Controlling dangerous dogs Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Current approach to dog control

1.We were concerned to hear that the Government considered the Dangerous Dogs Act to be successful on the grounds that it was impossible to tell how many attacks would have occurred without the law. This is not convincing. Children and adults are suffering catastrophic injuries. The increase in attacks - most of them from legal breeds - clearly indicates that the current approach is failing to protect the public adequately. (Paragraph 22)

2.To ensure the public receives the best possible protection, the Government should commission an independent review of the effectiveness of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and wider dog control legislation. This review should begin no later than January 2019. We expect this review to take account of the concerns and recommendations raised throughout this Report. (Paragraph 23)

Examining Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act

3.We are concerned that Defra’s arguments in favour of maintaining Breed Specific Legislation are not substantiated by robust evidence. It is even more worrying that non-existent evidence appears to have been cited before a Parliamentary Committee in support of current Government policy. This lack of clarity indicates a disturbing disregard for evidence-based policy-making. Defra should commission a comprehensive independent evidence review into the factors behind canine aggression, the determinants of risk, and whether the banned breeds pose an inherently greater threat. We expect to receive regular progress updates on the evidence review, and to be provided with the results no later than Easter 2019. These results must then be used to inform the Government’s future dog control strategy. (Paragraph 34)

4.Defra says it has adopted a risk-based approach, but its justification for maintaining the breed ban in its current form is incoherent. Some legal breeds can pose just as great a risk to public safety as illegal breeds, and yet there are no legislative restrictions on their ownership. This inconsistency undermines the logic of the entire Act. We do not support extending the breed ban, as we do not believe it to be effective. However, if the Government feels the ban is a valuable tool in reducing numbers of dangerous dogs, it must clarify why other dogs which can be just as dangerous should not be prohibited. We recommend that such a statement be provided in the response to this Report. (Paragraph 39)

5.The prohibition on transferring Section 1 dogs has resulted in the unnecessary destruction of good-tempered dogs that could have been safely re-homed. Defra’s position is both illogical and inherently unfair. Whether a dog is euthanised or not can depend entirely on whether it ‘looks like’ a Pit Bull Terrier. It is unnecessarily cruel to forbid good-tempered dogs from being transferred to responsible owners willing to comply with the stringent provisions attached to keeping a Section 1 dog. (Paragraph 49)

6.We do not accept Defra’s position that the destruction of dogs without owners is a necessary part of reducing risk. The Department told us that no dog on the Index of Exempted Dogs has been involved in an attack. This is a 100 percent success record. We are not clear why these conditions would become ineffective if extended to dogs in re-homing centres. (Paragraph 50)

7.To avoid imposing an unnecessary death sentence on good-tempered animals, the Government should remove the ban on transferring Section 1 dogs to new owners. This should be accompanied by adequate regulation of animal centres and appropriate safeguards to ensure the re-homing of Section 1 dogs is conducted responsibly and safely. (Paragraph 51)

A different approach - education and enforcement

8.Young children are at most risk of dog attacks, and many suffer horrific injuries. Better childhood education on staying safe around dogs is needed to reduce the high number of avoidable incidents. A consistent approach is needed across the country to avoid the current postcode lottery of intervention. Defra should commission a childhood education plan from experts and charities to determine the most effective education measures and how these could be implemented consistently across the country. The Department should then support the roll-out of this plan. (Paragraph 57)

9.Greater awareness of responsible ownership and dog behaviour would reduce attack incidents. It would also help alleviate the financial burden on the health services and enforcement agencies that have to deal with the consequences of attacks. Defra should introduce a targeted awareness campaign to inform dog owners and the general public about responsible ownership and safe interactions. Defra should further develop proposals to help local enforcement bodies increase engagement among hard to reach demographics. This should involve a thorough assessment of the merits of mandatory third party liability insurance and training classes for dog owners. (Paragraph 63)

10.It is important that any efforts to encourage attendance at educational training courses are not undermined by bad practices in the private industry. As part of the review we have called for, the Government should investigate the impact of poor dog training practices in the private industry, and the merits of stricter regulations to ensure all trainers are properly accredited according to a standardised framework. (Paragraph 64)

11.Whilst we appreciate the challenging financial landscape, it is clear that more support is needed for local-level collaboration. We are also concerned that joint working is overly reliant on the dedication of individual officers and enforcement bodies. The Government should commit more resources to supporting collaborative dog control initiatives, and facilitate the upscaling of successful pilot projects across the country. Initially it would seem sensible to concentrate resources in areas with the highest rates of dog attacks. (Paragraph 71)

12.Better data is needed to support bite prevention strategies. Defra should engage with the relevant Departments, local authorities and police forces to ensure local staff record all incidents appropriately. We further recommend that the Government introduces a centralised database to record information on dog bites, level of severity, and the circumstances of the incident. This is key to improving understanding of the most effective ways to protect the public. (Paragraph 72)

13.Prolonged kennelling, lengthy court processing times and inconsistent sentencing are not conducive to effective dog control. Defra should work with the Home Office and Ministry of Justice to develop proposals for speeding up Section 1 case processing times. This could involve encouraging framework agreements between local courts and enforcement bodies to ensure cases are heard within pre-agreed timescales. The Government should also review the use of the Interim Exemption Scheme across the country and issue targeted guidance to forces that are not employing it consistently. We further recommend that Defra engages with the Ministry of Justice to ensure sentencing guidelines are being properly observed and that consistently robust sanctions are being applied across the country. (Paragraph 77)

14.Defra should work closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to support closer collaboration across rural police forces, and encourage robust action to be taken against the owners of dogs involved in livestock worrying. (Paragraph 81)

A different approach - changing legislation and learning lessons from abroad

15.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. (Paragraph 86)

16.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. (Paragraph 87)

17.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. (Paragraph 89)

18.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. (Paragraph 92)

19.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. (Paragraph 96)

Published: 17 October 2018