82.Our evidence indicated that future progress in prevention and early intervention would require new powers. A system of dedicated Dog Control Notices was cited by welfare charities as being a particularly promising alternative to current Community Protection Notices (CPNs).165 CPNs were introduced in 2014 as a general mechanism to tackle anti-social behaviour, allowing authorities to require the recipient to do certain things. Authorities could therefore send owners of nuisance dogs to a training class, for example.166 According to a 2017 BBC survey, however, around 77 percent of councils were failing to use them. Of the 18 police forces that provided information to the survey, only four said they had issued one.167
83.The Communication Workers Union criticised CPNs as being “too complex, cumbersome, unspecific, slow, resource intensive and not often used because of this”.168 Battersea Dogs & Cats Home said the CPN’s threshold for taking action was too high, as the trigger for issuing an initial warning letter required ‘persistent or continuing’ poor behaviour.169 We also heard that there was no national database for recording CPNs, meaning that if an owner moved to a different jurisdiction, the new local authority and police force would be unlikely to be aware of their history.170
84.Dog Control Notices were implemented in Scotland as an early intervention measure, under which a trained council officer would assess the dog and situation, and impose suitable restrictions or requirements on the owner.171 We heard this system was preferable as it had a lower threshold for action, facilitated easier early intervention to address problem behaviours, and would be administered by an officer with appropriate dog control skills.172 Evidence from Scotland suggested however that such new powers would only be effective if accompanied with commensurate resource increases and thorough training for officers.173
85.We asked the Minister whether he would consider introducing Dog Control Notices. He said that he would be interested to see if there were lessons to be learned and promised to look into the matter.174 In a follow-up letter, the Minister stated that CPNs “do the same thing as Dog Control Notices” and that he believed the powers under CPNs were “being used to good effect”.175
86.Community Protection Notices (CPNs) are not delivering the desired results. They are not tailored to tackling dog control, there is no central system for recording an individual’s history, and they are not being used by the majority of local authorities and police forces. We recommend that the Government reviews the use of CPNs across the country, and issues targeted guidance to authorities that are not using them effectively. A centralised system for tracking CPNs must also be developed to ensure authorities have access to an individual’s case history.
87.We urge the Government to introduce specific Dog Control Notices, which would support more targeted early intervention. This must be accompanied by commensurate resource increases to ensure that officers receive the necessary training on dog behaviour.
88.Another form of early intervention involved ‘speed awareness courses for dog owners’. The Kennel Club advocated compulsory attendance on such courses for owners whose dogs had been involved in a low- or mid-level offence. These courses could be geared towards a particular problem, focusing on responsible ownership for lower-level offences, and on dog training or dealing with aggression for more serious issues.176 Deputy Chief Constable Pritchard also supported introducing such restorative schemes, saying that “we should mandate it. We do it for other types of offence; we could do it for this”.177 There is limited provision for such a scheme under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, though it is unclear whether this Act is being used to such effect, and whether it provides for a tiered range of formal, targeted courses.178
89.The Government should introduce regulations requiring dog owners involved in low- to mid-level offences to attend a compulsory dog awareness and training course, similar to speed awareness courses for drivers.
90.Dog control is covered by many pieces of legislation, some dating back almost 150 years.179 Blue Cross said that the patchwork of laws caused confusion among enforcers over their responsibilities and powers, and uncertainty among owners about their liabilities.180 We heard that this lack of clarity was hampering efforts to improve dog control. For example, many local authorities reportedly advise dog owners that the police are the correct point of contact, while police advise the opposite.181
91.Defra told us it had issued guidance to enforcement bodies regarding their respective roles.182 Mark Berry, Chair of the National Animal Companion Forum, noted however that some enforcement staff remained unclear on their powers and that consolidating legislation would bring clarity to both dog owners and enforcers.183 The LGA said that whilst the various pieces of legislation provided useful tools,184 the disparate laws should be consolidated into a single Act “fit for modern day purposes” which would “also support more strategic and future-proofed approach”.185
92.The current patchwork of dog control legislation is causing unnecessary confusion amongst enforcement bodies and dog owners. The Government should consolidate the disparate pieces of legislation into a single coherent Dog Control Act. We expect proposals for this Act to be introduced following the conclusion of the Government review we have called for.
93.Across the evidence on all of the foregoing points in this Report, we consistently heard that the Government should explore models operated abroad so that it could benefit from lessons learned when developing and implementing improvements.186 The RSPCA pointed out that other places across the world had achieved substantial reductions in bite incidences by channelling resources into targeted prevention and responsible ownership strategies rather than focusing on Breed Specific Legislation.187 The ‘Calgary model’ for example was widely cited as an effective approach which had achieved substantial bite reductions.188 This focused on widespread education programmes targeting owners and schoolchildren, community-level working to encourage responsible ownership, ensuring a high number of dog registrations, and enforcing strict penalties for owners of dogs involved in attacks.189
94.Other stakeholders highlighted the risks posed by some non-banned breeds and noted the possibility of a framework that replaced BSL with precautionary conditions of ownership.190 This could involve requiring certain breeds/types to be registered and behaviourally assessed, and making prospective owners attend a training course. Similar schemes are operated in France and Austria.191
95.We asked the police and Defra whether they had explored alternative dog control models operated abroad. The police told us that “there are plenty of examples across the world, although we have not looked at them in detail”, and that they would support Defra-led research on alternative risk-management approaches.192 During our evidence session with Defra officials, however, we were told that “you could look at evidence from the Netherlands and say, ‘Look at what they are doing or what we are doing’. What we need to look at is what is happening in our country”.193 We were concerned that this attitude suggested a lack of interest in learning lessons from elsewhere. Indeed, the witnesses’ responses to our questions indicated their awareness of alternative approaches was based largely on evidence submitted recently to our inquiry, rather than any initiatives undertaken by Defra itself.194 Lord Gardiner assured us that he “would be interested in seeing what other countries have done and what the results of that have been”.195
96.We were concerned at Defra’s apparent lack of interest in learning from experiences abroad. Whilst the Government obviously should not ‘copy and paste’ initiatives from other countries, it is important to investigate successful programmes elsewhere to ensure the UK’s future strategy benefits from a wide variety of evidence and lessons learned. In line with Lord Gardiner’s support for learning lessons from abroad, the Department should engage with foreign governments, local authorities and police forces to develop a deeper understanding of different dog control models and successful approaches that could be used in the UK.
166 Defra, Guidance on Dog Control and Welfare for Police and Local Authorities, January 2018
167 BBC, Dog attack powers ‘not being used’, 24 July 2017
179 See for example Dogs Act 1871
186 See for example Q80
188 See for example RSPCA (DDL0229) para 34, Blue Cross (DDL0264) p.5, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (DDL0257) p.6
Published: 17 October 2018