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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. 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
- 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?
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