We never really think that dog law applies to us somehow; "My dog isn't dangerous", "I would never let my dog stray", "my dog just wants to be friendly". The law however, doesn't always mean what it initially sounds like. For instance, did you know the Dangerous Dogs Act doesn't just apply to "dangerous" dogs? I know sitting and reading laws isn't the most exciting thing (yawn) but it is important to be aware of how the law impacts us and our dogsif the worst ever happened.. Recently I went to a seminar on Dog Law hosted by Trevor Cooper who is a specialist in the field.
The Control of Dogs Order 1994 states that when a dog is in public they need to wear a collar (a harness is acceptable) and tag. The identity tag must have the name of the owner and the full address of where the dog lives (house number, road, town and if it can fit, the post code). Additional information like phone numbers can be added, but if the owners name and full address isn't on the tag it is non-compliant. It is a criminal offence not to have a collar and tag but this can only be enforced by the council and carries an unlimited fine. There are exemptions for a pack of hounds, a dog competing in sport, a dog being worked on pests/cattle/sheep, guide dogs and dogs working in the police or military. When a dog isn't doing these activities, a collar and tag is still required.
In April 2016 new legislation came in regarding microchipping. All puppies now must be microchipped by 6 weeks unless there is a medical reason that they cannot be. The first keeper will always be the breeder now, and when the dog is transferred to a new keeper, the details must be updated. It is now against the law to transfer a dog without a microchip. If the details on the dogs microchip are not up to date the owner is in breach of legislation. You will normally be given a 21 day notice to update your dogs details, and after this can be prosecuted and receive a £500 fine. Any adverse events like migration of chip, failure of chip or reaction to the chip must be reported to DEFRA using this form.
If you lose your dog
The number of stray dogs collected by councils has reduced by 21%. Rather than this being a case of less stray dogs, it is more likely a combination of dog wardens and services only being a 9-5 Monday-Friday service, access to social media means people will often post to find the owner themselves, and vets and rescues taking lost dogs in. Even though there has been a 21% reduction, there were still 81,000 stray dogs picked up by councils last year and sadly only 54% of these were reunited with their owners. A large part of this problem is dogs not having collars and identity tags when found or them not being up to date which means a finder isn't able to contact an owner immediately. Sadly, the biggest part of the problem is dogs that do not have microchips or their details are out of date. Last year, only 40% of the dogs collected by 50 councils had microchips, and only half of these dogs had up to date details. To put this into perspective, if this applied to all 81,000 dogs, only 32,400 would have microchips at all, and only 16,200 would have up to date details. If your dog goes missing, make sure you contact your local dog warden, the local kennels, your local vets, your microchip company and Dogs Lost. It is well worth keeping a list of these available for in case of an emergency. For anyone that lives in the Leek area, I have made a free poster of all these contact numbers which you can find as a download on this blog.
Loss of ownership if on holiday
If you are going on holiday, make sure your dog has an emergency contact on their collar and microchip who will be available during that time. If your dog becomes lost while you are on holiday and is picked up by the council, they only have to hold the dog for 7 days from pick up before the dog is either PTS or rehomed.
Community Protection Notice
We were told at the seminar that many councils do not know what these are but they have been about since 20th October 2014 with the intent on stopping unreasonable behaviour that is persistent, and that has a negative impact on the local community. For dogs this means that councils can enforce simple and effective measures to solve the issue. If a dog keeps escaping from a hole in a fence, they can order the owner to fix the fence. If a certain dog is persistently off lead and aggressive in a public place, the council can order muzzling, on lead, banning from certain areas, training the dog or even forfeiting the dog as they see fit. It can also include behaviour inside the house like dogs biting at the letterbox (may order to install a post guard etc). Failure to comply with one of these notices is an offence and carries fines of £2500 for individuals. You can find out more about Community Protection Notices here, where there is also a link to report anti-social behaviour if you fall under the Staffordshire Moorlands County Council.
If a dog has never had an incident before, and the incident wasn't due to the owners negligence, liability can be proved but it's more complicated. If however, your dog has a history of previous incident(s) it's much more likely that it will be found that you are liable for the incident. If you end up going to court, you won't be able to get legal aid and will have to pay a solicitor which can mount up to huge bills. It was advised to have third party liability insurance on your pet health insurance, and that if you didn't have it, you can sign up as a member of the Dogs Trust which is £25 a year (£12.50 if you are over 60) which has third party liability cover up to £1,000,000 as one of the free perks of the membership. This means that if your dog was to cause damage or injury to another person, property or animal, you would have the peace of mind of this cover. If you have third party insurance, never admit liability, and hand over the details for your insurance company to deal with.
The Dangerous Dogs Act (Section 3)
This part of law covers ALL dogs, not just those breeds that are banned by Breed Specific Legislation. If a dog causes a person to reasonably fear injury it is a criminal offence. This does not need to be a bite, or even a direct injury to the person and it doesn't matter if the dog causes injury through being aggressive or being friendly. The injury can be a bite but doesn't have to be, a claw scratch, a bruise or an injury from being knocked over by the dog is sufficient to constitute a serious criminal offence. An offence under this act now applies ANYWHERE in England and Wales including in the garden and home, whether the visitor was a family member, friend or stranger. This is a big reason not to leave your dog unattended in public, especially outside shops. A tethered dog that may be worried could have an incident and you weren't even there to witness it. The ONLY exemption is if a dog causes injury to a burglar inside the home, but it still applies if the dog causes injury to a burglar in the garden.
It is now more likely than ever before that owners will get a prison sentence. If your dog causes injury to an assistance dog the prison sentence is up to 3 years. For injury to a person the sentence is up to 5 years and for an attack that causes the death of a person the sentence is up to 15 years.
Sentencing is done on harm and culpability, the higher each one, the higher the sentencing. For instance if you have trained your dog in security work or to be a guard dog, that increases your culpability. Signs like "beware of the dog" or "guard dog" on your house/premises also increase your culpability because you have shown you are aware your dog could be aggressive. Harnesses that say "caution" or "give me space" will also increase culpability if you are doing nothing else about the issue. If however, you can show that you are also working with a behaviourist to help your dog with these problems, that can reduce culpability as it proves you are aware there is an issue, and were taking reasonable steps to deal with the problem and warn others that your dog needs space.
Before this change incidents with a high degree of harm and high degree of culpability started at 6 months, but now it's 3 years.
This is a small insight into a huge topic, but you you can find out about one of Trevor Coopers seminars and find lots more information which is kept up to date on Dog Law SOS.