Dangerous Dogs Act: What Breeds Are Covered?

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Beware of Dog SignThe 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. Parliament stepped in to create this Act after a slew of incidences where serious injury or death resulted from dog attacks of a particularly aggressive breed that were uncontrolled. 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. Let’s discuss some of the specifics regarding the dangerous dogs act and whether or not this was an effective response to a societal concern.

What Is the Dangerous Dogs Act?

According to the 1991 Dangerous Dog Act passed by the United Kingdom parliament, it is illegal to own any “specially controlled dogs” without an exemption issued by the courts. Dogs within this specific categorization must also be muzzled 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 be neutered or spayed to prevent them from breeding. It must also be tattooed and microchipped to ensure that the individual dog 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 even if one is exempt by the court. In 2014 the law was extended beyond the public domain to include private property as well. If a police man or a dog catcher catches you with one of these dogs in public, it can be taken away on the spot. If they see one on private property, they must get a warrant to take your dog but it is perfectly legal with the proper legal request to do so unless the dog is on the exempt list (read more below).

Which Dog Breeds Are Included in 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 include 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 has been criticized for discriminating against breeds based upon their “breed label” rather than on any deeds these dogs may or may not have performed. So, even dogs who possess physical characteristics of a prohibited breed or match its description are considered to be dangerous. The determination as to whether or not a dog meets the description of a dangerous dog is made by 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 under the Dangerous Dog Act because it works under the assumption that these types of dogs have a unique ability to cause significant damage if they attack a human being or other living thing. By nature, these dogs possess jaws that are incredibly strong and have the ability to cause incredible amounts of damage due to the pressure per square inch. These dogs are labeled because of this incredible jaw strength which, if the dog attacks, may lead to a vast amount of damage. However, none of these breeds even fall in the top five for having the strongest bite.

What Is the Index of Exempted Dogs?

There are cases where dogs that fall under the specific controlled dogs list can be exempted from the act. 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 in the U.K. This group is responsible for registering all of the specially controlled dogs that reside within both England and Wales. The list of exempted dogs was 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. 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 breed dogs that is not on the index of exempted dogs is considered to be illegal.

Is the Dangerous Dogs Act Only in Force in the United Kingdom?

The 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 be once again 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 legislation in an effort to regulate “dangerous” dog breeds. Not all of these acts and laws are equal in how they tackle the “problem”. In some Australian locales, “dangerous” dogs are simply required to wear a red collar with yellow stripes. In particular areas of Queensland, Australia, these dogs can be seized and destroyed based upon their label.

Dangerous Dog Breed List in the U.S.

The label “dangerous dog” has been expanded in various regions to include several other breeds and cross breeds. The United States has also added Dangerous Breed Lists to many Homeowners Insurance policies so take a look at the list and be sure to check your policy. But, first, here’s a video of exploring the most dangerous dog breeds and debunking a few myths along the way.

  • German Shepherd
  • Rottweiler
  • Doberman
  • 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

Some of these breeds seem to conform to the “dangerous breeds” definition as outlined by the United Kingdom Parliament. However, many 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 in the original Dangerous Dogs Act.

What Does This Mean for Owners of These “Dangerous” Breeds?

If you currently have one of these “dangerous” dog breeds these acts could mean a variety of things depending on where you live. A number of states make exceptions 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 law started. 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.

In most case, these types of dog have not shown aggressive behavior. So, these rules add many hoops to jump through to keep or get a beloved family pet. Simply having a clean record for a dog that is classified as “dangerous” is not enough to protect it from confiscation under most circumstances. These owners must conform to regulatory rules by carrying dog liability insurance just in case an incidence of aggression arises. They must also neuter or spay their dog to prevent further growth of the “dangerous dog” population.

For those individuals who live in apartments or plan to move to one, the rules are much harder to conform to. To “maintain safer” communities most apartment complexes within the United States completely ban ownership of these “dangerous dog” types and will refuse to rent to anyone who owns one of these prohibited dogs. Ironically, 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.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Dog if you Have a “Dangerous Dog” in the United States?

The best way to understand your options if you live in the U.S. is to reach out to an insurance company that specializes in dog liability insurance to make sure you are protected properly from risks of losing your homeowner’s insurance or, even worse, your dog.

Is the Dangerous Dogs Act Effective?

According to many credible sources in the United Kingdom, the Dangerous Dogs Act has not worked well to protect people from dog attacks. In fact, several aggressive dog types that have been recognized for being dangerous, do not fall within the physical description of any of the 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 fact, since the law was created 25+ years ago, 21 of the 30 deaths from dog attacks in the U.K. have been from dog breeds that are not included on the banned list. 

In addition to the fact that all dogs carry the potential to be “dangerous” regardless of their designation, there are concerns over compliance with the Dangerous Dogs Act. The individuals most likely to comply and make sure that their “dangerous breed” is registered are those 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 to take part in dog fighting rings and other such disgraceful activities are individuals who are less likely to conform to the “Dangerous Dogs Act.” 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 dogs that are often unregistered 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 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 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 have physical similarities and all pit bulls possess an incredible amount of jaw strength but asserting that all dogs with this physical characteristic will attack or kill an individual is unfair. But, this makes no more sense than saying that a human a with muscular build will attack others.

It is difficult to determine just how “dangerous” a dog is based on statistics and its breed. In fact, the complexity of this subject is twofold. The first concerns the accuracy of dog breed determination when calculating statistics. When a non-trained professional – say a police official who is filing a report – is brought in and used to ascertain the breed of a dog 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 dog expert can tell the breed of most dogs 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 because they bit rather than by considering their genetic makeup.

The second concern when it comes to dog bite statistics is that dog bite incidences are underreported compared to dog bite fatalities. The majority of dog bites that are reported to officials result in significant damage or death. 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 other varieties. This type of reporting is biased because while certain breeds of dog may be more prone to causing large amounts of damage or death with a single biting incidence, other breeds of dog can be more susceptible to non-fatal biting. Having such skewed statistics can lead to poor decision-making and can 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. Because this breed often lives in a home with small kids, it is involved in a number of minor biting incidences. Comparing a beloved family golden retriever who bites a child but releases and leaves only a small puncture wound to a dog like a pit bull that has a much stronger bite and may not let go is difficult when considering the damage done by a single bite. However, it is something that should be factored when determining the potential for a dog to bite. When these less fatal bites are not reported or when they are not included in statistics because they were not fatal, they skew the data and lead families to believe that the “dangerous” dog breeds are the ones most likely to 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. However, the fact remains that as it currently stands the Dangerous Dogs Act is not proving to be very useful, and the statistics are skewed. This is unfortunate for dogs within the “dangerous dogs” classification because it means that fewer people are willing to offer these dogs a chance at a normal life. In doing this, these dogs are sadly becoming more of a draw for individuals who are unlikely to register them, and who are more likely to perpetuate the cycle of violence that the dog could have been saved from in the first place.

What do you think about the Dangerous Dog Act?

About The Author:

Amy grew up in England and in the early 1990's moved to North Carolina where she completed a bachelors degree in Psychology in 2001. Amy's personal interest in writing was sparked by her love of reading fiction and her creative writing hobby. Amy is currently self employed as a freelance writer and web designer. When she is not working Amy can be found curled up with a good book and her black Labrador, Jet.

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July 16, 2020 3:20 am

My fiance and I have a pitbull and she is gentle and loving.

February 23, 2019 9:23 pm

What do I do my friend has a out of control dog it bites evey one including him he leaves him all day but he’s well fed he’s a pit bull cross Dogdebo xxxx

February 10, 2019 10:06 am

I think the dangerous dogs act is a terrible descriminating act that should be git rid of,, there arent bad dogs you find it will be bad owners,, i was in america last year my friend has 3 apbt and they were all huge muscley boys,, all live together and they were all do well behaved tails wagging happy dogs,, no aggression as theyre looked after well and balanced,, you cant ban a whole breed vecause of some bad owners using them for the wrong reasons,, breaks my heart to see lovely friendly young dogs being murdered because their look and measurements put them in this catergory,,shame on the people who inforce such a cruel and totally unfair law,, youd think in the year 2019 we would of finally worked out that all animals are friendky,,its just the worst animal on the planet(the human) that changes them.. start putting people to sleep instead of animals and the world will improve dramatically,, please abolish this act it has no place in the world today,,and one last thing the person who said that staffys should be banned,?? They obviously have no expetience or never owned a dog in their life,, staffs are notn naturally as a peoples dog and such a loyal friend;;again you will get a lowlife who mistreats one of these poor dogs,and the dog lives in constant fear so is wary of ppl, should he bite some1 its oh they all need banning,,please go take your political correct do gooder comments and leave people alone;; its ridiculous… a paedophile abuses kids and ruins their life gets caught,12 minths later hes walking the street looking to do it again,,hes a true predator and dangerous… but should a dog bite a kid*(who probably just poked the dogs eye out) and u call to ban the whole breed,,humans are evil,we are the only animal that kills for pleasure.. leave dogs alone and look at the real problem… castrate/put to sleep paedophiles

May 9, 2019 2:59 pm
Reply to  Richieb

That’s like saying you can ban guns just because some people use them to murder. Until they can find a way to put the owners to sleep, they have to act on the dogs and for the record, the act has made the number of badly trained vicious dogs that roam around with their idiot owners decrease to zero where I live, so its doing something right.

Lady Marianne Cottee
February 4, 2018 12:04 pm

This article did at least mention that no training or guidance to appropriate acceptable behaviour can lead to a biting dog.
Young dogs show tendencies to mouth, biting which can progress to arm holding, jumping up on to a seated person – this shows early tries at dominance and can progress even further to bossy aggression. Not good!
If not curbed as soon as possible, by showing them this is not acceptable behaviour.. by removing them from the room and people to a solitary room repeatedly, at this or any other unacceptable behaviour, and, rewardung when they change to nice behaviour, on returning into company, is the very start, in basic training & positive reward disciplining.
However, training should start from day one the bundle of fur comes into your home.

I’ve had many breeds as a youngster & in my teens at home, and owned Labradors, Boxers, rescued Wheaton/cross and bred WHW tertiers.

The husky breed has been THE most challengeing, surprising – in their intelligence and endeavours to outwit me, subterfuge and inventiveness to get what they want, vocal and answering back – but also THE most rewarding breed I have ever had.
I put up with more canine vocabulary than I’ve ever heard and the fur shedding is now second nature. Vacuuming is pretty much daily during a bi-annual ‘undercoat blow’ if not twice daily! The groomers are visited at the end of the first two weeks once it has established.
I wouldn’t change anything except for the same longevity as me. One day away is seven in their lifespan so a couple of hours explains now why I am greeted by howls of reproach – like I deserted them!

August 5, 2017 3:42 pm

To start with ANY DOG CAN BITE. I don’t understand why everyone had to label a dog, but people label other people and some call it racist and other bull shit. And when a dog attacks, they are doing their job. We all have dogs to their families safe. If have a rescue dog, yes they are more scared. And yes, they have flash back of when they was abuse. And I personally have a rescue a abused pitbull. I hope one day, all dogs won’t have a label.

June 15, 2019 6:13 pm
Reply to  Jasmine

Jasmine I am a mail carrier and if you for a think for a second that that’s there job to bite makes you one of those owners that views them as property and guard dogs and not pets. This is why these threads are created for ppl like you! I lost the use of part of my hand because of your type of guard dog owner and not pet owner! Smh

Dog Lover
March 29, 2017 8:07 am

You are spreading lies through fear-mongering. This is the textbook definition of propaganda. Where is your research? What are your sources? Clearly you know not what you’re speaking on and appear to just be regurgitating second-hand information. Claim that you’re not all you want, but it’s a half-assed attempt to keep face and anyone could see that. It’s understandable that you’d want to defend your work, but sometimes it’s just better to absorb the criticism and see what you can learn from the situation.
“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…” Bullies have strong jaws, but they don’t have the strongest bite; In fact, they don’t even rank in the top 5 for bite force. The fact that they “lock on” when they bite actually causes less damage; Most damage is done by continually biting and releasing, referred to as mauling, which you even stated that bullies are not bred to do.
It should also be noted, that “pit bulls” have an 87% pass rate on temperament tests, ranking among the “safest breeds.”

January 23, 2017 2:52 pm

It’s write up like these that put the fear into people with some breeds of dogs!! I own Staffordshire Bull Terriers and have for years. When out walking people cross the road away from them or pick up the dog/child. My dogs are no risk to anyone, yet the sites that post this kind of thing make others think they are.
Lets take the Staffie in the UK. There are 10’s of thousands of them in family run homes who live with children and other pets with out a problem, yet if one should bite WITHOUT finding the reason why they are all marked Devil Dogs!! Pitbulls in America, fantastic dogs but because of a very few they are marked as dangerous!!

They need to look closely into why any dog bites and i’m sure 9/10 times they will find it is not the dog to blame!!

Kimberly Alt
January 24, 2017 9:22 am
Reply to  Staffiez

I’m sorry you feel that our article is putting fear into people. That is not our intention I promise. We just want to present information on the Dangerous Dogs Act and it can be difficult to do that without making it seem like we are putting a dog breed down. We love all dog breeds and think each dog can be a great family dog given the proper opportunity.

September 13, 2016 11:51 am

Tell this to the parents of the 3 year old killed by an American Pitbull in the UK this week. It isn’t persecution, it’s control of animals that were bred to tackle other animals much larger than we are and which are allowed to live around families today.

Some guy living in a two bedroom apartment with his family, has no need of a dog bred to tackle wild boar and cattle.

The point of the dangerous dogs act is to protect people against breeds that, because of their sheer size and power, humans would have little chance of fighting off. A chihuahua may be more aggressive but an adult and most children have a better chance of fighting one off than defending themselves or others from a dog that can weigh up to 130lbs and which was bred for muscle production.

Yes, it’s the owner’s fault but that is no help to the victims. If people are idiots with their dogs then they have to be made to control them by force of law.

Michael Clarke
June 7, 2016 3:54 am

You should not generalize a breed because of the actions of a few. The most dangerous animal on the planet is the human. They train other forms to do bad things & the human if left to nature’s way is the only animal who thinks killing is fun. Every other animal that kills does so for food.

Lps Lauren
January 21, 2016 3:38 pm

I own a pure breed German Shepard and he’s a big baby and he wouldn’t hurt a fly unless commanded to.

d m
May 13, 2017 7:27 pm
Reply to  Lps Lauren

“….unless commanded to.” You mean you’ve trained him to harm???

Chris Pham
November 15, 2015 10:50 am

These dogs are not dangerous unless they are raised and treated wrong with no training or obedience. I own a Doberman and a Rottweiler and they are far from dangerous they are the most lovable sweetest dogs you’ll ever meet. I’ve owned a purebred American Pit Bull Terrier and she was also very loving and would never hurt anyone. Pit Bulls and other breeds get a bad rep because their owners do not properly raise or take care of them.

January 23, 2017 5:12 pm
Reply to  Chris Pham

i also have both

December 20, 2015 7:32 pm
Reply to  Chris Pham

I agree. I’ve owned all 3 breeds too. They are the most affectionate dogs ever. Love children, my pit, babies all other animals from the cat to the chickens. Gives them a proper deep cleanse by big sloppy wet kisses. They just have to put up with it and wipe the slobber off after. The only dogs I’ve ever seen get nasty are sheep dogs and golden retrievers. The sheep dog killed our dog whilst my sister was walking him when she was small and it bite her too.

Any animal not trained or from a loving home can attack.

If the government is so worried about potential damage because of their jaw capacity why let people use cars they’re much more dangerous and they don’t stop idiots from owning them!
Don’t blame the breed. They are loyal, loving and sweet.

January 23, 2017 5:23 pm
Reply to  bev

this is the worst comment I have ever read and the main problem of dog owners in the UK, i am actually shocked to see something like this on here, unfortunately Bev you should never be allowed to own a dog, especially in a public place. Your ridiculous, unfounded and silly points are incorrect and result in people passing on wrong information, you exaggerate (half the problem in the first place), and just generalised on two breeds yourself in your post about not blaming the breeds? “The only dogs I’ve ever seen get nasty are sheep dogs and golden retrievers. The sheep dog killed our dog whilst my sister was walking him when she was small and it bite her too.” So because of what you have seen you are now correct and everyone who wrote the law and recorded deaths over time are wrong? Because of the hearsay account of your daughter? Bev you seem to find it hard to spell also so your knowledge and comments are falling a little flat here now, I am only 25 and I can spell, type and but grammar together better then this middle aged woman? Worrying…very worrying…

There was only one thing you said correct “dont blame the breed” – as we always say, blame the owners not the breed, and in this case Blame owners like Bev.

May 28, 2017 6:14 pm
Reply to  Timmsy

Very rude. Perhaps you should double check your for punctuation and spelling errors before making such a foolish comment. Should you wish to put forth your point of view, or comment on anothers, you need to do so with respect. The majority of what you had typed had no purpose, except to serve your ego and it is clear for all to see.
In this case, I blame the breed. Due to being 25 years of age, it is old enough to appreciate and show respect.

October 6, 2017 3:09 pm
Reply to  Timmsy.dad

Timmsy, …it appears that you are placing words on here for the attention. Bev may not have spelled correctly, and her grammar was not to your standard, she had a point. Everyone makes judgments based on personal experiences such as she has done. For you to say she has no business in commenting is rude within itself. Timmsy your comment needs to be proofread before submitting ” I am only 25 and I can spell, type and but grammar together better then this middle aged woman? Now is this a question or a statement? Then should have been “than” and I do believe that “but” should have been “put” and the question mark should have been a period or exclamation mark. A person that is attacked by a German Shepherd twice in their life has the belief that the breed is an aggressive breed, in his/her opinion due to experiences. You may have an opinion and you have the right to voice that opinion, but that it is all it is. There is no correct answer when you give an opinion. You do not have the right to be disrespectful, or antagonistic towards others that don’t meet your criteria.