Dogs and the law

Dogs and the law

In the UK, there are a number of laws relating to the breeding, sale and keeping of dogs. As a new dog owner it’s a good idea to make sure you know what these laws are. Here’s our guide to dogs and the law. 

Dog breeding and sale laws

If you are thinking of buying or adopting a dog, there are a few laws that you need to be aware of. These cover: 

  • Dog breeding
  • Puppy sales
  • Prohibited breeds

Dog breeding law

If you are buying a puppy from a dog breeder, chances are they will need to be licensed. It’s a good idea to ask to see a copy of the licence to give you peace of mind that a breeder you are thinking of buying a puppy from is meeting the welfare standards for dogs as required by law.

This is covered by the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 in Wales and Scotland. It requires a breeder to be licensed if they produce more than five litters a year. 

In England, the relevant legislation is The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018. Anyone who breeds three or more litters and sells at least one puppy in a 12 month period requires a licence.

Selling puppies law

Have you heard of Lucy’s Law? Puppy farming has become a huge problem in the UK and many people have bought puppies that have fallen sick or died. There has been a rise in puppies being imported from puppy farms in other countries in recent years and sold through pet shops or online. 

Lucy’s Law, which comes into force on 6 April 2020, is designed to clamp down on puppy farmers. It means that puppies under the age of six months can only be sold by a breeder or an animal rehoming centre

Lucy’s Law will only apply in England but it is expected that other UK countries will follow suit. 

Prohibited dog breeds

In the UK, it’s against the law to own certain types of dog. These are the:

  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Fila Brasileiro

It’s also against the law to sell, abandon, give away or breed from a prohibited breed. This is covered by the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. 

Several animal welfare organisations have been campaigning for the Dangerous Dogs Act to be repealed. This is because no research has shown that these breeds of dogs are any more aggressive than other dogs. 

Dog ownership laws

There are several laws that you should be aware of as a dog owner. These cover: 

  • The welfare of dogs
  • Dog identification
  • Dog fouling
  • Control of dogs
  • Dogs in public places
  • Transporting dogs
  • Attacks on livestock

Welfare of dogs

This is covered in England and Wales under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Welfare of Animals (NI) Act 2011. These laws set out the five welfare needs of  animals and your obligations as a dog owner to meet them. These needs are: 

  • need for a suitable environment
  • need for a suitable diet
  • need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals
  • need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

Codes of Practice for the welfare of dogs have been drawn up for England, Wales and Scotland

Dog Identification

Dog Collars & tag

Under the Control of Dogs Order 1992, all dogs in England, Scotland and Wales must wear a collar and identity tag in a public place. This is in addition to a microchip. The tag must show the owner’s name and address. Fines of up to £5000 can be imposed. 

The same applies in Northern Ireland, although the legislation is different. This is covered by the Dogs (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

Microchipping

Throughout the UK, all dogs must be fitted with a microchip by the time they are eight weeks old. You can be fined up to £500 if your dog is not microchipped. 

When you buy or adopt a dog, you will need to make sure that your dog’s microchip details are updated so that you are the registered owner. You dog needs to be registered on one of the following databases (they all meet government standards):

You are responsible for keeping your dog’s microchip information up to date, for example if you move house. You will need to contact the database company your dog is registered with to update any of your details. There may be a charge for updating your dog’s microchip information. 

Even with a microchip, when in a public place your dog must still wear a collar and tag containing your name and address 

In Northern Ireland, dog owners are also required to have a dog licence, which costs £12.50 per year.

Dog fouling law

The law states that a person in charge of a dog must clean up after it when it poos in a public place. The bottom line is to always go out prepared with plenty of poo bags so you don’t get caught short. 

Dog barking law

The nature of dogs means that they will bark from time to time, for example, to alert your attention to someone at the door or when playing. However, by law you must ensure that the barking is not occurring unreasonably.  This includes barking for prolonged periods, frequent excessive barking and barking at unreasonable hours, e.g. early morning or late at night. One of the signs that a dog has separation anxiety is excessive barking when left alone at home. Often, the first time a dog owner is aware that there is a problem is when they are contacted by the local authority after a complaint has been made. 

Dog control laws

Control of dogs in public

Throughout the UK, under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, it’s against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control anywhere, such as:

  • in a public place
  • in a private place, for example a neighbour’s house or garden
  • in the owner’s home

Your dog is considered dangerously out of control if it:

  • injures someone
  • makes someone worried that it might injure them

The offence is committed by the owner and, if different, the person in charge of the dog at the time.

Control of dogs in public (Scotland)

In addition to the above, but only in Scotland, the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 introduced the ‘Dog Control Notice’ (DCN) which can be imposed on the dog’s owner, or the person in charge of a dog if a person has failed to keep the dog under control.  A DCN can place conditions on an owner to keep the dog under control to ensure the safety of other people and animals by preventing further incidents. Typical measures include keeping the dog on a lead in public, muzzling the dog in public, attending suitable dog training courses. 

Dogs in public places

Some public areas in England and Wales are covered by Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs), where dogs are not allowed. A sign will be put up to identify an area as being covered by a PSPO and what the conditions are. These may include: 

  • keeping your dog on a lead
  • putting your dog on a lead if told to by a police officer, police community support officer or someone from the council
  • stopping your dog going to certain places – like farmland or parts of a park
  • limiting the number of dogs you have with you (this applies to professional dog walkers too)
  • carrying a poop scoop and disposable bags

Similar laws apply in Scotland. Whilst PSPOs do not apply to Northern Ireland, local authorities there can make comparable ‘dog control orders’ using powers granted by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

Transporting dogs

The Highway Code states that dogs must be suitably restrained in a car so they cannot distract you while you are driving, or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly. You could be fined up to £2,500 for driving without due care and attention for failing to do so. 

Leaving a dog alone in a car on a hot day could be considered an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Welfare of Animals (NI) Act 2011.

Attacks on Livestock

Throughout the UK, an offence is committed by a dog owner if their dog worries livestock on any agricultural land. 

Legal ownership of dogs

In law, a dog is classed as property, in the same way as a house or a car. It would be a matter for the courts to decide who has ownership, if a decision cannot be reached about ownership of a dog, for example, in the event of a relationship break-up. 

How to report a barking dog, a stray dog, dog fouling, etc

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