Dog Law & Covid 19

Dog Law: Covid 19 and the implications of breaking the law relating to dogs and dog ownership.

We are now one year on into the Covid 19 pandemic and still not out of the woods yet. We are all aware of the cause and effect it has had on the human population, the mental health issues, poverty, and depression many people have suffered and are still experiencing from as result of this worldwide disease. But have you given thought to what our canine companions have had to deal with likewise, many of the puppies and young adolescent dogs that have been purchased or obtained during this period and also suffering and going to suffer as a result?

There are some owners who have had to wait a considerable some period of time before being able to get the puppy or dog they have so desired. For them unfortunately the puppy arrived at the wrong time in 2020 as the Pandemic took in hold and in March stringent restrictions were put upon us all to prevent the spread of this disease. Then there were those owners who just obtained a puppy to give them a purpose of being, whilst being isolated during this period, as it seemed the right thing to do without giving any forethought about the consequences that this would entail.

Due to the restrictions and on the advice given during the lockdown periods, if owners have complied as instructed to do so then all owners of new puppies and new dogs have not had the opportunity to do the right thing for these dogs and get them integrated and socialised as they should or would have done under normal circumstances.

All interpersonal group training had to stop between humans and their dogs, thus their dogs have no doubt suffered as a direct result. There has been a marked increase in online training, that cannot be denied, but that training does not and will never replace the social interaction all dogs need and require to be socially acceptable dogs within our communities.

As a direct result of this lack of ability to integrate our puppies and dogs, this is now become very evident in the reported increases in dog related problems that owners are now experiencing with their canine pets. By missing that most critical learning period of a puppy’s life there appears to be more and more related displayed aggression incidents coming to the fore. I as a trainer and clinical canine behaviourist and expert witness in dog law related matters am being called upon even more so now, then I have ever been to try to help owners deal with these issues.

Owners are in despair because those puppies have now grown and have not had the opportunity to get the life experience and training opportunities, they should have had during their growing periods thus far. There are now more and more reported cases of displayed dog aggression incidents either towards other dogs / animals and humans alike.

So, when it comes to the legalities of dog ownership and Dog law more owners are going to and are now finding themselves having to deal with the consequences of not having been able to train their dogs as they should or would have done so if we had not found ourselves in this predicament due to this outbreak.

More and more offences are being committed by the dogs and owners alike, some through ignorance of the law relating to dogs, and others not being responsible enough by taking proper control of their dogs, thus by not having their dogs under proper control several offences can be and are being committed under several sections of Dog Law. Under Section 2 Dogs Act 1871 Civil proceedings can be taken against the owner of a dog that is dangerous and not kept under proper control. The dangerousness alleged can be towards people or animals and the legislation applies to incidents in both public and private places.

As such owners could find themselves committing an offence without even realising that they are doing so, or should I say by allowing their dogs to be so out of control it could lead you in front of a Civil magistrate’s court hearing.

Section 2 of The Dogs Act 1871, states if your dog is not under proper control and deemed to be dangerous it could result in a control order being placed on you and your dog (with or without conditions being attached) or even having your dog destroyed by order of the courts. As the Dogs Act is dealt with as a civil complaint and as such it can be brought by anyone before the courts.

This could then get even worse for the dogs and its owners should the matter escalate to a criminal offence, as an offence under Section 3 of The Dangerous dogs Act 1991 could be committed as this law states as an owner, or a person in charge of the dog, and it commits an offence if the dog causes reasonable apprehension to a person that they will be injured, whether or not the person is actually injured. No criminal intent or recklessness is required for liability to arise and a person can therefore be guilty of an offence even if your dog is on a lead and has never behaved in that manner before.

Where no injury is actually caused the matter may only be dealt with in a magistrates’ court and the maximum penalty is 6 months imprisonment and / or a fine of £5,000. The court will have the power to order that the dog be destroyed or kept under proper control and they may specify the measures for keeping your dog under control, (keeping your dog on a short lead in public, having the dog muzzled etc.,) the court can also disqualify you from keeping dogs and order you to pay compensation to the victim.

If your dog should injury somebody, or an assistance dog (e.g., a guide dog) then a more serious ‘AGGRAVATED’ offence is committed. The injury does not have to be a full-on bite, it can be a scratch or bruise and that would make it ‘aggravated’. If it were an aggravated offence, then this can be dealt with in either the magistrates court or go up to the Crown Courts and the maximum penalties are now:

  • Injury to an assistance dog – 3 years imprisonment.
  • Injury to a person – 5 years imprisonment.
  • Death to a person – 14 years imprisonment

Where an ‘aggravated’ offence is committed the court MUST order that the dog be destroyed unless it is satisfied that you are a suitable owner and a fit and proper person to own a dog, that the dog does not pose a risk to the public. This is when you would need to consider expert evidence from a suitably qualified canine behaviourist.

So, by allowing your dog to run up to other dogs and or people and it then acts or reacts in an aggressive manner, or if you are not able to recall your dog away then technically you have demonstrated that you do not have proper control over your dog.

I often see many dogs out in public (which under the dog law legislation) who do not have a collar with a tag attached to the collar, this likewise is a criminal offence by law a dog must wear a collar with a tag attached- it must bear its owner’s name and address. You could be fined up to £2,000 if you don not comply (there a few exceptions to working dogs when being worked not having to wear a collar at the time of doing so). Many owners who put harnesses on their dogs think that because the dog has a harness on (some with tags attached many with not) and that the dog is (should) microchipped, then they do not see the necessity for their dog to wear a collar when in public. How wrong they are. The legislation can be found under the Control of Dogs Order 1992.

By Colin Spender BA Hons,
CFBA member
Canine & Feline behaviour Association

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