Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

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Dangerous Dogs Act 1991
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to prohibit persons from having in their possession or custody dogs belonging to types bred for fighting; to impose restrictions in respect of such dogs pending the coming into force of the prohibition; to enable restrictions to be imposed in relation to other types of dog which present a serious danger to the public; to make further provision for securing that dogs are kept under proper control; and for connected purposes.
Citation1991 c. 65
Introduced byKenneth Baker, Home Secretary (Commons)
The Earl Ferrers, Minister of State for Home Affairs (Lords)
Territorial extent England and Wales, Scotland
Northern Ireland (section 8 only)
Royal assent25 July 1991
Commencement30 November 1991 (Section 3(1))
12 August 1991[1]
Status: Amended
Text of statute as originally enacted
Text of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from legislation.gov.uk.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991[2] (c. 65) is an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom prohibiting or restricting certain types of dogs and codifying the criminal offence of allowing a dog of any breed to be dangerously out of control. After a series of eleven dog attacks in 1991,[3] Home Secretary Kenneth Baker promised "to rid the country of the menace of these fighting dogs".[4] The Act has been controversial for failing to stem the rise of dog attacks[5] and for focusing on a dog's breed or looks instead of an individual dog's behaviour.[6][7]


The 1991 act[2] was introduced by then Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, and was amended in 1997.[8] The Act applies in England, Wales and Scotland, with The Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991[9] having a similar effect in Northern Ireland. The intention of the Act was the protection of the people. Prior to the Act there were no criminal penalties for injuries or deaths caused by dog attacks.[10][11]

In summary:

  • Section 1, Dogs bred for fighting, prohibits the ownership of certain types of dogs, unless exempted on the Index of Exempt Dogs. It was intended to have a preventative effect.[10]
  • Section 2, Keeping dogs under proper control, creates a criminal offence of allowing any dog (of any breed or type) to be dangerously out of control, and legal action may be taken against the dog's owner.[10]
  • Section 3, Destruction and disqualification orders, covers orders for destruction of dogs, and orders for prohibiting offenders from the keeping of dogs for a period of time.

Britain has a long history of various dog legislation in attempts to protect the public.[4] In the ninth century, dog-owners were fined if their dog bit a person. In 1839, fines were exacted for allowing dogs to run loose in London, and owners were liable if their unmuzzled dog attacked a person or other animal. In 1847, it became a criminal offence to let a dangerous dog run loose. The power to confiscate dogs was introduced in 1871. Prohibition of owning a dog as a penalty was available in 1989. The 1991 Act banned four types of dog, and made it an offence for an owner to allow any dog "to be dangerously out of control". In 1997, the Act was amended, relaxing rules and giving courts more flexibility about euthanasia orders. And in 2006, local authorities were empowered to ban dogs from certain public areas to reduce menace and fouling by dogs.

Section 1 (Breed Specific Legislation)[edit]

Under the Act, it is illegal to own certain dogs without an exemption from a court.[12] The Act bans the breeding, sale and exchange of these dogs, even if they are on the Index of Exempted Dogs.[13]

The Act applies to five types of dogs:

The first two are explicitly mentioned in the Act, and the third and fourth were designated by the Secretary of State in 1991, [14] and the fifth added in 2023.[15]

The Act also covers cross-breeds of the above four types of dog. Dangerous dogs are classified by "type", not by breed label. This means that whether a dog is prohibited under the Act will depend on a judgement about its physical characteristics, and whether they match the description of a prohibited "type". This assessment of the physical characteristics is made by a Dog Legislation Officer (DLO), a police officer experienced in dog handling and dog legislation, who assists in the investigation of dog-related allegations of crime.[10]

On 15 September 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that XL Bully would be added to the Dangerous Dogs Act. It was designated on 31 December 2023 for England and Wales,[16] and in Scotland on 23 February 2024.[15]

Index of Exempted Dogs[edit]

The process for getting a Section 1 dog exempted includes proving to the court that the dog is not a danger to public safety, that it is owned by a 'fit and proper' person to be in charge of a dog, that the dog is already neutered and microchipped,[Note 1] and that the owner has obtained third-party insurance that would cover an incident of bodily injury or death of a person caused by the dog. Ongoing conditions include keeping the dog at the address listed, notifying of address changes, notifying of the death or export of the dog, keeping the dog muzzled and on a lead in public places, keeping the dog securely to prevent escape, and maintaining all previous conditions for the life of the dog.[20]

The Act established the Index of Exempted Dogs and the Animal Welfare section of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) oversees the administration of the Act and the Index.[18]

Initially, dogs born before 30 November 1991 were eligible to be put on the Index of Exempted Dogs (a grandfather clause). Applications were received for over 8,000 dogs; 5,223 dogs received their Certificate of Exemption.[21] Dogs born after 30 November 1991 were not eligible to be on the Index, and it was expected the Index would cease after the death of the last of the original 5,223 dogs. However, the 1997 amendments expanded eligibility, effectively continuing the Index. As of 2015, there were 3,001 Pit bull terriers on the Index, 6 Dogo Argentinos, 0 Fila Brasilieros, and 3 Japanese Tosas.[22] As of 2018, there were 3,514 Pit bull terriers, 3 Japanese Tosas, 13 Dogo Argentinos, and 0 Fila Brazilieros.[23]

What is prohibited[edit]

The act makes it illegal for anyone to own, breed, breed from, sell, advertise (even as a gift), give away, or allow a dog of any of the listed breeds to stray.[2] Those who previously owned individuals of the breed before the act came into force could apply for Certificates of Exemption for a limited period of time after the act came into effect for each of the breeds prohibited.[24]

Reception and responses[edit]

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the British Veterinary Association are both against the breed-specific legislation provisions of the Act (Section 1), claiming that there is no scientific evidence that all individuals of a breed are dangerous.[25][26] However, data from the Metropolitan Police shows that in incidents involving 'dangerously out of control dogs' banned breeds account for about 20% of offences. Defra says there are "a large number of serious cases from a very small population of dogs in circulation, and that is striking evidence that there is an issue with this particular type of dog",[27] while a Member of Parliament said "Despite the fact that dogs on the exempt list must be muzzled in public, that breed still accounts for almost 20% of all reported attacks. We know also that pit bulls have been involved in seven of the 31 fatal attacks that have occurred since 2005. That is highly disproportionate for one type of dog that is banned, and it underlines the need to be cautious about change in this area."[28]

The RSPCA have been criticised for their opposition to breed-specific legislation, and their own pet insurance excludes certain breeds from coverage.[29][30]

The act only covers dog attacks causing physical injury to a human, not physical injury or death to other animals, and does not cover mental injury to a human witnessing such an attack (PTSD, for example). Efforts have been made to get the law changed.[31] In some cases, injuries to humans have been ignored or not taken seriously by authorities because they were caused during a dog-on-dog attack.[32]

A 2018 proposal by PETA to have the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and American Bulldog added to the list of banned dogs spawned a petition in support of the Staffordshires which garnered 160,000 signatures. The proposal was debated by Parliament and rejected. George Eustice declared, "The Government have no plans at all to add Staffordshire bull terriers, or any other type of dog, to the list of prohibited dogs."[28]

The act has been described as a piece of rushed legislation which was an overreaction to a transient public mood.[33][34][35][36] The Act is sometimes cited as an unfavourable example of such legislation,[37][38] and in January 2007, the act was included in public responses to a BBC Radio 4 poll of unpopular UK legislation.[39]

A 1992 case involving a dog named Dempsey, a pit bull terrier which three years later had its destruction order reversed,[40][41] brought interest because of the lack of discretion that the Act gave magistrates regarding Section 1 dogs. Discretion was granted to magistrates with the 1997 amendment to the Act.[18]

In the case of R (Sandhu) v. Isleworth Crown Court [2012], the claimant Sandhu was in prison and sought to nominate a temporary keeper to have his dog. The judicial review held that a person does have the right to nominate a person to temporarily keep the dog. This decision has more recently been more regulated to only allow for temporary keepership in certain circumstances.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ All dogs in the UK were mandated to be microchipped and registered in one of the authorised commercial databases by 2016.[17][18][19]


  1. ^ Statutory Instrument 1991 No. 1742 (section 3) The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (Commencement and Appointed Day) Order 1991
  2. ^ a b c "Dangerous Dogs Act 1991". www.legislation.gov.uk.
  3. ^ "Dangerous Dogs (Hansard, 23 May 1991)". api.parliament.uk. 23 May 1991.
  4. ^ a b Clare, Sean (22 May 2012). "Dangerous dog laws: A history". BBC News.
  5. ^ Barkham, Patrick; Murphy, Simon (18 January 2012). "Bark but no bite: Dangerous Dogs Act in spotlight as attacks rise". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  6. ^ Crookes, Del (13 April 2016). "A short history of the 'dangerous dog' and why certain breeds are banned - BBC Newsbeat". BBC News. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  7. ^ "The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 - what is it?". Blue Cross.
  8. ^ "Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997". www.legislation.gov.uk.
  9. ^ "The Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991". www.legislation.gov.uk.
  10. ^ a b c d "Dangerous dogs law: Guidance for enforcers (PB13225)". GOV.UK. Defra. 2009.
  11. ^ "Dangerous Dog Offences - The Crown Prosecution Service". cps.gov.uk. Crown Prosecution Service.
  12. ^ "Controlling your dog in public". GOV.UK.
  13. ^ "Types of dogs prohibited in Great Britain : Guidance on the recognition of prohibited dogs in Great Britain" (PDF). Defra. 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 March 2007. Retrieved 7 February 2013. via Internet Archive Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "The Dangerous Dogs (Designated Types) Order 1991 No. 1743". www.legislation.gov.uk.
  15. ^ a b Clarke, Jennifer (11 September 2023). "What is an American XL bully and why are they being banned?". BBC News. Retrieved 9 March 2024.
  16. ^ "American bully XLs: Attack victim named as Ian Price after PM vows to ban the dogs". BBC News. 15 September 2023. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  17. ^ "Dog microchipping law brings fines risk". BBC News. 6 April 2016.
  18. ^ a b c Bennett, Oliver (11 August 2016). "Dangerous Dogs, Briefing Paper number 4348". House of Commons Library – via researchbriefings.parliament.uk. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ "All dogs in England to get free microchips". GOV.UK.
  20. ^ "The Dangerous Dogs Exemption Schemes (England and Wales) Order 2015". www.legislation.gov.uk. 2015.
  21. ^ "Dangerous Dogs consultation, 9th March 2010" (PDF). Defra. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 February 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2020 – via The National Archives.
  22. ^ "Numbers of dogs on the Index of Exempted Dogs". GOV.UK. 27 March 2015.
  23. ^ "Written evidence by Defra to House of Commons EFRA Committee for Controlling dangerous dogs Ninth Report of Session 2017–19, May 2018".
  24. ^ "[Withdrawn] Apply for a Certificate of Exemption to keep an XL Bully dog". GOV.UK. 1 February 2024. Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  25. ^ "Breed Specific Legislation - A Dog's Dinner" (PDF). rspca.org.uk. RSPCA. 2016.
  26. ^ "BVA policy - Dangerous dogs". bva.co.uk.
  27. ^ "Controlling dangerous dogs - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee - House of Commons". publications.parliament.uk. 17 October 2018.
  28. ^ a b "Dangerous Dogs Act: Staffordshire Bull Terriers - Hansard". hansard.parliament.uk. 16 July 2018.
  29. ^ Whipple, Tom (22 February 2024). "RSPCA's own insurance refuses cover for fighting dogs it defends". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  30. ^ "Why is the RSPCA defending the American Bully dog?". The Spectator. 28 August 2023. Retrieved 22 February 2024.
  31. ^ "Justice for dog owner after fatal attack". Basingstoke Gazette. 24 March 2018.
  32. ^ Graham, Hannah (22 July 2019). "'I needed surgery after dog attack but police didn't want to know'". ChronicleLive.
  33. ^ Schmidt, William E. (29 May 1991). "London Journal; Bad Dogs and Englishmen, What's to Be Done?". The New York Times.
  34. ^ "Is the Dangerous Dogs Act dangerously out of control?". www.bcu.ac.uk. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  35. ^ "Dog control laws and pit bulls". BBC News. 11 September 2007. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  36. ^ "The Lords is the more democratic house". The Daily Telegraph. London. 13 April 2004. Retrieved 30 April 2010.[dead link]
  37. ^ "fabians.org.uk". Archived from the original on 12 January 2007. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  38. ^ Hollingshead, Iain (5 November 2005). "Whatever happened to dangerous dogs?". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 May 2018.
  39. ^ "Hunting ban tops 'unpopular' poll". BBC News. 1 January 2007. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  40. ^ "LEADING ARTICLE : Love Dempsey, hate pit-bulls". The Independent. 8 September 1995. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  41. ^ "BBC News - UK - Death row dogs". news.bbc.co.uk. 20 November 1998. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  42. ^ "R (on the application of Sandhu) v Isleworth Crown Court - LexisWeb". lexisweb.co.uk. Retrieved 19 May 2018.


External links[edit]

UK Legislation[edit]