Breed specific legislation
Breed Specific Legislation was introduced in 1991 as part of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. It restricts the ownership of certain types of dogs deemed to be dangerous to people.
Dogs banned under the law
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) bans the ownership of four different types of dogs including some traditionally bred for fighting:
- Pit bull terrier
- Japanese Tosa
- Dogo Argentino
- Fila Braziliero
What happens to banned types?
Dogs suspected of being a banned type are typically seized by the police who unfortunately have no choice but to implement the law.
These dogs will be held in kennels away from their owner, whilst being assessed to determine if they’re a banned type. They’ll be examined by an expert using a set of standards which are mainly based on appearance; genetics or parentage aren’t taken into consideration. Applying the law means that many dogs are unnecessarily subjected to stressful processes. Many dogs find these processes very difficult to cope with and can result in undesirable changes in health and behaviour.
Some dogs can return home under strict conditions
Banned types who are owned can be lawfully kept and exempt from euthanasia if they don't pose any risk to public safety and the owner is considered fit and proper. However, conditions must be met for the rest of the dog's life which can negatively impact its welfare. For example, being muzzled and on-lead whenever in public.
Sadly, not all dogs get to return home to their owners.
Banned types can’t be rehomed
Dogs taken into rehoming organisations and found to be of a prohibited type cannot legally be rehomed to members of the general public and so the only option is euthanasia.
Since 2016, we’ve had to euthanise over 374 dogs because of how they look and despite many having the potential to make great family pets.
Why the Dangerous Dogs Act doesn’t work
There's no robust research to demonstrate that these breeds or types are any more aggressive than other dogs.
Aggressive behaviour can be influenced by factors such as how they’re bred, reared and experiences throughout their life. Breed isn’t a good way to predict risk of aggression.
Dog bites numbers continue to rise
Despite the legislation, dog bites in the UK continue to increase. BSL not only fails to protect public safety but has also resulted in the suffering and loss of hundreds of dogs. They’re labelled 'dangerous' simply because of how they look.
Between 1989 and 2017, 48 people died in dog-related incidents. Of the 62 dogs involved, 53 were dog breeds not on the prohibited list.
A better approach than BSL
What we think the right approach is and how other countries have tackled BSL.
We believe that a three-pronged approach is needed to better protect public safety:
- Effective legislation and enforcement to tackle dog-related issues regardless of breed or type and based on their behaviour
- Interventions including education that focus on safe behaviour around dogs
- A better understanding of why dogs bite
Other countries have already proven effective alternatives
Ways to effectively protect public safety have been explored in other countries and it’s clear that much of the focus is on encouraging responsible dog ownership and education.
BSL has been reviewed in many countries worldwide and the trend is to repeal this type of legislation. This has been achieved in the Netherlands, Italy and Lower Saxony, Germany as well as many US administrations.
While the law exists, we want to see new measures to improve the welfare of affected dogs. This includes: speeding up the review of cases allowing the rehoming of prohibited types of dog by rescues improving the welfare of seized dogs through the application of our guide on this issue.
Find out more about our proposed solutions and recommendations in our detailed report: Breed Specific Legislation: A dog's dinner.
Exempt dogs from euthanasia restrictions
Exempt dogs are forced to live a very restricted life despite no danger to the public.
In 1997, the law was amended to allow exemptions from euthanasia for any dog that had been identified as type.
The courts are now permitted to allow for the exemption of such a dog which has been identified as type, if, in their opinion, they don’t pose a danger to public safety and are kept by a fit and proper person.
This is done through the use of a Contingent Destruction Order which sets out the following conditions. The dog must be:
- permanently identified with microchip
- muzzled and kept on a lead when in a public place
- kept securely at home (i.e ensure gardens are secure)
- registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs and a certificate issued to the owner
- the dog cannot be taken out in public by anyone under 16 years of age
- the owner must take out (and renew annually) third-party insurance for their dog
This means that despite a court ruling that the dog is no threat to public safety, its freedom is only conditional. A dog under exemption may not be put to sleep, but it will have to live by strict rules as if it were a dangerous dog, despite being proven not to be.
Changing ownership restrictions
There are also very severe restrictions on changing keepership. This is only possible if the current owner dies or is seriously ill which means that many owners are faced with euthanasing their pet if their circumstances change e.g. they have to spend a period of time away for work.
Help us end the BSL law
We want to see Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act repealed and policy changed. Email your MP to get the law reversed and policy changed. Change the lives for thousands of dogs.