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Failing to Control a Dog

Section 3 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, Dangerous Dogs, Dogs Dangerously Out of Control, Dangerous Dogs Causing Injury

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 created 2 offences relating to failing to control a dog. Originally these offences could only be committed if the dog was in a public place. However, the law was changed to include incidents that happen in a private garden or inside the home.

The offences are:

  • Being the owner/person in charge of a dog that is dangerously out of control (the basic offence)
  • Failing to control a dog that is dangerously out of control and causes injury (the aggravated offence)

Both of these offences apply to all breeds or types of dog, not just prohibited dog breeds.

The Basic Offence: Failing to Control a Dog Dangerously Out of Control

  • The basic offence is committed by the owner or the person in charge of a dog that is “dangerously out of control.”
  • A dog is “dangerously out of control” if there is reason to apprehend that the dog will injure a person.
  • For the basic offence, it is not necessary for a person to actually be injured.

This places the responsibility on the person who is in charge of the dog at any time to prevent any risk of harm.

If you are charged with the basic offence of having a dog dangerously out of control, you have a defence if you can show that the dog’s behaviour would not have caused anyone to think that an injury could be caused.

The basic offence is a summary only offence, so it can only be heard in the Magistrates’ Court. However, this means that a conviction for this offence or the sentence passed by the magistrates can be appealed to the Crown Court.

The maximum sentence that the magistrates can impose is 6 months’ imprisonment. The Magistrates’ Sentencing Guidelines show that a prison sentence is unlikely, and that Community Orders or Fines are more often the sentence imposed.

The Aggravated Offence: Failing to Control a Dog that Causes Injury

  • The aggravated offence is committed by the owner or person in charge of a dog that causes injury to any other person
  • If a dog causes injury to another person, by definition that dog was dangerously out of control.

The aggravated offence of a dog dangerously out of control and causing injury is a strict liability offence. This means that you are guilty of the offence if:

  • You own the dog, or
  • You were in charge of the dog; and
  • The dog caused injury to another person

The seriousness of the injury caused is not relevant to whether the offence is made out, and even a red mark caused by the dog is sufficient to establish this offence. However, the injury must be caused directly by the dog.

The only way to successfully defend an allegation of this aggravated offence is to show that someone else had taken charge of the dog at the time, or that the dog did not cause the alleged injury.

The offence of having a dog dangerously out of control and causing in jury is an either way offence. This means that the case can be heard in either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court, depending on the seriousness of the offence.

The maximum sentence is 3 years’ imprisonment, with the Magistrates’ Court now being able to impose sentences of up to 12 months’ custody. The Sentencing Guidelines show that the whole range of sentencing options are available to the court, from prison sentences to Community Orders.

Additional Court Powers: Destruction Orders

If you are convicted of failing to control a dog which acts dangerously, the Court has additional powers that have serious consequences for the “dangerous” dog:

  • For the basic offence, the Magistrates’ Court can make a Destruction Order if appropriate.
  • For the aggravated offence, the Court must make a Destruction Order unless it is satisfied the dog is not a risk to the public

A Destruction Order means that the dog will be seized by the police and put down by a vet.

For an offence where the dog causes injury, the only way to save the dog is if the defendant persuades the Court that the dog is not a danger to the public. If the Court accepts this, it will impose a Contingent Destruction Order. This would require the owner to comply with rules including:

  • Having the dog neutered or spayed, if this will reduce aggressive behaviour
  • Keeping the dog on a lead and muzzled at all times in public
  • Not allowing anyone under 18 to be in charge of the dog
  • Not selling or transferring ownership of the dog

A Destruction Order is part of the sentence passed by the Court. If the Magistrates’ Court initially orders the dog to be put down, the owner can appeal against this decision before the Crown Court. If the Order is made by the Crown Court, it can still be appealed but would only be changed if it was wrong in law or manifestly excessive.

If you have a question about an allegedly dangerous dog, or need advice from a specialist Public Access Barrister about other parts of the Dangerous Dogs Act, contact us to see if we can help.

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Every case is unique, and everybody’s circumstances are different. If you are dealing with any of the offences discussed on this site, and need independent advice or a second opinion, contact us to see if we can help.