COMMONS

Dangerous dogs legislation fails to protect the public

17 October 2018

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s report Controlling dangerous dogs calls for a full-scale review of current dog control legislation and policy to better protect the public.

Alternative dog control model

The inquiry was launched to investigate Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and wider dog control, amid concerns that the current approach was not protecting the public adequately.

The Committee said an alternative dog control model should be developed that focused on prevention though education, early intervention, and consistently robust sanctions for offenders.
Among its recommendations to Government:

  • Removing the prohibition on transferring banned breeds to new owners. The Committee found the prohibition to be misguided, as it results in the unnecessary destruction of good-tempered dogs that could have been safely re-homed.
  • An independent review into the factors behind dog aggression and attacks, and whether banned breeds pose an inherently greater threat. The Committee raised serious concerns about the robustness of the Government’s evidence base on BSL, and highlighted evidence showing that some legal breeds can pose just as great a risk to public safety as illegal breeds.
  • Mandatory dog awareness courses for owners involved in low to mid-level offences. A compulsory training course, similar to speed awareness courses for drivers.
  • Awareness campaigns to encourage responsible ownership and improve childhood education on staying safe around dogs.
  • A new Dog Control Act to consolidate the existing patchwork of legislation and provide enforcement authorities with new powers.

Chair's comments

Neil Parish, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The Government’s current strategy for tackling dangerous dogs is well intentioned but misguided. Existing laws and the breed ban have not stemmed the rising tide of injuries and deaths from dog attacks. Children and adults are suffering horrific injuries, many of them avoidable. This is unacceptable. The public must be properly protected, and we are therefore calling for a full-scale review of existing dog control strategies.

“We carefully considered the merits of the breed ban under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Our evidence was clear that the law is riddled with inconsistencies, harms animal welfare unnecessarily, and offers false reassurances to policymakers and the general public. All dogs can be dangerous, and we can’t ban all dogs that might one day bite someone. Evidence from across the world shows that the Government should focus instead on encouraging responsible ownership, improving education, and ensuring offenders face robust penalties.

“Some aspects of the law are utterly indefensible. In particular, the ban on transferring Section 1 dogs to new owners is cruel, illogical, and unnecessary. In line with its commitments to improving animal welfare, Defra should repeal the transfer ban for dogs that have been behaviourally assessed and deemed safe. Failure to act will show a calculated disregard for dog welfare.”

The report found that:

  • The focus on Breed Specific Legislation is misguided. The Government should undertake a comprehensive review of dog control legislation and policy. This should support the development of an alternative dog control model that focuses on prevention though education, early intervention, and consistently robust sanctions for offenders.
  • The Government’s arguments in favour of maintaining Breed Specific Legislation are not substantiated by robust evidence. An independent evidence review must be commissioned to determine whether the banned breeds/types present an inherently greater risk than other legal breeds. If not, this aspect of the law should be revised.
  • To avoid imposing an unnecessary death sentence on good-tempered animals, the ban on transferring Section 1 dogs to new owners should be removed immediately, if the animal has been behaviourally assessed and found to be safe. This should be accompanied by adequate regulation and safeguards to ensure the re-homing of Section 1 dogs is conducted responsibly and safely.
  • The patchwork of legislation should be consolidated into a single Dog Control Act. Dedicated Dog Control Notices should be introduced to facilitate early intervention in dog incidents.
  • Young children are at risk of serious injury. The Government should facilitate childhood education programmes on dog safety, and run awareness-raising campaigns encouraging responsible ownership and safe human-dog interaction among owners and the general public.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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