It barks at no one else but me, like it’s seen a ghost…

What does the law say about dangerous dogs such as these?

Over the past few days a story has been developing relating to an unpleasant dog attack that happened last Saturday at a park in Chingford, north-east London. A six year old girl suffered severe injuries during the incident and police appealed for the dog’s owner to come forward. Yesterday he handed himself in and today he has been charged with an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

In this post I’ll look at what the law says about dogs and the sort of offences police can consider to deal with dangerous animals.

The most common offence we use relating to dangerous dogs as in this example comes from S. 3 of the above Act. It states that a person can be prosecuted if they allow their dog to be ‘dangerously out of control in a public place’.

By ‘dangerously out of control’, the law means that the dog either injures someone or acts in such a way as to make other people worry that it may do so. By ‘public place’, the law means either anywhere where the general public have access or somewhere where the dog is not meant to be.

This means that if your dog is acting in a dangerous manner – jumping up at other people, aggressively barking and snarling etc – you may be liable if it injures anyone or if people feel threatened that they may be injured whilst it is out of your control.

The other key offence that the Act introduced relates to the keeping of fighting dogs – specifically the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro. These dogs are defined in relation to their characteristics and can not be lawfully kept, bred, sold or abandoned.

Other than the offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act, if it can be shown that someone deliberately used their dog to attack someone – by setting it on them for example – then they are liable to be charged with a serious assault and so to suffer the higher penalties that come with it.

Dog attacks are not uncommon and whilst most are not as serious as the case in Chingford, they should still serve as a valuable reminder to keep proper control of your dog when out in public.

As for what action we’re likely to take on arrival to a reported dangerous dog, the first thing we’ll probably do is to nervously call over the radio “Er… have we got a dog unit nearby?” so that someone trained in safely handling dogs can come over and bring the beast back under control. We’ll then establish the exact circumstances to decide whether we have any offences and if so, how best to deal with them.

You can find further information on dangerous dogs over at the Defra website including some interesting facts on how many postmen get their ankles bitten by dogs each year. You may be surprised!

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