All About The Dangerous Dogs Act

The Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) is an act of Parliament that came into force in the UK in 1991 (with amendments made in 1997) which regulates or prohibits the ownership of certain breeds and types of dogs within the UK.

The reasons behind the Dangerous Dogs Act

The Dangerous Dogs Act became law in the UK as a response to a growing number of incidents involving serious injury and even death as a result of attacks by dogs, often involving children. High profile coverage by the media of these attacks and increasing public concern led to the issue of aggressive and badly controlled dogs being highlighted, and the subsequent government response. The development of the DDA which eventually passed into law considered that certain breeds and types of dogs were significantly more likely to have aggressive tendencies or attack people than other breeds, and that being attacked by these particular breeds and types of dogs was significantly more likely to cause serious injury or death due to the nature of the dogs and their ability to inflict serious damage. The perceived desirability of certain types of dogs for various illegal and immoral activities such as dog fighting led to a significant number of dogs of certain breeds and types being kept and deliberately trained to be aggressive prior to the act coming into force. The act is currently in place in law in England, Wales and Scotland, with Northern Ireland being covered in law by the Dangerous Dogs Order, which is similar in its remit and content.

Dogs affected

As a result of the Dangerous Dogs Act passing into law, it is now illegal to own, sell or breed any of the dogs covered by the act without a court exemption. While the act defines dogs by their type rather than their breed (more on this later) the act specifically indicates four breeds of dog which are labelled as 'specially controlled dogs' and are as a general rule illegal to own, breed or sell within the UK. These dogs are :

  • The Pit Bull Terrier
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Fila Brasiliero

The act also covers cross breeds and mixed breeds with ancestry from the above four mentioned dog breeds, and also those having significant physical characteristics or traits of the breeds in question.


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Breed or type?

The dangerous Dogs Act judges dogs according to their 'type' rather than their specific breed- so while any of the four breeds mentioned above and dogs with ancestry from any of the four are automatically covered, this does not exempt some other types of dogs from falling under the remit of the legislation also. The 'type' of dog in relation to the law depends on a variety of factors including its temperament, physical traits, ancestry and history. It is up to the courts to decide the inclusion or exclusion of any particular dog from coverage by the act, and every dog is judged individually on a case by case basis.

Exemptions to the Act

When the act came into law in 1991, all dogs which were currently owned in the UK and covered by the act had to be added to an index of specially controlled dogs and exempted dogs, managed by the animal welfare department of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). From 1992 onwards, no further additions were permitted to the index in order to halt the breeding of dogs covered by the act and eventually reduce the number of dogs of this type kept in the UK. The Dangerous Dogs Act amendment made in 1997 added a caveat that in individual cases, a specific dog may be added to the index by issue of a Court Order at the discretion of the court in question. All dogs currently listed on the index or considered legally as specially controlled dogs must be neutered, microchipped and tattooed with an identification number, registered on the index, insured and closely controlled. Dogs identified as falling under the remit of the act and not placed on the index of exempted dogs will be issued with a destruction order, and humanely put to sleep.

What the Dangerous Dogs Act means for you

The letter and spirit of the Dangerous Dogs Act is all about reducing and removing potentially dangerous and aggressive dogs from ownership and popularity within the UK, and so you should of course not seek to own any breed of dog covered by the act or which may have traits of the types of dogs which the act seeks to control. Ownership of a potentially dangerous dog may result in the removal and destruction of your dog, and potential prosecution for you- as well as the potential for the dog to cause injury or harm to another person. If you are found to own a prohibited breed or type of dog or there is some question as to whether your dog is one of the ones covered by the act, then the keepers of the index of exempted dogs will contact you in order to gain some more information from you and decide whether your dog should be placed on the register of exempted dogs. This may happen only after the courts have issued you with a contingency destruction order, and there is of course no guarantee that the courts will decide in your dog's favour. DNA testing, expert assessment and extensive interviewing may all be required to decide upon the appropriate outcome, which can of course be a very worrying time for the owner of any dog, with the shadow of possible legally enforced removal and euthanasia of the dog at the end of it. Significant controversy still surrounds the very existence of the Dangerous Dogs Act itself, the 'nature versus nurture' debate, and the extent of the law's positive effectiveness. Regardless of your personal feelings, however, the law 'is what it is' and of course like all dog owners, you are required to comply with it. Don't be tempted to take risks when looking for a new dog or puppy- stay legal, and stay safe.


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