Dogs and the Law
There are a wide variety of canine laws currently applicable to dogs and their owners. As a responsible dog owner, you need to know about dog laws – your rights and responsibilities, in order to protect yourself, other people your dog and other dogs.
Do you know about which laws affect you as a dog owner? Here we take a look at some, but not all, of those currently in force in England & Wales and how they affect dog owners. Some laws are a little different in Scotland and northern Ireland, but it is sensible to check for yourself if in doubt.
Animal Welfare Act 2006
This is one of the newest pieces of legislation and is aimed implementing a duty of care for owners to provide for their animals a suitable environment, a suitable diet, the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease and consideration of the animal’s needs to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
From its implementation on April 6th 2007, the Act repealed the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960. It increases and introduces new penalties to tackle acts of cruelty, neglect, mutilation, tail docking, animal fighting and the giving of pets as prizes.
This legislation came into force on the 27th March 2007 in Wales and the 6th April 2007 in England. A similar Act came into force in Scotland in October 2006. Northern Ireland has its own version, produced in 1972.
The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 came into force in October 2006 and applies to the whole of Scotland.
Section 9 – Duty of Care: The Act introduces a new idea – the ‘duty of care’; dog owners are now legally obliged to ensure the welfare of dogs in their care. This means that Law enforcement agencies now have the power to take action to prevent animal suffering before it happens.
An offence is committed if dog owners don’t take such steps, as are reasonable in all the circumstances, to ensure that the needs of an animal, for which you are responsible, are met.
The owner, or person looking after a dog, must make sure that their dog has the following;
Section 10 enables an inspector appointed under the Act (not RSPCA) to issue a statutory improvement notice to a dog owner if they do not meet the needs of their animal as defined-someone who has failed the duty of care. The improvement notice will detail what needs to be done within a specified time frame; this would be as an alternative to prosecution.
The police and inspectors are given powers to enter, inspect search and seize. Inspectors are those appointed by the local authority, the Secretary of State (England) or the National Assembly (Wales) with responsibility for animal welfare. An inspector can also be an Animal Health Officer.
The RSPCA are not official inspectors, and don’t have power of entry or the power to seize documents and or animals. However like any other citizen they can bring a private prosecution for an offence and they investigate many offences relating to cruelty and welfare of domestic animals – e.g., dogs.
Section 4 Suffering:
This legislation replaces the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Unnecessary suffering is defined in Section 4(3) of the new Act, and includes when suffering could have reasonably been avoided or reduced.
Two offences are created under Section 4;
So you can commit an offence if you cause unnecessary suffering by an act (or failure to act) or if you permit someone else to. Remember you do not have to own the animal to be prosecuted, you just have to be responsible for it, so the excuse of ‘its not my dog, I’m just looking after it’ is not a defence.
Section 23 enables a warrant to be issued to search for evidence in relation to offences under section 4.
Section 24 gives power to police constables to enter premises for arrest in relation to section 4. Section 19 gives power of entry for the purpose of dealing with an animal in distress.
Anyone who is cruel to an animal, or does not provide for its welfare needs, may be banned from owning animals, fined up to £20,000 and/or sent to prison.
The new law also increases to 16 the minimum age at which a person can buy an animal on their own. A person under 16yrs can still purchase an animal if accompanied by an adult.
Section 8 deals with several offences associated with animal fights & associated activities.
Tail Docking: The docking of dogs’ tails has been banned in England since the 6th April 2007. There is an exemption for working dogs (which are defined in the Act) who can have their tail docked by a veterinary surgeon in which case the vet must issue a certificate. Under this exemption the working dog has to be no more than 5 days old.
There is also an exemption where docking is carried out for medical reasons.
Working dog definitions have been made separately in England and Wales and differ in detail. In Scotland there is a total ban on all non-therapeutic tail docking.
The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005
Under this Act, you could be fined up to £1,000 for breaching dog control orders. Local authorities can make orders for standard offences including: failing to remove dog faeces, not keeping a dog on a lead, not putting and keeping a dog on a lead when directed to do so, permitting a dog to enter land from which dogs are excluded and taking more than a specified number of dogs on to land.
Part 6 of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 relates to dogs and became law in April 2006.
Under this Act local authorities and parish councils in England and Wales have been given the powers to introduce new Dog Control Orders (DCO’s) in their own public areas.
A DCO can be introduced after completing the procedures designated, which include consultation and notification in the local press.
Existing bye-laws will remain in force until revoked or replaced and new bye-laws can still be made as long as they relate to offences other than those shown below.
Areas of land which are ‘open to the air’ (it is defined as ‘open to the air’ if open on at least one side) and to which the public are entitled or permitted to have access, with or without payment, can be designated, although some areas are exempted.
Orders can relate to the following matters;
Open spaces, parks etc in your area could become subject to a dog control order, limiting your use as a dog owner.
Dog owners will need to contact their local authority to see what dog control orders have been passed or are being proposed in their area.
The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act also updates the law on stray dogs by transferring the responsibility for strays from the police to the local authorities. Dog Wardens are obliged to seize stray dogs. The finder of a stray dog must return it to its owner (if known), or take it to the local authority. It is illegal to take a found dog into your home without reporting it to the police first. If you want to retain the dog, this might be allowed, provided you are capable of looking after the dog and agree to keep it for at least 28 days. However, the original owner could still have a claim for the dog’s return.
Noise and fouling on your property
Te environmental health act 1990 give the right to Councils to serve an abatemnt notice on householder whose animals create a statutory nusince under the act. This can include noise and/or smells created by fouling. Evidence has to be gathered to prove a compliant but if found to be justified fines and legal action can be taken. It is not expected that your dog will never bark, or foul your garden, but the behaviour of your animal must be proven to be unreasonable, and detrimental to your neighbours enjoyment of their property.
Dog Identification: Control of Dogs Order 1992:
Came into force on 1st April 1992, this order is enforced by local authority officers, not the police.
All dogs on the highway or in a public place must wear a collar with the name and address of the owner inscribed on the collar or on an identity tag attached to the collar.
Dog owners need to be aware that a name tag with just an inscribed telephone number would not be sufficient.
There are some exceptions to this order, including dogs used for emergency rescue work and a dog registered with the Guide Dogs for the Blind, for full exemptions and details see the Control of Dogs Order 1992.
Breeding and Sales of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999
Breeders who breed five or more litters per year must be licensed by their local authority. Breeders with fewer litters must also be licensed if they are carrying out a business of breeding dogs for sale.
Licensed breeders must:
a. not mate a bitch less than 12 months old
b. not whelp more than six litters from a bitch
c. not whelp two litters within a 12 month period from the same bitch
d. keep accurate records
e. not sell a puppy until it is at least 8 weeks of age, other than to a keeper of a licensed pet shop, or Scottish rearing establishment
Dangerous Dog legislation
Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3) it is a criminal offence (for the owner and/or the person in charge of the dog) to allow a dog to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place, a place where it is not permitted to be, and some other areas. A ‘dangerously out of control’ dog can be defined as a dog that has injured someone or a dog that a person has grounds for reasonable apprehension that it may do so. Something as simple as your dog chasing, barking at or jumping up at a person or child could lead to a complaint, so ensure that your dog is under control at all times.
If your dog injures a person, it may be seized by the police and your penalty may include a prison sentence and/or a ban on keeping dogs. There is also an automatic presumption that your dog will be destroyed (unless you can persuade the court that it is not a danger to the public, in which case it may be subject to a control order). You may also have to pay a fine, compensation and costs.
Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997
The 1997 Act removed the mandatory destruction order provisions on banned breeds and re-opened the Index of Exempted Dogs for dogs which the courts consider would not pose a risk to the public. The courts were given discretion on sentencing, with only courts able to direct that a dog be placed on the list of exempted dogs.
Dogs of the following type are banned under the Dangerous Dog Act:
The Pit Bull Terrier
The Road Traffic Act 1988
It is an offence to have a dog on a designated road without it being held on a lead. Local authorities may have similar bye-laws covering public areas. Dogs travelling in vehicles should not be a nuisance or in any way distract the driver during a journey.
If a dog is injured in a car accident, the driver must stop and give their details to the person in charge of the dog. If there is no person in charge of the dog, the incident must be reported to the police within 24 hours.
Animals Act 1971
You could be liable for damage caused by your dog under this Act or under some degree of negligence. It is highly advisable to have third party liability insurance to cover this, something that is included in most pet and some household insurance policies.
Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963
Anyone boarding animals as a business (even at home) needs to be licensed by the local authority.
Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953
Your dog must not worry (chase or attack) livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and poultry) on agricultural land, so keep your dog on a lead around livestock. If your dog worries livestock, the farmer has the right to stop your dog (even by shooting your dog in certain circumstances).
Dogs Act 1871
It is a civil offence if a dog is dangerous (to people or animals) and not kept under proper control (generally regarded as not on a lead nor muzzled). This law can apply wherever the incident happened. The dog can be subject to a control or a destruction order and you may have to pay costs.
The Animal Welfare (Electronic Collars) (Wales) Regulations 2010 was laid before the National Assembly for Wales on 23-3-2010 which voted to approve the ban on using electric shock collars on dogs and cats in Wales.
Using their devolved powers under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the ban became law on 24-3-2010.
Under section 2. of the legislation it is now prohibited for a person to-
(a) attach an electronic collar to a cat or a dog;
(b) cause an electronic collar to be attached to a cat or a dog; or
(c) be responsible for a cat or a dog to which an electronic collar is attached.
These Regulations apply in relation to Wales only at the present time.
A person who breaches any of the prohibitions in regulation 2 commits an offence and, on summary conviction, is liable to imprisonment, a fine, or to both.
Information correct at time in March 2012.