Changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act

I’ve been prompted to write this by a couple of recent incidents.

The first was told to me by a friend of mine whose six-year old daughter was recently badly scared by her neighbour’s dog, which my friend described as looking a bit like a ‘large shih tzu’.  The dog had been let out, off lead, into the street by the neighbour.  When my friend and her daughter tried to walk into their house, the dog came running up to them, barking, hackles raised.  No physical harm was done to the daughter, though she was very badly shocked.

The second incident was more serious and happened just this morning.  Tragically, a three week old baby boy was attacked and killed, in the house, by a ‘small terrier’.

Neither of the dogs in these incidents could ever be described as belonging to one of the banned breeds.  In the first incident my friend chose not to report the matter to the police in the interests of neighbourly relations.  In the second, a man has been arrested.

If neither dog was a banned breed, how come both of these incidents, even the more minor one, are matters for the police?

Because the Dangerous Dogs Act was updated last year.  You can find an overview on the government’s website, but they key points for those of us with what we would normally consider to be ‘harmless’ dogs are:

It’s against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control anywhere, eg:

  • in a public place
  • in a private place, eg a neighbour’s house or garden
  • in the owner’s home

The law applies to all dogs.

Out of control

Your dog is considered dangerously out of control if it:

  • injures someone
  • makes someone worried that it might injure them

A court could also decide that your dog is dangerously out of control if:

  • it injures someone’s animal
  • the owner of the animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog attacking their animal

I’ve highlighted the key phrases for us responsible pet owners: the law applies to all dogs, and the dog does not have to injure – just making someone worried is enough.

So what should we do to make sure we keep our dogs, and the public, safe?
  • If you’re worried about your dog’s behaviour, then you might want to consider walking him on a lead.
  • Even if you’re not, I would always strongly advise that you put your dog on a lead when there are children around – especially children eating.  It takes a special dog to resist the lure of an ice cream held at nose height, and his actions could so easily be misconstrued it’s just not worth the risk.
  • Work hard on that recall training.  Even if you can’t see anyone around, people do have a habit of appearing from round a corner.  If your dog has a good recall, you stand a much better chance of getting the dog under control while you get a chance to assess the situation.
  • Never ever ever leave your child and dog unattended together.  Never.  Just don’t.  It is your job to teach your child and your dog how to play nicely together, so just being in the same room isn’t enough – you need to be actively supervising their interaction.  And if you’re not, the dog needs to be in its box or at the other side of the baby gate. The most placid dog will bite if given the right provocation.  If your toddler falls over the dog while exploring the living room, would you really blame your dog for trying to protect himself?  Maybe not, but the police would take a dim view and you could lose your dog forever. Or even, like the incident today,  your dog and your child.  Please don’t let that happen.

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