New dangerous dogs laws do not go far enough, say MPs

A muzzled and leashed pitbull terrier Campaigners say existing laws on dangerous dogs are not working properly

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Tougher laws to tackle the threat of dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners do not go far enough, MPs have said.

Plans to make it a crime in England and Wales to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control on private property were welcomed by the environment committee.

But it criticised a lack of action to address threatening behaviour at an early stage and reduce risk of attacks.

The government said anti-social behaviour reforms would give police more powers to deal with irresponsible dog owners.

More than 200,000 people a year are estimated to be bitten by dogs in England, based on research for the British Medical Journal.

Campaigners say legislation dating back to 1991 has been ineffective in dealing with aggressive animals.

The law covers only attacks by dogs in public places and private areas where animals are prohibited from being, such as a neighbour's garden.

Ministers want to extend the scope of the law to enable a prosecution to be brought against anyone whose dog injures someone or acts aggressively in a private place where they are permitted to be, such as a home.

'Reasonable precautions'

There have been eight fatal attacks in private residences since 2007, most recently in March, when teenager Jade Anderson was mauled to death in Wigan when she visited a friend's house.

Police have no plans to prosecute anyone in relation to her death, saying there is no evidence a crime has been committed and that they are bound by the law.

Start Quote

Our anti-social behaviour reforms will give the police and local agencies more effective powers to deal with owners who fail to take responsibility for their dogs”

End Quote Government spokesman

The cross-party committee said existing laws had "comprehensively failed" to deal with the threat from dangerous dogs and welcomed the proposed extension - which could also see maximum penalties increased from a six-month jail sentence to two years.

The government's plans would also criminalise attacks on assistance dogs while exempting homeowners from prosecution in the event of an attack on a trespasser.

However, the MPs questioned whether they would apply in cases where someone had trespassed with "innocent intentions" - such as a child recovering a ball from a neighbour's garden.

The committee also expressed concerns about how incidents on surrounding land, such as gardens or paths, and outside dwellings such as sheds would be treated in law.

It said the courts should be allowed to take into account the actions of responsible homeowners who took "reasonable precautions" to stop their animals from causing harm, such as putting up warnings outside properties and securing fences, as opposed to those behaving "negligently".

'Tailored powers'

The committee also said homeowners "needed assurance" that they would be protected in the event of attacks on trespassers when they were not at home.

It was the police's view, the MPs said, that the public felt a dog left on its own had a role in protecting the property and this should form the basis of a legal defence when attacks occurred during owners' absence.

On the issue of preventing future attacks, the committee said there was a lack of action and the proposals would actually limit council powers to stop animals from entering certain areas.

It is calling on ministers to reconsider the case for Dog Control Notices - introduced in Scotland in 2011 - which give local authorities powers to tackle all aspects of dog-related crime such as illegal breeding and the ownership and training of so-called "status dogs".

'Hasty legislation'

The committee argues that ministers must "provide law enforcers with tailored powers to tackle aggressive dogs before they injure people and other animals".

Other recommendations include licensing for dog breeders producing a minimum of two litters - as opposed to five now - and a code of practice covering online sales of animals.

The British Veterinary Association echoed the MPs' concerns that the proposals "did not go far enough".

"Instead of making more mistakes with hastily made legislation we are asking the government to think again and reconsider introducing Dog Control Notices," its president Peter Jones said.

And Steve Goody, of pet charity the Blue Cross said that without Dog Control Notices "enforcement officers will remain powerless to tackle irresponsible owners and antisocial behaviour with dogs before attacks take place".

A government spokesman said it was taking "urgent action" to protect the public from dangerous dogs.

"We are changing the law so that owners can be prosecuted for dog attacks on private property and our anti-social behaviour reforms will give the police and local agencies more effective powers to deal with owners who fail to take responsibility for their dogs."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    why ban just dogs, why not cats too, they are vermin that spread disease and defecate everywhere BUT their own homes.
    in my experience, the dogs learn from their owners, if the OWNERS cannot be responsible enough to train their dogs, ban them from having any. there are worse animals around than dogs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Dog control measures, like all well intentioned ideas, will only punish responsible dog owners while doing little to solve any real problems caused by irresponsible dog owners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    "The difference is, when a sensible dog owner invites someone into their home, the dog accepts the person being there....
    If someone breaks into a house & is then attacked by a dog, they were breaking & entering so its their look out."

    The question was, how is the dog meant to distinguish between a burglar and a paramedic, both of whom may need to break in?

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    187.Unbelievable Tekkers
    Really? I would have thought with the right encouragement you could train a chihuahua to attack someone...

    (with hilarious consequences no doubt!)
    I wonder if it would still be amusing if it were you on the receiving end?

    From experience, small dogs can injure just as badly as large breeds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Simple a licence/fee & micro chipping - everything else is taxed/regulated - why should dog ownership be different. Fees should cover associated costs of catching policing/dog fouling/stray catching etc on a sliding scale part based on on reported incident rates - starting at £100 min. Responsible owners will participate, others would have animals confiscated/be fined/jailed for serious breaches.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    @187. I was bitten on the nose by a chihuahua! I was 5 yrs old and the dog belonged to my teacher, who seemed to think it a good idea to have this animal in class with her all day! She held it out to 'see' me and it went for the attack!!!!!!!
    BTW It hurt :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Wrong way to deal with the problem. Make the owners have a licence and training to handle them, with high penanlties for illegal ownership. It's not the dogs' fault, it's the owners

  • Comment number 192.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    I'm thankful the law in Scotland is slightly more clear, but as a responsible Rottweiler owner, I'm still annoyed at the way things are done.

    Breeding and selling should be regulated. Owners should be required to train their dog and pass the 'Puppy citizenship' test, or similar.

    It's just far too easy to buy a big dog and not be required to be responsible for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    181 The difference is, when a sensible dog owner invites someone into their home, the dog accepts the person being there. However the dogs owner should ensure the visitors safety is paramount at all times, even shutting the dog out of the room if necessary.
    If someone breaks into a house & is then attacked by a dog, they were breaking & entering so its their look out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    There are a lot of very common, aggressive people who use dogs like concealed weapons, threatening everyone everywhere they go.

    Something needs to be done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.


    Don't be ridiculous. There is a difference between aggressive animals and those that kill accidentally We don't keep aggressive animals alongside us in towns/cities for those very reasons.

    178.Charlie Farley
    Defining a "dangerous breed" is obvious. Statistically, they are the ones that are responsible for most of the attacks - there is already a list !

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    169. ConnorMacLeod

    Ban dangerous breeds and the problem disappears.


    Really? I would have thought with the right encouragement you could train a chihuahua to attack someone...

    (with hilarious consequences no doubt!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    158. michellegrand "If you prefer, 7 days to collect unlicenced dogs and a fine on top before putting them down."

    No. Put them down immediately. Tough action is needed with no half measures. But I still think citizens should be monitored, regulated and licensed far more, under Tough New Laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    ... I also experienced it in a road traffic accident last year with Hampshire Police. Those in Authority don't want the paperwork and the public are left with the consequences.
    Suprise, suprise, the 'dog warden' was employed by a Hampshire Council. When I tried to report it to Hampshire Police, bearing in mind I had the owners details, they also weren't interested either!

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Prosecute any owner who is not in control of their dog at all times.

    No dogs loose or unsupervised even in their own gardens.

    Gun owners must keep their guns locked when not using them (in case somebody steals them and causes harm) and dog-owners should be likewise responsible for their dogs. Keep the damned things locked up. I'm sick of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Sorry but these dog breeds are completly unnecessary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    @169 ConnorMcLeod

    What earthly use to 'ban dangerous breeds', when most dangerous dogs are mongrels?

    The law must focus on the deed, not the breed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    @151. Little_Old_Me

    Little_Old_Me's logic is correct. The dog has no way of discerning between a burgler and e.g. a paramedic, postman, delivery driver who may have a good reason to be there.
    What good does it do to prosecute the owner or destroy the dog AFTER it has mauled an innocent person ? That won't repair their scars or bring them back to life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    @178. Charlie Farley
    Clearly any dog - all dogs can kill. Of course there are more deaths caused by humans, deaths by cows (recent one that), pigs occasionally, cats sometimes, birds with flu.... in fact, there is only one way to satisfy 169 ConnorMacLeod, that is to exterminate all life on earth. It has the addition of stopping global warming


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