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 259.

    This really needs to address dog owners. Few dogs are born "bad", with responsible ownership & dog training the problem would be reduced. How to enforce a law is the challenge. It's law that everyone who drives has passed a test & their car is taxed & insured - we all know not everyone complies. Same problem will exist with laws on dog control, current animal abusers will continue to offend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    Instead of always blaming the dog, why dont we look at the owners, you see them with 2 or 3 staffies( sorry not picking on them), that they can not control, the dog bites once and its put down. A human (superior being) kills a child and its prison for a rest.

    Makes me sick thought we were a country of animal lovers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    People who own dogs which are likely to be violent, are inherently violent themselves, try reasoning with them & u probably will get a punch in the face; how do you make laws for the incredibly stupid brigade & ensure they follow the rules/regulations? There is no law to deal with the criminally insane or the stupid, is there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    @219. deleted
    If I can't afford £100 I can't afford a dog...
    Income say £500, cost of my food £300, cost dog food £200 - I can afford the dog, add a £100 extra charge and I can't ... If you can and want to donate even more money to the government as a pointless tax I suggest you go ahead and do it, just leave me out of your schemes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    MPs called for clarification.....trespassed with "innocent intentions" - such as a child recovering a ball from a neighbour's garden.

    As a kid if I lost my ball I was taught to wait till they were at home then ask the neighbour if I could go and get it back not that I could just go and get it as a right. Both neighbours had dogs, one got it for me the other let me get it.. No harm, no bites

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    @247.responsible staffy owner

    You accuse others of stupidity and then display it yourself. Are you aware that you compared a list of dangerous, but inanimate, objects which require human control to kill, with a sentient creature with a mind of its own? Its more usual for the dog to be out of control when these attacks happen. Also look at all of the controls on the inanimate objects you list.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    We live in a world where the "new" underclass have rights.
    Its all your own own fault. If you keep on voting for the same soft, liberal, left and right wing politicians that you have in the past then you will ALWAYS get the same result.
    It has nothing to do with dogs. It can NEVER be their fault and it is stupid to suggest it. We now have a criminal underclass who can do what they want.Happy days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    We have a boxer/lab cross, he is a very soppy + loving dog, however there is another side to him: if he is in the car and you go near the car he wants to attack that person, the same for the house, if some one broke into our house they would stand no chance, but he is not a dangerous dog, he is just protecting what he feels is his property

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    234 Working in med research I most certainly do know how to apply stats...
    The point I was making is that smaller, less aggressive dogs may be statistically more likely to bite as there are more of them. However they simply do not pose the same danger as larger, more volatile breeds eg Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Pitbulls & their crosses - which can do far greater damage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    With animal sancturies bursting with unwanted dogs why on earth do people deem it nescessary to breed or own rotwielers staffys or any other potencially dangerous dog. If anyone feels the need to own a dog they must be responsible for it at ALL times. The cost of dog ownership should be high enough to deter casual owners buying animals as toys. Liecence and insurance should be mandantary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    hhmm this is a sticky one, if some one breaks into my house and gets savaged by my dog they get everything they deserve so i would need to be protected by law from being prosecuted under those circumstances.

    responsible dog ownership classes should be compulsory, but lets face it the men who buy certain breeds for macho image will still get dogs train them to be aggressive thats hard to stop

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    "while exempting homeowners from prosecution in the event of an attack on a trespasser."


    "However, the MPs called for clarification as to 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."

    How is the dog supposed to know? Trespass is trespass, and a guard dog is a guard dog.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    commenr 244 the lost dot are u stupid?? the media focuses on these dogs trying to make them the next pitbull wat uneducated people like urself fails to get is ITS NOT THE BREED!! ITS THE DEED do u blame the car for a the accident or the gun for the shooting no then why blame the dog for the bite?

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    You can legally own a gun, drive a car, keep dogs, for guarding your illegal stash of drugs or whatever. Any law made to change human behaviour will not work; we know imprisoning people does not make them give up on crime, yet we think if we created more stupid laws for more stupid people, all will be well! That is the mindset we have to deal with, incredibly stupid people owning!

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    As a retired Casualty nurse and a long time owner of several dogs all I can say is that the only times I have been bitten was at work by either drunks or drug addicts......and humans have dirtier bites than dogs! .I know which I would rather was put down bad behaviour!

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Simple enough really: ban bull breed dogs since this is the breed ALL of the trouble is coming from. It's ridiculous in this country. In example after example after example in this country "lovely" staffy bull breed dogs are killing humans and other dogs, so just ban them. They fill up the dogs homes, and perfectly nice dogs are put down as a result. I favour rescue dogs, but NEVER bull terriers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    There has been a movement (instigated by tabloid campaigns) to focus on the object used to commit the crime rather than the crime itself. It should not matter whether you use a gun, a knife, a car or a dog to assault/kill someone. It should not matter whether you're young, old or in uniform. The crime is the crime. Stop banning objects and start banning the activity, instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    All dog owners should be licensed, not the dogs, similar to how the driver & not the car is licensed.
    There are no bad dogs, just bad owners, & before being allowed to own a dog you must prove you are capable of the correct way to keep whichever breed of dog you want, & that would include obedience & correct amount of exercize!

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Exactly - and take a DNA swab at the time of chipping and everything is sorted. Fines are issued just like parking penalties. Dog fouling and nuisance dogs affect far more lives and the quality of life in the UK far more than any car parked for 15 minutes more than it should be - and yet councils still put far more resources into parking issues than dog control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    I really hope that people soon realise that breeds do not come in to this. A soppy looking Labrador could cause just as much damage as a Staff.
    A dog is an animal, full stop. There is NOTHING that can be done to stop people being hurt by dogs, they have animal instincts that they cannot control.


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