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Dogs and The Law: What You Need to Know

dogs and the lawThere are nearly nine million dogs in the UK. It’s reckoned that about a quarter of households here have at least one dog. Currently there are more than 20 pieces of legislation that apply to dog ownership in Britain. How much do you know?

When it comes to dogs and the law, the fact is we have responsibilities. For a start we have a legal duty to provide for our pets’ welfare needs, but it doesn’t end there.

Dogs and the law: Animal Welfare

For example, the Animal Welfare Act 2006, section 9 lays down legal rights for all domestic animals.  This law stipulates that our pets have rights to:

  • Live in an environment that is considered suitable
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • Be housed with, or apart from, other animals
  • Be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

These rights are often referred to as the ‘five freedoms’. If they are not met and our animals become sick, hurt, upset or stressed, dog owners risk prosecution for causing suffering to any animal they have taken in and for whom they have a responsibility to care.

We face being taken to court if we don’t look after our pets properly. Prison sentences can be for up to six months, and fines can reach as high as £20,000. We may also have our pets taken away, or we face being banned from having pets in the future.

In addition, the Animal Welfare Act 2006, section 4, states that animal cruelty is a criminal offence. Anyone who allows a dog to suffer unnecessarily runs the risk of prison for six months, a ban on keeping animals and a £20,000 fine.

Dogs and the law: Dog walking

There are relatively few regulations specifically aimed at dog walkers, but businesses like Cats, Dogs & Peace of Mind that provide a professional service have to be covered by public liability insurance.

However, unlike CDPOM, according to a recent report from insurance company Insurantz.com, there are still dog walkers offering to care for people’s dogs who are not adequately covered by insurance.

Our code of practice not only ensures the business has insurance, but also all our carers have been screened with criminal record checks and are covered for holding keys. We have local authority licences where required.

The rules of which we dog owners and walkers need to be aware include:

  • The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. This stipulates that dog owners could be fined up to £1,000 if they fail to pick up after your dog, don’t keep a dog on a lead or put it on the lead when told to do so, or allow a dog to enter land from which dogs are barred.
  • The Control of Dogs Order 1992. It’s the law that all dogs in public places have to wear a collar displaying the owner’s name and address.
  • The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. No dog should be ‘dangerously out of control’ in any public place. Indeed, something as simple as a dog chasing, jumping up, or barking at a person or child can lead to complaints.
  • The Road Traffic Act 1988.It is against the law for a dog to be off lead at any time when walking along a road. This legislation also says that a driver must stop and give their details to you, if the dog you are walking is injured in a car accident.
  • Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.Dogs are not allowed to worry livestock on farmland. Farmers have the right to stop this happening – even if it  means shooting the dog!
  • Dogs Act 1871.This law makes it an offence for a dog to be dangerous and not kept under proper control. This generally means it should at least be on a lead and has been applied when an incident happens.

Dogs and the law: Tail docking

Under the Docking of Working Dogs Tails (England) Regulations 2007, and Docking of Working Dogs Tails (Wales) Regulations 2007, it’s illegal for a pet dog’s tail to be docked, in part or as a whole.

The only exemptions are if removal is required for medical reasons, and with certain breed types, if the dog is to be used as a working dog. In this latter case the puppy’s tail has to be docked when it is less than five days old.

Find out more

If you want to know more about dogs and the law there is a plain language Practical Guide to Dog Law for Owners and Others written by Andrea Pitt, a dog-loving barrister, judge and Legally Qualified Chair for Police Misconduct Hearings.

When Andrea bought her own border terrier, Jasper, she found that dog ownership included areas of the law that people were unsure of their responsibilities as well as their rights.

As well as animal welfare issues Andrea’s book covers:

  • Ownership, what are chattels, and the meaning of ‘being in charge’
  • Contracts for buying and selling dogs including contractual terms and ways of remedying broken contracts
  • Ownership responsibilities including microchipping, tattooing, ID tags, stray dogs and the responsibilities and powers of public authorities
  • Tips on what to do if there is an incident, including defences and potential outcomes
  • What is meant by dangerous dogs
  • Handling and making civil complaints
  • Tackling irresponsible owners
  • The legal context of dog waste
  • Persistent barking
  • Injuries in the home
  • Dogs escaping
  • Other road users


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