Is the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) fit for purpose?

Is the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) fit for purpose?

This year, the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) turns 25 years old, and some of the UK’s current dog owners were not even born when the legislation came into play, and so, will have no frame of reference for the changes that the Act has brought to the UK.

However, the Dangerous Dogs Act is one of the most controversial Acts ever to have been brought in by parliament, and the 25 year anniversary of the Act has once again placed the DDA firmly in the spotlight, re-awakening a debate that never really went away about the scope of the Act, and its effectiveness.

So, reviewing the Dangerous Dogs Act after 25 years, is the Act really fit for purpose in the modern world, or is it an outdated and ineffective method of tackling a problem that is more complex than simply defining certain canine traits as part of certain breeds? In this article, we will consider the arguments.

Why was the DDA created?

The Dangerous Dogs Act came to pass as the ultimate result of several serious and high-profile dog attacks on people in the years leading up to the passing of the Act in 1991. A total of ten cases of serious dog attacks were presented to Parliament as part of lobbying for the bill, which was intended to reduce the chances of dogs attacking people (and other animals) and also, reduce the potential severity of any attack that might take place, by banning ownership of certain types of dog.

What does the DDA control?

The Dangerous Dogs Act in its first incarnation was designed to achieve several things; the first and most prominent of these was outlawing the ownership of four breeds of dogs that historically were used for fighting, being the Fila Brasilero, Dogo Argentino, Japanese Tosa and the Pit bull terrier respectively.

Non-pedigree dogs with partial ancestry from any of these breeds, and dogs that were considered to be the same “type” as these breeds were also banned.

The reason why these four breeds were specifically targeted was due to a perceived heightened risk of aggression from these breeds, and also the fact that these breeds were large and tenacious enough to cause serious and potentially fatal injuries if they did attack a person.

Additionally, the DDA also mandates rules on the control of dogs of all breeds, such as that dogs must be controlled and never “dangerously out of control” in a public place, and amendments to the Act made in 2014 expanded this law to cover all locations, public and private, as well as making it a legal offence for a dog to attack a service dog too.

Why the controversy?

While no right-minded person would argue the point that dogs should be properly controlled and not pose a danger to other animals and people, it is the breed-specific side of the legislation that is the main bone of contention for dog owners and dog lovers.

This argument all hinges on the “deed not breed” principle, which essentially states that dogs should be assessed and judged on their individual behaviours and merits, not their breed-which makes a lot of sense, as even small dogs like the Chihuahua can be aggressive, whilst much larger dogs, including those from the banned breeds, may well be personable, well behaved and totally under control at all times.

The fact that the banned breeds may potentially cause a serious injury if they attack a person is, in this sense, argued against in terms of the odds of them actually doing so.

To give this argument further merit, a great number of other breeds that have a fighting history and most definitely possess the strength to cause a serious injury are not banned breeds, such as the English bulldog.

Has the DDA achieved its aims?

The final element of the argument against the DDA in its current form is of course the question of whether or not the Dangerous Dogs Act has actually achieved what is was intended to do-to make the UK population safer and to reduce the incidences of attacks by dogs, particularly serious ones.

Being as this is the 25th anniversary of the Act’s passing into law, a lot of data has now been published that makes it much easier to measure the success of the Act against its parameters.

So, what are the facts?

  • Since the Act came into force in 1991, thirty people have been killed by dogs in the UK. 21 of these incidents involved dogs from breeds not banned under the Act.
  • Hospital admissions due to dog bite injuries have risen by 76% over the last ten years, and continue to increase year on year.
  • Battersea Dogs Home is forced to destroy around 100 dogs that are considered to be of the “pit bull type” every year, despite their behaviour specialists’ assessments concluding that around three quarters of such dogs were viable and safe candidates for rehoming.
  • The breed responsible for more attacks on people than any other according to statistics is the Labrador retriever. (It is worth bearing in mind of course that the Lab is one of the most popular breeds in the UK, and so they are present in larger numbers than most other breeds.)


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