What is the Dangerous Dogs Act, when was it introduced and what dogs are banned under it?

An 18-month-old Pit Bull Terrier named Francis, described by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home as friendly and healthy, who is set to be put down on Tuesday according to requirements of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
A Pit Bull Terrior - a breed banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Credit: PA

By Suzanne Elliott, Multimedia Producer

American XL bully dogs will be banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act by the end of the year after several dog attacks - including fatalities - involving the breed, the prime minister has announced.

So, what is the Dangerous Dogs Act, what breeds are already banned under it and what does this announcement mean for owners of the American XL bully?

And why do charities and campaigners argue the Act is unfair and puts dogs on "death row" simply for how they look?

When was the Act introduced and why?

The Act was introduced in August 1991 in the UK after a spate of dog attacks involving certain breeds.

It has evolved since its introduction. At first, four banned breeds were subject to a mandatory destruction order.

In 1997, this was removed and replaced with an Index of Exempted Dogs - a register of banned dogs where a court has decided they do not pose a risk to the public.

Since 2014, it is illegal to allow your dog to be dangerously out of control on private property, including the owner’s home and gardens.

A stock photo of an American XL Bully Credit: PA Images

What breeds are currently banned under the Dangerous Dog Act?

The Act does not brand breeds, but 'types'. That means dogs that fit the banned bill are considered dangerous until they are assessed by a dog legislation officer to decide whether it belongs to one of the banned types.

The Act is what is known as 'breed-specific' legislation, a controversial approach that many argue does not address the most important factors contributing to attacks, primarily irresponsible dog owners who train their dogs to be aggressive.

The Act bans dogs "bred to fight" and as it stands bans four specific dog types:  Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Fila Brasileiro.

Under the Act, it is illegal to breed, sell or swap a banned dog breed.

What punishments do owners face?

People who own a dangerous dog or a dog that attacks a person can be given a prison sentence and/or a ban on keeping dogs.

They also face fines and may have to pay costs or compensation if the dog injures a person.

Maximum jail sentences for dog attacks were significantly increased in 2014; owners face a 14-year maximum prison term if their dog kills a person and five years for an injury.

A dog that injures a person can be seized by police. Unless the owner can persuade the court the animal is not a danger to the public, the dog is likely to be put down.

Dogo argentinos are banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Credit: Pixabay

What if I have a banned dog?

If you have a banned dog, the police or local council dog warden can seize the animal and keep it, even if the dog is not acting dangerously or if there has been no complaint.

The dog will either then be released or placed in kennels while a court decides whether the animal is a danger to the public.

If your dog is banned but the court thinks the dog is not a danger to the public, your pet may be put on the Index of Exempt Dogs.

If your dog is registered on the index, you will be allowed to keep your pet but there are conditions, including that the dog must wear a muzzle and be kept on a lead in public.

The dog must also be microchipped and neutered and you must have third-party insurance.

You will also need to inform Defra of any change of address.

Why is the American XL bully being banned?

The breed, which is not recognised by the Kennel Club, has been involved in several recent attacks.

Jack Lis, 10, was attacked and killed at a friend's house in Caerphilly in 2021 by an XL bully, called 'Beast'.

A man died on Friday, September 15 after being attacked by two dogs – suspected to be bully XLs – in Staffordshire.

The latest incident comes after a video of another incident that went viral when 11-year-old Ana Paun suffered serious injuries in Birmingham.

The bully breeds get their name because they were originally used in blood sports, such as bull baiting. The dogs have a muscular build and a heavier bone structure than pit bulls.

What do critics say about the Dangerous Dogs Act?

The Act has been widely criticised for failing to address the underlying causes of dog attacks and aggressive behaviour.

Many critics, including The British Veterinary Association and the Kennel Club, advocate a "deeds not breeds" approach.

The BVA has previously called on the UK government to repeal Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991) which lists the specific banned types.

The Kennel Club and others argue no breed of dog is inherently dangerous, and say the law does nothing to address the real reason behind dog attacks, which it says are caused by "irresponsible dog owners who train their dogs to be aggressive or do not train their dogs adequately".

"The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has proven that demonising certain breeds makes them more attractive to people who want to flout the law and use dogs in this way. This contributes to the problem of creating so-called 'status dogs'," the Kennel Club says.

Critics say dogs are being destroyed needlessly under the Act and legislation should cover 'deeds not breeds'. Credit: PA

"We firmly believe that doing away with breed-specific legislation would lessen the appeal of these dogs and also reduce cases of animal cruelty."

But campaigners for banning breeds involved in attacks welcomed the move.

Bully Watch, the Campaign for Evidence Based Regulation of Dangerous Dogs (CEBRDD) and Protect Our Pets claimed the breed was a “a clear and present threat to public health”.

Lawrence Newport, of CEBRDD, said: “Retrievers retrieve, pointers point. Fighting dogs fight. We have found this to our great cost.

“The importing of the American bully, a highly inbred Pitbull-type, led to skyrocketing deaths and attacks. This ban will finally allow the government and police to act, before another child or pet is ripped apart.”

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