The dangerous dogs act was a law passed in the United Kingdom in 1991 aimed to try to reduce the number of dog attacks by specific breeds. After a slew of incidences where serious injury or death resulted from attacks by a number of dogs of a particular aggressive breed or dogs that were uncontrolled the parliament of the United Kingdom stepped in. This legislative response was designed as a way to protect the people; however, over time many have come to see this parliamentary act as being discriminatory and ineffective. In this article we will cover some of the specifics in regard to the dangerous dogs act and discus whether or not this was an effective response to a societal concern.
What is the Dangerous Dogs Act?
According to the 1991 act as passed by the United Kingdom parliament it is illegal to own any specially controlled dogs without an exemption has been made by the courts. Dogs within this specific categorization must also be muzzles and kept on a leash at all times when in public and they must also be registered and insured by their owners. These “dangerous breeds” must also always be neutered to prevent them from breeding, tattooed to ensure that the individual dog can be identified and have a microchip so that these dogs can be identified and returned to their owner should they escape. The dangerous dogs act does not stop there however; it also states that there shall be no breeding, no sale and no exchange of these dogs what so ever even if these dogs have been exempted by the court.
What Dogs Are Covered Under the Dangerous Dogs Act?
According to the United Kingdom Dangerous Dogs Act there are four specific types of dog that are considered to be specially controlled dogs, these are:
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Japanese Tosa
- Dogo Argentino
- Fila Brasileiro
In addition to covering these four specific breeds, this act also extends to cover any dog that appears to be a cross of these four breeds. Unfortunately for many dogs this results in persecution based on physical appearance. The Dangerous Dogs Act does not only persecute breeds based upon their “breed label” rather according to the act these dogs are persecuted based upon their “type” which means if the dog possesses physical characteristics of a prohibited breed or matches the description of a prohibited breed then the dog is considered to be dangerous. The determination as to whether or not a dog meets the description of a dangerous dog is made by a court within the United Kingdom courts system.
Why These Dog Breeds or Mixes of these Breeds?
These four breeds and mixes of these four breeds are considered to be dangerous based upon their unique ability to cause such significant damage if they do attack a human being or other living thing. By nature these dogs were bred to be killing machines that were able to bring down full sized bulls in a bull fight and so they possess jaws that are incredibly strong and the ability to cause incredibly amounts of damage due to the pressure per square inch in those jaws. These dogs are labeled unique because of this incredible jaw strength which, when the dog attacks, leads to an unfathomable amount of damage and their ability bring down powerful living beasts as they were originally bred to do.
What Are Exempted Dogs?
As mentioned above there are cases where dogs that fall under the specific controlled dogs list are exempted from the act and a list of these dogs, referred to as the “Index of Exempted Dogs” is maintained by the Animal welfare section of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This group is responsible for registering all of the specially controlled dogs that reside within both England and Wales. The list of exempted dogs are closed to new additions between the years of 1992 and 1997; however, in late 1997 an amendment to the Dangerous Dogs Act reopened the list to allow courts to add specific dogs to the index of exempted dogs. All dogs that fall under the specially controlled dog’s category are considered to be dangerous dogs unless they are added to the index of exempted dogs by a court within the United Kingdom court system. Owning one of these banned breeds or cross breeds without featuring on the index of exempted dogs as an exemption from the rule is considered to be illegal.
Is The Dangerous Dogs Act Only In Force In The United Kingdom?
The particular term “Dangerous Dogs Act” refers specifically to the 1991 law passed by the parliament of the United Kingdom and the 1997 amendment which followed allowing for dogs to once again be added to the list of exemptions. However, while this specific term is reserved for the United Kingdom, many other countries have adopted their own version of the law in an effort to regulate these “dangerous” dog breeds. Not all of these acts and laws are equal in how they tackle the “problem” of these dangerous dogs, in some locales such as certain areas of Australia these “dangerous” dogs are simply required to wear a red collar with yellow stripes. In other areas such as particular areas of Queensland, Australia, these dogs are seized and destroyed based upon their “dangerous dog” label.
Depending upon the area being considered, the label “dangerous dog” has been expanded to include a number of other specific breeds or cross breeds, these include:
- German Shepherd
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- American Bulldog
- Canary Island Dog
- Akita Inu
- Alangu Mastiff
- Alano Español
- Argentine Dogo
- Bedlington Terrier
- Boston Terrier
- Bull Terrier
- Bully Kutta
- Cane Corso
- Dogue de Bordeaux
- Dogo Sardesco
- English Mastiff
- Gull Dong
- Irish Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- Korean Jindo Dog
- Lottatore Brindisino
- Neapolitan Mastiff
- Perro de Presa Canario
- Perro de Presa Mallorquin
- Shar Pei
Obviously some of these breeds seem to conform to the “dangerous breeds” definition as outlined by the parliament of the United Kingdom; however, a number of the dogs listed above (many of these are prohibited only in the state of New York by the New York Housing Commission) bear no resemblance to the original four “dangerous” dog breeds as outlined in the original Dangerous Dogs Act.
What Does This Mean For Owners of these “Dangerous” Breeds?
If you are currently in possession of one of these “dangerous” dog breeds these acts could mean a variety of things to you depending upon where you reside. A number of states make exceptions to the rules for dogs that have been living in the designated area for a particular amount of time – namely dogs that have existed in the locale for years before the dangerous dog laws were enacted. It should also be noted that in most states owning any of the “dangerous” dog breeds or breed crosses that have already shown incidences of aggression, is a free pass for regulating organizations to confiscate and destroy your dog.
For most people who own one or more of these particular types of dog that have not shown aggressive behavior, these rules mean quite a lot of hoops to jump through in order to keep their beloved family pet. Simply having a clean record for a dog that is classified as “dangerous” is not enough to protect that dog from confiscation under certain circumstances. These particular dog type owners must conform to regulatory rules such as carrying insurance on their dog should an incidence of aggression arise, neutering their dog to prevent further growth of the “dangerous dog” population and muzzling their dog in public.
For those individuals who live in apartments or who are looking to move out of their home and in to an apartment the rules are much more difficult to conform to. In an effort to “maintain safer” communities most apartment complexes within the United States completely ban ownership of these “dangerous dog” types and will refuse to rent an apartment to any family known to own one of these prohibited dogs. Ironically enough, these complexes have no trouble banning a good dog with the physical characteristics of a “dangerous type;” however, a dangerous dog of a more accepted breed would have no trouble finding a home in these complexes.
Is the Dangerous Dogs Act Effective?
When it comes to discussing the Dangerous Dogs Act what most people want to know is whether or not the act has been effective in reducing the serious injury or cases of death that have resulted from attacks by “dangerous dogs.” According to a number of credible sources in the United Kingdom, the Dangerous Dogs Act has never worked to protect people from attacks by dangerous dogs. There are a number of reasons why this act has failed to work in protecting individuals from “dangerous” dogs. The most significant issue that arises when discussing this act is the fact that a number of aggressive dogs that have been recognized for being dangerous, do not fall in to the physical description of any of the dangerous dog breeds recognized by the act. Simply because the “dangerous dogs” have the capability to inflict a considerable amount of damage does not mean that all dogs that fall within the physical characteristics of this breed will inflict that type of damage. Likewise a number of other breeds that are not considered “dangerous” are capable of inflicting incredible amounts of damage should they decide to attack another living thing.
In addition to the fact that all dogs carry the potential to be “dangerous” regardless of their designation as being a “dangerous breed” or not, there are concerns over compliance with the Dangerous Dogs Act. The individuals most likely to comply with the act itself and make sure that their “dangerous breed” is registered are individuals who are most likely to own dogs that are well trained, vaccinated, non-aggressive and all around family pets. The individuals who are breeding dangerous breed dogs as killing machines to take part in dog fighting rings and other such disgraceful activities are individuals who are least likely to conform to the “Dangerous Dogs Act.” For many of these individuals these dogs are nothing more than killing machines and so they are bred to be aggressive and they are pitted against each other while their owners bet money on which dog will survive a fight to the death. These dogs are never registered and are commonly bred in an attempt to maintain these illegal dog fighting rings. These are the individuals that give these breeds a bad reputation. Simply because a law designates that these dogs need to be registered does not mean that they will be and it is the most aggressive of all dogs that goes without being registered and so the “Dangerous Dogs Act” appears to have failed.
Why is there So Much Controversy over the “Dangerous Dogs Act”?
Much of the controversy over the “Dangerous Dogs Act” comes from the subject mentioned above – simply because a dog is of a certain breed does not mean that it is going to be aggressive. All dogs have the capability to inflict significant amounts of damage on to a human being if they so choose but according to many it is the breeding and upbringing of the dog that results in a dangerous dog. Certainly all dogs of certain breeds are physically similar, all pit bulls possess an incredible amount of jaw strength, this is something that was bred in to them as we demanded that they pit themselves against large bulls. Asserting that all dogs with this physical characteristic will attack and mame or kill an individual however, is as fair as saying that all humans with muscular builds will attack other individuals. It may seem to make sense for those who have unfortunately become victims of dog attacks by dogs within this “dangerous dog breed” designation; however, the truth of the matter is that dogs within any breed are capable of inflicting significant amounts of damage should they choose to do so.
The difficulty with determining just how “dangerous” a dog is when looking over statistics relative to specific dog breeds is twofold and involves determining the dog breed as well as considering bites versus fatalities. The first concerns when it comes to dog bite statistics is the accuracy of dog breed determination. When a non-trained professional is brought in and used to ascertain the breed of a dog – say a police official who is being used to file a police report versus a dog breed professional such as a staff member of the American Kennel Club, a number of mistakes can be made in identifying the dog. Log on to any shelter or animal control website and a seasoned dog lover can tell the breed of a dog right away; however, read over the description of that dog as written by a non-professional and nine times out of ten you will find the breed identification is inaccurate. Many times dogs that bite are automatically pinned as being from aggressive dog breeds simply for the fact that they bit rather than by taking their genetic makeup in to consideration.
The second concern when it comes to dog bite statistics is the dog bite incidence versus dog bite fatality fact. The majority of dog bites that are reported to officials are dog bites that result in significant damage or fatalities. This type of reporting puts a slant on dog bite statistics in that certain breeds of dog (namely those with increased natural jaw strength) are more likely to inflict significant damage or even cause death with a biting incident than others. This type of reporting is biased because while certain breeds of dog may be more prone to causing large amounts of damage or fatal damage with a single biting incidence, other breeds of dog can be more prone to biting. Having such skewed statistics can lead to poor decision making and bias breed laws that do not protect families in the way that courts had hoped. A good example of this is the golden retriever, a dog that is commonly owned by families with children and as such a dog that is noted in a number of biting incidences. Comparing a loved family golden retriever who bites a child but releases that bite and leaves a puncture wound against a dog like a pit bull that has been bred to bite and not let go may be difficult in terms of the damage done by a single bite; however, it is something that should be taken in to consideration when determining the potential for a dog to bite. When these less fatal bites are not reported or when they are not included in statistic roundups because they were not fatal, they skew statistics and lead families to believe that these “dangerous” dog breeds are the breeds that are most likely to bite when in fact they are the dogs that are most likely to cause the most damage if they bite.
What Does it All Mean?
Discussing breed specific dog laws can be confusing because more often than not emotions run high and everyone wants to have their point of view heard. Certainly everyone is welcome to their opinion on the matter; however, the fact remains that as it currently stands the Dangerous Dogs Act is not effective and the statistics currently being reported are skewed. This is unfortunate for dogs within the “dangerous dogs” classification because it means that less people are willing to offer these dogs a chance at a normal life and in doing this these dogs are becoming more of a draw to those individuals not likely to register them, those individuals who are most likely to plant that dog in a fighting ring and perpetuate the cycle of violence that the dog could have been saved from in the first place. What is the answer? There is rarely one answer that can solve it all but it seems in this case that a good place to start would be monitoring the quality of breeding programs and enforcing Canine Good Citizen training and obedience classes to ensure that these dogs with the potential for such destruction are given a chance denied them by the current Dangerous Dogs Act.