UK Dog Law
- Keeper of a dog
- What is meant by strict liability?
- Damage caused
- Excused liability
The keeper of a dog is not always the same person as the owner of a dog. As a Dog Walker, I collect other peoples dogs, transport them to a favoured place and off we go for a walk before I return them home. Whilst I have these dogs in my care, I am the Keeper, it’s me who is in possession of them and they are under my control, I am therefore responsible not just for their health and wellbeing but other people who may come into contact with these dogs also. This includes any offences that may be committed whilst the dogs are in my care. If the keeper of the Dog is under 16 years of age, the parent would be responsible.
Section 7 of (The Damages act)
Subject to subsection (2) below, in this Act “personal injury” includes any disease and any impairment of a person’s physical or mental condition and references to a claim or action for personal injury include references to such a claim or action brought by virtue of the M1Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 and to a claim or action brought by virtue of the M2Fatal Accidents Act 1976.
As you see above, Damage is described as Personal Injury, including disease and any impairment of a person’s physical or mental condition. So that person does not have to be bitten to cause damage, but if any person, for any reason, feels threatened by a dog that isn’t under proper control, e.g. will not recall and is acting aggressively, can sue for damages, Damages here includes damage to the person and damage to inanimate objects, but not to other dogs. You would have to take this up in a Civil Case under The dogs Act section 2 1871, But, it does include Sheep Worrying. The Dogs Act 1953 (protection of Livestock) The difference between livestock and other damage, e.g. damage to a dog, is that with livestock it can also be a criminal offence, Criminal Damage ACT 1971. Strict Liability rules still remain.
Section 2 of (The Animals Act 1971) talks about Damage caused by Animals.
Where damage is caused by an animal which does not belong to a dangerous species, a
keeper of the animal is liable for the damage, except as otherwise provided by this Act, if—
(a)the damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause or which,
if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe; and
(b)the likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics of the
animal which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally so
found except at particular times or in particular circumstances; and
(c)those characteristics were known to that keeper or were at any time known to a person
who at that time had charge of the animal as that keeper’s servant or, where that keeper is
the head of a household, were known to another keeper of the animal who is a member of
that household and under the age of sixteen.
The Animals Act is Civil and applies only to England and Wales, Other legislation is in place for NI and Scotland.
This is a Civil Act so any outcomes to the proceedings will not result in a criminal record. If you lose you will likely incur all the court costs, fines and any compensation.
The Keeper of a dog can be deemed negligent if they don’t take precautions to prevent damage from their dog.
When damage is done, including causing fear, then negligence is present, and does not need proving, no ifs no buts, Guilty until Proven Innocent. This is known as Strict Liability.
Strict liability means that negligence by the owner does not have to be proven and that they are responsible for any damage caused by their dog whatever the circumstances. Strict liability means there is no designation for ‘mens rea’, which is the awareness of criminal conduct, so therefore a person may be guilty even without the knowledge that their act was criminal, or without the intention of committing a crime.
Strict Liability does not depend on whether there is any intention or negligence on the keepers part, if damage is caused you are strictly liable. Where damage is concerned, negligence does not have to be proven.
In the case of mental impairment, a dog doing normal dog things in front of a person who is afraid of dogs is not an offence, as long as it is under control and can be recalled easily.
It is the owners/keepers responsibility to ensure they take all necessary precautions to keep their dog safe and to ensure members of the public are not put into situations that could easily be avoided with the dog. The owner/keeper is responsible for the consequences.
There are exceptions to the Strictly Liable rule:
· If the person who is affected by the damage is deemed to be completely to blame for the damage. E.g. if they were running up, to the dog, waving their arms aggressively, kicking the dog, deliberately taking it over threshold.
· If the person sustaining the damage voluntarily ‘accepted the risk’ e.g., in the case of a dog walker, the person had full knowledge of the dogs behaviour before they accepted the contract and knew there was a chance the dog would bite them or someone else.
· Animals kept on premises or in a structure where the person who sustained the damage was trespassing. This is only an exception if the dog attacks inside the home, The Garden as well as your Car are classed as public places. Recently added in 2014 Anti Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act.
· If a dog is kept on the property as protection, or , if it is kept for guarding purposes, The dog must be under the control of the handler at all times, or correctly tethered, signage would need to be displayed at the entrances, stating, Dogs Loose please do not enter. Only under these circumstances is this an exemption to Strict Liability. See the Guard Dogs Act 1975
Dog signs like, beware of the dog, enter at your own risk, are practically an admission of guilt if anything were to happen to a visitor or the postman who entered your garden or premises quite innocently and gets attacked by a dog(s).
An example of excused Liability could be.
A dog is on the grounds of a car recycling plant during out of hour’s business.
The dog is not aggressive by nature or ever shown anything to suggest otherwise, it has however been placed their as a deterrent to stop theft whilst under full control of a handler.
The gates are clearly signposted warning of a protection / guard dog.
An intruder ignores the sign and climbs the fence entering the premises for a dishonest purpose.
The dog hears the intruder alerting the handler who has the dog on leash and under control, the intruder panics, and trips causing injury to them
The dog has made no physical contact but according to the intruder makes a claim of mental scarring after arrest.
In this case the Intruder has accepted the risk by climbing the fence and illegally made his way onto the property, the dog had a right to be there for the purpose and could be classed as reasonable with the behavior it presented.
Under the 1975 Guard dogs act the legal criteria has been fulfilled, not making the intruder eligible to any financial award for personal injury, loss or damage.
The other clauses relate to Livestock and Horses, if your dog were to kill a sheep that had strayed onto your land would be exempt, that’s if the dog attacked the sheep on its owner’s property.
The dog is only guilty if the sheep is attacked on property where the dog does not have permission to be.
If your dog entered a private field, let’s say it jumped over a fence, and this field had in it a horse(s) if the horse was to hurt or killed your dog the owner of the Horse is not liable. The keeper of the dog would be responsible for any vet costs incurred for the horse due to the incident.
Section 3 of the Dangerous Dog Act 1991 discusses keeping dogs under proper control.
If a dog is dangerously out of control in [F1 any place (whether or not ][F2 any place in England or Wales (whether or not a public place) ]) —
(a)the owner; and
(b)if different, the person for the time being in charge of the dog, is guilty of an offence, or, if the dog while so out of control injures any person[F3 or assistance dog ], an aggravated offence, under this subsection.
This is a Criminal Act. Section 3 also discusses damages caused from a dog being dangerously out of control
Your dog does not have to be of a banned breed type but any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension it will injure any person, (mental impairment) they only have to think they will be hurt and you have committed an offence.
For Reference, the Banned Breeds under Section 1 BSL are the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero
The DDA 1991 Act does not include harming or attacking other dogs. But it has been extended to include attacking assistance dogs, like a guide dog for a blind person,
If my friend came round to see me, and I invite them into my home I must ensure that any dogs in my care are either restrained or in another room or under control. If any visitor invited into my house is bitten or attacked or in fear for their life, even sustaining no wounds prosecuted under the DDA 1991. An aggravated offence if the bite is sustained. Obviously if I shouted, Dog Kill, and it attacked and injured someone. I would be charged with a very serious crime like Malicious wounding and even worse if the person died.
If my friend came round to see me and we sat in the Garden and my dog attacked or bit her this would be acriminal offence under Section 3 of the DDA 1991. My dog biting anyone in my garden is classed as dangerously out of control, and I should take precautions, especially if I know the dog’s behaviour is volatile. It would fall under the DDA 1991 as it is an aggravated offence under section 3 DDA 1991 as amended criminal matter and would more than likely go to criminal court.
However Your garden being classed the same as a public place is a recent addition, 2014. anti Antisocial behaviour crime and policing Act Part 7 Section 106, It does bring into question, a dog playing outside his house, in a fenced garden, and the postman walks through the gate, the dog is happy to see a human, starts jumping up at him and licking his hand at every opportunity. If the postman was genuinely afraid of dogs and genuinely thought he was being attacked, though no damage done, the dog is simply exhibiting normal behaviour. It will be interesting to see, how far they will take it. No president has yet been set in a criminal court.
If I am aware that a dog has bad recall, and have still let him off lead in a public place, without a muzzle, knowing full well he will chase sheep and possibly kill one, or will bound up to other people growling and snarling and that he may injure someone, I, as the keeper of the dog at the time of the incident will be charged.
The owner will also be held accountable, but they will have a defence as they believed me to be a Fit and Proper person, professional dog walker who is qualified enough to know what I am doing, and should be able to prove they were not the person in control of the dog at the time.
Penalties for DDA Section Three offences:
· Up to 6 months imprisonment
· £5000 fine
· A Control Order placed on the dog
· Destruction order placed on the dog
· Disqualification from owning an animal for such a period of time as the court deems fit.
· Up to 14 years imprisonment if a person dies as a result of being injured
· Up to 5 years imprisonment in other cases where a person in injured
· Up to 3 years imprisonment where an assistance dog is injured or killed
· A control Order placed on the dog
· Destruction of the dog
· Disqualification from owning an animal for such a period of time as the court deems fit.
Control orders usually include:
· Muzzling the dog at all times in public places
· Keeping the dog on a lead in public places, (including your car and garden)
· Not allowing the dog to be under the control of a minor
An interesting article I came across by Richard Gladstone (April 2019), (Hastings Observer [online] “Hastings dog owner calls for change in law after pet mauled to death)”
Where another dog brutally attacked and killed their dog. The police came round but advised there was nothing they could do as the DDA only covers attacks on humans.
There are other avenues which the victim could have pursued? such as, Section 2 of the Animals Act 1971 or the Dogs Act 1871. The offender did not have his dog under proper control, his recall was obviously bad and he was off lead in a public place. This could be pursued in Civil Court.
Only Section 2 of the Dogs Act remains and it refers to a dog that is dangerous and not kept under proper control and can result in a control order or destruction of the dog.
A neighbours dog escaped the garden and ran over to the defendant and bit his knee, the defendant was emptying the trash at the time. The neighbours denied liability, and they maintained that the defendant had misinterpreted the Animals Act 1971.
The defendant spent time in hospital as he developed a secondary infection from the bite which was initially a minor word; this caused the defendant to have mental health problems as far as depression. Whilst the neighbours maintained their denial, another two witnesses came forth and advised that the dog had a history of aggression, that they had seen the dog run across the street, jump up at the defendant and the wounds recorded as a dog bite. This was eventually settled out of court for the sum of 36.000.00. (.dogbite Solicitors)[online] (n.d) (30.000 for Lancashire Dog Bite Man told “No Claim!”)