Living with dogs can bring a great deal of joy and satisfaction, yet at the same time, owners need to be well informed of the responsibilities in terms of the various dog laws within the UK and how it may have an impact at various times and in certain situations.
The vast majority of dog owners will go through life without needing to think much farther than microchipping and placing tags on collars, on the basis that they will exercise common sense and care throughout their time of owning a dog. For example, the vast majority of dog owners would never commit an offence under the Animal Welfare Act, as it comes naturally to provide a healthy diet, a suitable environment for the dog and the opportunity to express normal behaviours, protection from pain and suffering, injury and disease.
The purpose of this article is to set out the main laws that apply to all dog owners in the UK as a point of reference and to help you, the reader, from inadvertently falling foul of those laws.
I have already written extensively on the various laws that I might be involved in my work as a Dog Expert Witness and Dangerous Dog Assessor as can be seen on the link, but this article will open the scopes further looking at a dog owner’s broader responsibilities, not just surrounding the various aspects of the Dangerous Dogs Act and legal acts that cover dangerous dogs and their associated behaviours.
The following does not constitute legal advice and the information pertains to England & Wales. For legal advice I recommend you speak with the excellent www.doglaw.co.uk
Livestock and Dogs
The worrying of livestock is prohibited by law. An owner must prevent dogs from attacking or chasing livestock. Dogs should be on a lead or under very close control in a field containing sheep. The act of barking or chasing sheep can cause a great deal of stress and numerous lambs are aborted each year due to ‘sheep worrying’ by dogs.
If a police officer suspects that a dog has been worrying livestock, then the dog can be seized. If the owner is convicted under this Act, a maximum fine of £1,000 is possible. It should also be noted that a farmer may be able to shoot a dog that is worrying livestock if he/she has no other means to stop the dog from the act of worrying the livestock.
If you think you may encounter livestock on a countryside walk, then place your dog on a lead. It could also be acceptable for you to use a long training line or a strong Flexi lead for additional control when in locations with livestock, though care must be exercised at all times that the dog does not cause injury or suffering to any animals.
When directly passing animals such as sheep, horses or cattle I do advise yo use a short lead for close control as the animals themselves may spook and give cause for concern despite your dog being well behaved. Be sure to follow the Country Code and close all gates behind you as you go on your walk.
Collars and Identification Tags
Dogs should wear a collar and tag with the owner’s name and address on it. The phone number is optional, though I recommend this. I found a dog recently when on a walk. I called the number and the owner was in the car park waiting near the car and anxiously took my call. A very quick resolution that could have been much more long-long-winded without the number. There are exemptions to this rule for some working dogs.
Should your dog be found without a collar it is possible that your dog is seized and treated as a stray dog.
Stray Dogs. Lost and Found Dogs
A local authority has a duty to hold stray dogs for 7 days to help facilitate the easy reunification of last dogs. You may be charged a fee to reclaim your dog. Dogs that are not reclaimed within that 7 day period can be rehired, or worst case destroyed.
The police are not responsible for the pick up of stray dogs in England and Wales. A person that finds a stray dog should attempt to reunite the dog with its owner if they know where the dog lives. Alternatively, the person should report the dog to the local dog warden. Should you find a stray dog and wish to keep it, you should still contact the dog warden first, otherwise, you may be accused of theft.
Microchipping and the Identification of a Dog
When in a public space a dog should be readily identifiable by a correctly marked collar (see above) and an up to date microchip. The database will need to be amended of the owner moves home or the dog is rehomed. A failure to microchip and then register the details with an approved database could result in a £500 fine.
As of April 2016, a law came into force whereby all dogs over the age of 8 weeks should be microchipped and the owner’s correct details are placed on a registered database. A certificate of exemption can be made available by a veterinary practice when there is a valid reason not to microchip a dog.
Puppies should be microchipped by the breeder by the time the puppy is 8 weeks of age and the breeder will then be the first registered owner of the puppy. The breeder is breaking the law if they do not microchip the puppy by 8 weeks of age.
The Breeding and Selling of Dogs
If you keep a breeding establishment for dogs and are in the business of breeding and selling dogs, you must be licensed to do so by your local council in England. However, If you are a ‘hobby breeder’, such a licence is not necessary. Should you live in Wales and keep three or more breeding bitches, additional licensing conditions apply.
In August 2018, the government announced a consultation on a ban on third-party sales of puppies and kittens in England. This is a huge and positive step in the right direction, though there remains a great deal more to be done. This is in an effort to bring an end to the sometimes very poor conditions found in ‘puppy farms’, whilst tackling a range of animal welfare issues such as poor genetical breeding, the early removal of puppies and kittens from their mothers, moving to new and unfamiliar locations combined with the likelihood of multiple journeys, leading to an insecure start in life and then health and socialisation issues further down the line.
If you are considering a new puppy for yourself or your family, then please read these two in-depth articles looking at this very subject:
It is against the law to sell pets in public places, the street or markets. Pet shops can only sell puppies if they are licensed to do so. Thankfully, this seems to be a very rare practice and I have not seen this since I was a little boy in Bristol. Any welfare issues in a pet store should be reported to the local council that issued the license. Currently, there is no specific law against the selling of puppies online, though I hope that this is regulated much more closely in due course.
Dog Kennelling and Home Boarding
Commercial and domestic premises that board dogs either overnight or during the day, the owner of the establishment must be licensed by the local authority to do so.
A license will not be granted if the applicant is disqualified from keeping animals or any other animal welfare offences. The local authority will take into account the accommodation suitability, that the dogs will be well fed and exercised. Precautions against the spread of diseases and fire are also sought. A proper register of the animals must be kept along with arrival and departure dates and name and addresses of the owners. Licenses are renewed on an annual basis.
Each licence will set out how many dogs can be taken in, any adjustments to the facilities to meet the set standards along with the size of the kennels etc. Contravention of the license conditions (or running a boarding establishment without a license) can result in a fine of £500 and/or imprisonment for up to 3 months.
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 introduced a number of offences that are designed to prevent harm to animals, whilst ensuring the welfare standards for those animals. If a welfare offence is committed, the court may cancel a license or disqualify the person from keeping boarding premises. Depending on the offence, a fine or imprisonment may result.
This law is designed to provide greater protection for animals. The Animal Welfare Act includes a new welfare offence which means that the owner of a pet is legally obliged to care for their pet properly, by ensuring that they provide:
- A proper diet, including fresh water
- Somewhere suitable to live
- The need to be housed with or apart from other animals
- The ability to express normal behaviours
- Protection from and treatment of illness and injury.
The above points are sometimes referred to as the ‘five freedoms’.
Failure to meet a pet’s welfare needs can be met with a formal warning and then in some cases a prosecution, not to mention the suffering that may have been caused in the process. The prosecution consequences are a prison sentence up to six months and a fine of up to £20,000. Pets may also be removed for that person and a ban from keeping them in the fitter can be made.
This is all set out in much more detail with DEFRA’s Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs. Each of the five freedoms is addressed in a great deal more detail.
Dog Fouling in Public Places
In public spaces, you must remove any faeces your dog might produce unless you are on heathland, land used for animal grazing or woodland. In any event, I would always advise to bag the waste and dispose of it correctly once at home. Don’t put the waste in garden recycling as the Toxocariasis parasite can continue the cycle there.
In terms of complaints to councils, this regularly ranks as the top complaint. Not surprising given that it smells, can get in the most unwanted areas on clothing and body and causes a hazard to the environment. It’s possible to tread in it, cycle through it, for a child to stand in it or worse sit or kneel in it when playing, pushchairs or mobility scooters can run through it. If you’re not aware it’s been trodden on, you may then continue to spread it through indoor locations and the distress this can cause is obvious to all. Should this happen to you, I advise that use a professional cleaner to fully clean the soiled areas.
With over 9 million dogs in the UK, it is estimated that these dogs will produce over 1,000 tonnes of faeces each day! With the reporting problem once on the decline in the last ten years, the problem would appear to be rising again with 1 in 5 recreational areas (public parks etc) reporting a problem.
Toxocariasis is the primary concern surrounding dog poo in public spaces, hence the reason for such stringent rules in certain areas. Toxocariasis can cause serious illness and also lead to blindness in some cases due to a parasite known as Toxocara Canis, otherwise known as Roundworm. This parasite can live in the dog’s digestive tract and dogs can be hosts for the parasite. Eggs of the parasite can be found in the dog’s faeces and these eggs can stay in the soil for years after the waste has been eroded and washed away. If for example, a child were to play in the area of soil in the future the eggs could be ingested and then lead to Toxocariasis.
In areas that apply, the law says it is the responsibility of the dog owner or the person in charge of the dog at the time (professional dog walkers take note) to clean up after the dog. Being unaware of the fouling or not having suitable means to clean up are not reasonable excuses. This law does not apply to the registered blind.
Electric Shock Collars
Electric collars are known as an aversive training method so that in essence the dog is behaving so as to avoid the activation of the collar which is usually powered by a 9v battery and can emit a small electrical current on the dog’s neck, under the chin via two prongs that make contact with the skin.
These devices are already banned in Wales, Scotland announced a ban in January 2018 and in August of 2018 the government announced that they will be banned in England.
An RSPCA survey found that 5% of owners use these collars, so it will affect many people. The RSPCA also want to see the use of electric collar fences (a buried wire that detects the proximity of the dog) banned, but at present, these remain permissible.
74% of people polled by the Kennel Club supported the use of electric collars for dogs.
Those found guilty of using the devices can be imprisoned for six months and face a fine of up to £20,000.
Tail Docking and Dogs
Restricted since 2013 and coming under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is an offence to dock a pet dog’s tail in whole or in part.
Exceptions to this rule are if the tail needs to be removed for medical reasons, or if the dog is set to be a working dog - particularly gun-dogs, for which a gun licence will need to be shown or a letter from the land occupier which confirms that the dog will work on his/her land. The tails can be docked by a vet if the dog is less than 5 days of age. Microchipping should also be done at the same time. The cropping of ears is banned in the UK - and rightly so.
Under the new law, a dog is officially a working dog if a vet has certified it as such and that it is to be used for work in connection with law enforcement, activities with the armed forces, emergency rescue, lawful pest control and lawful shooting of animals. This applies to Spaniels, HPR’s and Terriers.
Docked dogs cannot be shown in public shows that were born after the 6th April 2007 in England and Wales. Dogs docked before this date may continue to be shown at all events for their lives. We can then expect that come (approximately) 2025 no dogs will be seen in the showing with docked tails.
Scotland initially made a complete ban on tail docking in 2007, but 10 years later in 2017, now allows for working dogs to be docked and legally docked dogs can be shown in Scotland.
Travelling Abroad With Your Dog
Under the Pet Travel Scheme, you can enter or return to the UK with your pet dog. Your dogs should be microchipped, have a pet passport, vaccinated against rabies and be up to date for a tapeworm treatment. The Pet Travel Scheme countries within the European Union as well as some additional countries that are also members of the scheme.
Failure to follow these regulations may mean that your dog is quarantined for up to 4 months. You may also be refused entry to the travelling country if you travelled by sea. You will be responsible for any charges.
Before returning the UK, your dog will need to be treated for tapeworm by visiting a get in the country you are in.
Excessive Barking and Dogs
I have written an in-depth article on this subject that can be viewed here. I look at the various reasons that dogs bark and more importantly how to stop the behaviour. This is a wide-ranging issue that not only has legal ramifications but causes stress for the owner as well as neighbours, which can in some cases lead to complaints.
Dogs can often bark due to being bored, left alone for long periods whilst feeling anxious, reactivity to noises in its environment, territorial barking in and out of the home and frustration barking due to a lack of exercise, amongst other reasons, which I explain fully in my article.
A barking dog is a statutory noise nuisance under this act and you may be taken to court if you do not act on the issued noise abatement notice within a 21 day period. This could lead to a fine of up to £5,000 and further ongoing fines (£500 per day!) for a lack of action thereafter. I have worked under this act as Dog Expert Witness and have seen first hand what ongoing noise nuisances can do to the neighbours on an emotional level as a great deal of bad feeling can arise as a result.
Whilst there are no blanket laws that require for a dog to be kept on a lead in public spaces, there are other orders in place that require you to have your dog on a lead in areas such as motorways, sports pitches, parks, roads, children play areas and beaches.
I recommend that you keep your dog on a lead at all times when on public roads. I sometimes see owners allowing their dog to walk off the lead on the pavement. The dog appears to be calm and under control and it is good that the owner has such levels of control, but there is no accounting for dogs that may rush out at you for a house as you walk by - this in itself is not uncommon based on the stories I hear from dog owners.
These orders can be introduced by local authorities under various laws and fines or fixed penalty notices can be issued if you do not comply with them. Various local authorities have issues Public Space Protection Orders so as to restrict where dogs have to be walked on leads, or they may be excluded entirely in some public spaces. Signs in those locations will signify this. Local council’s websites will also make these restrictions clear.
When walking your dog by a road, the local authority has the power to keep your dog on a lead when walking along these designated roads. A designated road is when your local authority has chosen as such, and the designated section of the road to which the law applies should be marked with signs. As mentioned above, I always recommend that you keep your dog on a lead when in any space that you may encounter traffic or other distractions that may unsettle your dog as you walk it.
All road accidents involving a dog must be reported to the police within a 24 hour period if they cannot find the owner. If a dog is injured as a person controls a car, motorcycle or other vehicle, the driver must give their name and address to the owner.
Dogs That Cause Injuries or Accidents on the Roads
If your dog is the cause of an accident or injury, illness or death on a public highway and are proven liable for the accident a claim can be brought against the owner. This is a serious implication for owners that have dogs that are not fully under their control in public spaces. Think of non-recalling dogs as they run onto the highway for example. I have heard numerous stories of dogs being killed on the highway, let alone the damages that ensued as a result of the owner’s liability. I recommend that owner obtain public liability insurance as a minimum for the dog to guard against such an event as legal fees can reach tens of thousands should you not be insured for this type of eventuality.
Dogs in Cars or Other Road Vehicles
In the above article, I also look at the various ways in which a dog can be suitably managed once inside the car, such as crates for dogs, the use of body harnesses and so on. When driving with a dog, you will need to think of the safety of your dog and yourself should you need to stop in an emergency.
The Highway Code states that dogs (and other animals) are to be ‘suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves if you have the need to stop quickly’.
Dogs in Pubs, Cafes and Restaurants
There are no laws directly banning dogs from being in a premise that serves food and drink. The owner can choose whether dogs are allowed on the premises or not. However, dogs should not enter areas where food is handled, prepared or stored, such as the kitchen.
Banned Breeds of Dogs. Breed Specific Legislation
There are four breeds that are illegal to own, breed, sell, abandon or give away. These are:
- Pitbull terrier
- Japanese Tosa
- Dogo Argentino
- Fila Braziliero
These dogs are defined by their looks (difficult, given that looks can be subjective in some cases) and not by the breed, their parents, DNA or behaviour of the dog.
In 1997 the act was amended to allow dogs that fall under these breeds to be exempted provided they assess well on a behavioural level and that the owner is a fit and proper person to own the dog.
There are then various conditions imposed upon the owner such as:
A lead and muzzle are to be used in public places. The dog is to be registered with DEFRA on the index of exempted dogs. The owner needs to take out suitable third party insurance, to microchip the dog and neuter if not already done. No person under the age of 16 should walk the dog and the house and garden should be secured. Failure to follow these measures could lead to prosecution and the dog can be seized. Offences under this act carry a maximum of 6 months imprisonment.
Dogs That Are Dangerously Out of Control.
Dogs are not allowed to be ‘dangerously out of control in a public place'. This would mean that the dog has injured or is making a person fear that they may be injured by any breed of dog. A dog does not have to bite to commit an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act. This applies to all breeds of dogs.
Owners of a dog (or the person in charge of the dog at the time) who allow their pets to hurt a person can face a punishment of up to three years in prison for the injury, or 14 years for death of a person, an unlimited fine, disqualification from owning pets, and finally, having their dog destroyed. It is also an offence to allow any dog to injure a registered assistance dog, such as a guide dog for the blind.
In a case where no injury is caused, owners can still go to prison for up to 6 months, fined up to £5,000 and be banned from owning pets and have their dog destroyed.
For this reason, it is essential that you socialise your dog well and ensure that it has received adequate training and guidance to avoid falling foul of this law.
In 2014 the DDA 1991 was amended to include the fact that if your dog is ‘dangerously out of control’ that it now incorporates private property as well as public spaces. So you are now responsible under the Dangerous Dog Act should your dog attack a person in your own home, the front or back garden and in private property such as a pub. This can help safeguard delivery drivers, health workers and postal workers to name a few. You can be exempted if your dog bites a person that should not be in your home, such as a burglar.
A dog doesn’t have to have bitten or physically injured someone for an offence to take place. If a person has reason to believe that your dog may hurt them, they may still be considered ‘dangerously out of control’. This applies to dogs of all breeds.