training line and muzzled when in open locations such as parkland and wooded areas.

George can be allowed to continue with his Flyball and dog training sessions unmuzzled and off lead as these activities are not carried out in open public locations.

I was very pleased (if not a little surprised) to hear that not only was George allowed to continue to remain with his owner but that the court did not find the need to implement the muzzle measures as set out in my report. This is quite exceptional and from memory, is a first. Hoorah for common sense!

The owner was kind enough to write a few words on her experience of working with me: 

“We got in contact with Nick after an incident involving our Boxer cross for a behavioural assessment. In what had been an extremely stressful time Nick was reassuring and calm, and put our minds at ease both prior to and after the assessment had been carried out. Nick's report had a huge impact on the outcome of our case and resulted in an outcome that was far more than we had hoped for or been told to expect. Nick went above and beyond to ensure that the video of the assessment reached us in time at such short notice, and we are so grateful for the service he provided during what was a difficult time.”

So there conclude three separate assessments that I have tried to offer the reader a balanced insight into my work as an expert witness. Interestingly, all three of these cases did not require my attendance in court, though court attendance is usually required when the police have a different view from my own, in terms of a breed type, or the suggested course of action for the dog and owner.