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 339.

    All dogs should be muzzled in public, any dog owner whose dog attacks a member of the public should be jailed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Problem is, how can you tell if it is a dangerous dog breed.
    Easy, just look for the tell-tale signs
    Low sloping forehead
    Short cropped hair.
    Thick, studded leather collar, with “Butch” or “Killer” on it.
    Aggressive stance
    Short bowed legs.

    Chances are the dog on the other end of the leash is on the list ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    I found this to support my previous comment, but it's really common scientific knowledge. Pet owners have a duty to understand the instinctive behaviour of any of their animals in my opinion (including those who voted my comment down presumably before doing any research), for the benefit of their animals as well as the safety of those around them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    @3288. We should be able to protect children from irresponsible people though surely? And I must say if someone wishes to own a large dog that needs much excercise, they should have the space to do so at their own property, and not have them running around loose. Horses need lots of excercise. I don't see many of them racing around unchecked in my local countryside areas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    314. responsible staffy owner
    i dont know why my comment was removed?
    Mine either??? I just asked how is a dangerous breed is defined.

    Dog on dog attacks are largely ignored by the authorites although they are a good indication whether a dog is dangerous or not. Unfortunately it is all too late when I child/adult is injured and the police start to take notice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    311. thanks for the list, no SBT on there
    308. I am far from being an idiot and I own a cute soft loveable SBT(chipped)

    over 100 cyclists killed last year by vehicles in uk( greater legislation required)
    10 horse related deaths/year in uk (I assume they were under control by a human) so who is to blame here

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    It's time dog owners had to be licensed to own dogs. They are dangerous. I'm a dog owner, I would welcome licensing for owners. Far too many owners who are complete and utter idiots and don't know anything about the dog.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    Insert the word car for the word dog and then we can start to have a sensible conversation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    Alsatians ... (indeed the police use them because they are large, dangerous and capable of aggression).
    No they don't! They use them for exactly the opposite reason - because they are generally even-tempered but more importantly, highly intelligent, so highly trainable.

    Any dog can be dangerous if not properly trained and kept under close control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    @315 You are very wrong about the idea of the pack, especially when it comes to dogs. Yes the dogs see people as their pack and this is why they are likely to defend owners etc. However the children of the alphas (usually the owners) are higher in the pack than the dog and indeed its pups. So your understanding of canine pack structure is wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    Two people per year die from dogs. FOUR people per year are killed by aggressive out of control bees & millions are violently attacked by them, & there are 5 child death p/a by blind chords. But of course blind chords & bees are not the target of a campaign to make owning them eventually impossible. I've heard it from the horse's mouth, the intention is to eventually make domestic dogs extinct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    "don't agree. 'Well trained' dogs can still be terrifying when racing towards you"

    I agree, I hate dogs, I am v. nervous around them but I know logically that the vast majority are not a threat and I don't believe that no dogs should be able to run free because they can make people nervous and a tiny minority are dangerous.

    We can't ban everything that makes anyone scared.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Some love animals,understand their dogs and look after them.

    Some want scary dogs to get respect but don't really care for the animal or act responsibly with it.

    Some hate dogs and their owners for the sins of the minority.

    The latter groups have no natural empathy,are often the most selfish/spiteful and sadly always seem to get their way.

    So ineffective costly dog licences it is then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    You won't let it go will you. Alsatians are responsible for many deaths, they were very much in the spotlight a few years ago when people were using them as status symbol aggressive dogs (indeed the police use them because they are large, dangerous and capable of aggression).
    Bull terriers as a breed do not kill.
    Your argument is 'lots of people are killed by BMW cars so ban them'

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    Take the photo of the Staffie Bull off this article!! Instead there should be a person with a muzzle on!! Not the dogs fault it has been trained to fight, bite, maul, kill...

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    In a free society, a license (permission) is not required to own private property. Your pet is your private property.

    I am liable if I, or my property harms anyone else. I can be charged with negligence, and criminal negligence, sentenced to pay restitution, and even jailed.

    The Commons Environment Committee violate your rights and waste your money!

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    Micro chipping is not the answer.

    How would inserting a microchip in a dog's neck make it less likely to attack someone. All this would do is create an additional tax for dog owners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    309. And_here_we_go_again.
    Sorry, don't agree. 'Well trained' dogs can still be terrifying when racing towards you, especially if you are a child and the animal is bigger than you. Equates to an adult having a bull sized creature running at them. Every day I see children in local park terrified by someones dog, large or small who 'wouldn't hurt fly' jumping up at child. Leads for all dogs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    Where is the evidence for this ridiculous idea that it's the breed at fault? Knee jerk legislation of the worst kind.

    All dogs large and small have the potential to be dangerous. Punish the owner for the deed not because the dog looks 'dangerous'. I am for licencing with compulsive microchipping, insurance and muzzle if a history of attacks in public. All paid for by the owner I should add.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    Aggressive breeds are generally not a problem, dangerous ones are, hence the phrase "its bark is worse than its bite".


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