Dangerous dog offenders to get harsher sentences

Pitbull seized in London Image copyright PA
Image caption Those already disqualified from owning a dog will face the toughest penalties

Pet owners convicted of dangerous dogs offences will face harsher punishments under new sentencing guidelines in England and Wales.

The guidelines, which come into force from July, reflect 2014 changes to the law that increased maximum sentences.

The Sentencing Council said sentences were "likely to be higher than in the past" but must be "proportionate".

A council member said some irresponsible owners' dogs "put people at risk of injury and... even death".

The 2014 changes raised the maximum jail sentence for a fatal dog attack from two years to 14.

The amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act also extended the law to include attacks which happen on private property, and introduced a new offence of attacks on assistance dogs such as guide dogs.

The changes to the sentencing guidelines cover offences where a dog injures or kills a person, injures an assistance dog, or where someone possesses a banned breed.

The banned breeds are:

  • pit bull terrier
  • Japanese tosa
  • dogo Argentino
  • fila Braziliero

'Some irresponsible owners'

District Judge Richard Williams, a member of the Sentencing Council, said the guidelines "allow for a broad range of sentences to be given, depending on the seriousness of each offence".

He said: "We know that the majority of dog owners are responsible and ensure their pets do not put anyone in danger, but there are some irresponsible owners whose dogs do put people at risk of injury and in some cases even death."

'Just attacked me'

Image caption Amanda Peynado said she was attacked for an hour and a half

Amanda Peynado, from Salisbury in Wiltshire, lost her left arm when she was attacked in 2007 by a Rottweiler that had been taken in by the kennel where she worked.

She told BBC Two's Victoria Derbyshire programme she had been exercising the dog, a stray, when "out of the blue, for no reason, he just attacked me".

She said the dog attacked her for an hour and a half during which it "kept coming back and taking chunks out of me".

"I lost my left arm, I nearly lost my right arm, he ripped a big hole in my back, he took muscle from my leg. Not a very nice experience in all," she said.

"I knew if he could have got my throat that would have been the end of me."

Speaking about changes to the sentencing guidelines, she said "99% of the time there's not a bad dog there's a bad owner".

She said it was important for irresponsible owners to be targeted before their animals attacked anyone.

Mr Williams said those in charge of a dangerous dog, where a victim died, would be deemed to have "high culpability", with sentences ranging from six to 14 years.

Other factors where an offender is deemed to have "high culpability" include the dog being used as a weapon, being trained to be aggressive or where someone has a banned breed.

Those who are already disqualified from owning a dog will also face the toughest penalties.

The same factors will also be used to assess blameworthiness in cases where a victim is injured.

The Dog's Trust, which "broadly welcomes" the new guidelines, said: "We hope that with the increased maximum sentences for dog attacks, dog owners will be encouraged to ensure they act responsibly and that ultimately there will be a reduction in the number of dangerous dog attacks, although it is more likely that prevention will come from education."

James White, of the charity Guide Dogs, welcomed the guidelines and said: "Sadly, every year we hear of more than 100 guide dogs being attacked by other dogs."

He said such attacks were "traumatic" and might stop dogs from working, meaning their owner "may find it impossible to leave home on their own".

The Kennel Club said owners needed to take responsibility for training their dogs.

It added that the breed of a dog "plays only a small part" in its temperament, with breeding socialisation and environment having a "far greater influence".

More on this story