One of the most important things you can do as a dog owner is to understand how the law impacts on your rights, and your dog’s too - for example, you will know that microchipping is now compulsory in the UK and a ban will soon be written into law making it illegal to use an electric collar, but what about other laws which could affect your daily routines?
In this article, we'll cover five of the most important dog laws you need to know about - and why.
Dogs in cars: the laws of the road
Q) What laws of the road should dog owners be aware of when it comes to travelling with a dog?
Elizabeth West is an associate at Cohen Cramer Solicitors. She heads up the Four Legs Law team and answered our question:
“It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that dogs are suitably restrained when travelling in a vehicle. Unfortunately, however, this is something many people are unaware of and therefore continue to travel with their dog in a vehicle unrestrained.
“Rule 57 of the Highway code states 'when in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.'
“Whilst breaching the Highway Code is not necessarily an offence in itself, if the Police find you are distracted as a result of travelling with an unsecured dog, or you are involved in an accident as a result, you may be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention, or even dangerous driving.
“Further, an unrestrained dog could in some circumstances invalidate your car insurance meaning if you are involved in an accident you could become personally liable for the costs and expenses associated with this.
“In addition, a dog is much more likely to suffer injury or death if they are not secured in a vehicle, or if inappropriate restraints are used. You are responsible for the welfare of your dog whilst travelling in a vehicle. Therefore, you could also risk being prosecuted under The Animal Welfare Act 2006, for causing unnecessary suffering to your dog.
“It is simple and relatively inexpensive to suitably restrain your dog, so why risk injury to your dog or other people.”
Dog barking laws: when barking becomes a noisy problem
Q) What laws should dog owners be aware of when it comes to noisy dogs and how can they best protect themselves and their dogs from complaints?
Elizabeth West from Cohen Cramer Solicitors’ Four Legs Law team answered our question:
“It is accepted that dogs bark, and it is not illegal for dogs to bark, but when barking becomes a nuisance to others it could be considered a statutory noise nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
“For a matter to be considered a statutory nuisance it must cause a material interference with the comfort and enjoyment of another’s home, which injures health, or is likely to injure health.
“If a complaint is made to the Council, they must investigate. If the council agree that the barking is a statutory nuisance, you may be served with a noise abatement notice. This will require you to stop or reduce the barking. If you do not comply with the abatement notice you could be prosecuted and fined.
“Alternatively, you could be served with a Community Protection Notice (CPN). A warning would need to be issued first ordering you to stop or reduce your dog’s barking. If the barking does not cease or reduce following the warning, a CPN can be issued. The penalty for breaching a CPN could be prosecution and a fine or fixed penalty notice.
“In addition, all persons have a duty to ensure the needs of their dog are met. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that you dog is not barking because their basic needs are not being met. Those needs are; a suitable environment; a suitable diet; to exhibit normal behaviour patterns; to be housed with, or apart from other animals; and to be protected for pain, suffering, injury and disease. Should you fail to ensure the needs of a dog are met, you could be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
“Of course, most dogs who bark will have their basic needs met and could be barking for a number of other reasons, such as separation anxiety. We would always advise people to speak to their neighbours and if appropriate, consult a dog behaviourist or trainer.”
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Dogs and divorce: navigating (and avoiding) custody battles
“Those of us whose parents separated when we were young know how it feels to be caught in the middle of a divorce. Disorientated, frightened, insecure and torn between the two people who have shaped you in your formative years and been a part of every major event in your life.” - Divorce, in a nutshell, summed up by Dogmagazine.net and applicable whether you're a human or an animal.
Q) What is the law when it comes to custody of a pet in the event of a relationship breakdown?
The website Familylaw.co.uk explains the law like this:
“The law in England & Wales is clear. A pet will be treated as an item of personal property such as a piece of furniture, artwork or jewellery.
“Where disputes arise as to who gets to keep the pet, it can simply come down to whose money was used to purchase the pet and who has financially maintained the pet. This will always seem unfair if the other party has spent more time looking after the pet or is better placed to care for the pet going forward. But there is very little, if any, room for manoeuvre in unless the pet was subsequently given as a gift.”
However, in a move which may set a precedent for future cases, in Alaska judges have now been given the power to order joint custody of pets as would be the position with any children of the marriage, so this could prove useful to other couples seeking a resolution in the future.
Dog attacks: what to do if your dog is attacked
Q) What is the legal position if your dog is attacked by another dog in a public place?
Elizabeth West from Cohen Cramer Solicitors’ Four Legs Law team answered our question:
“Dog on dog attacks are often considered to be something of a grey area of law, with every case being fact specific.
“It is a criminal offence, under section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) for a dog to be dangerously out of control. A dog is deemed to be dangerously out of control if there is reasonable apprehension that it will injure a person or an assistance dog, whether or not an injury is caused.
“The police may pursue a case against a dog owner under section 3 DDA where it has attacked another dog, if the owner of the other dog has reasonable apprehension that they could be injured if they tried to stop the dog attacking their animal.
“Alternatively, if a dog is found to be dangerous and not kept under control by its owners, a case could be brought under Section 2, Dogs Act 1871.
"Under Section 2 Dogs Act 1971, civil proceedings are brought in the Magistrates Court. The court can make a destruction order, or a control order with conditions to ensure public safety, and/ or disqualify the owners from keeping the dog.
“Further, the police and/or local authority could issue a Community Protection Notice (CPN) or put controls in place to protect other animals from any further injury. This could be, for example, ensuring the dog is muzzled and on a lead in public places.
“There is, however, no guarantee that the police or local authority will take any action with dog on dog attacks. We would still always recommend dog on dog attacks are logged with the Police and dog warden, which can provide evidence of persistent problem dogs and owners.
“Where dog on dog attacks become a problem in specific areas, local authorities also have the power to introduce Public Space Protection Orders, where dogs are not allowed in certain areas of public land, or where restrictions apply, such as dogs must be kept on a lead.
“In terms of financial losses incurred (usually vet fees), if a dog injures another dog it may be possible to pursue a civil claim for compensation under the Animals Act 1971 and/or common law negligence. This is a civil matter and would be heard in a County Court. It is not possible to claim for a dog’s injury, only the financial losses incurred as a result of those injuries.”
In a separate article on the pros/cons of public liability insurance for dogs (also known as third-party dog insurance), West goes on to say:
"It could be argued that making public liability insurance mandatory does nothing to prevent dog bites/ attacks, and instead only ensures a person can claim their losses, post incident. However, accidents do happen, and even if a successful system can be put in place to reduce dog bites/attacks, they will never be completely eliminated. Having public liability insurance will ensure that losses are recovered, and the hope is that it will promote responsible dog ownership which in turn will reduce incidents."
Dangerous dogs: understanding the Dangerous Dogs Act and how it impacts on dogs of certain sizes
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was amended in 1997 and was introduced after a spate of dog attacks. It is crucial for dog owners to understand the law to protect their dog, particularly if they own larger dog breeds.
Speaking with K9 Magazine previously, Professor John Cooper explained how to us how Section 1 of The Dangerous Dogs Act, 1991 (amended) can affect any dog owner.
"The Act states that four breed types (Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro) are illegal to own breed, sell, gift or allow to stray in the UK.
"It is important to note the word 'type' as this means that any dog that fits most of the characteristics associated with one of the banned breeds can fall within this classification.
"As this determination is done based solely on measurement and proportion, this act can affect any dog owner, as 'type' dogs can be any cross breed or even affect certain pure breeds. Most of the dogs that fall under this classification are 'pit bull types' and the reason it is so widespread is that any Mastiff or Bull Breed cross can end up within this classification, although we have seen many other breeds fall foul to this - one of Born Innocent’s Ambassadors is a Vizla!"
"DEFRA’s guidelines state there are 32 measurements that dogs must conform to 'in the majority' to be classified as a type.
"Hence why this is deemed by canine experts and scientists to be so illogical, as the shape of a dog’s eye has no influence on whether he can bite or not.
"Moreover, even following the DEFRA guideline is very subjective – the words 'majority' and 'significant' leave a lot to interpretation and are not precise enough legally."
Read more about the Dangerous Dogs Act and how to understand the law in full here: https://www.k9magazine.com/the-simplest-way-to-understand-the-dangerous-dogs-act-breed-specific-legislation-in-the-uk/