Should The Uk Reintroduce Compulsory Dog Licenses?

Did you know that up until 1987, you had to have a licence to own a dog of any kind within Great Britain, and that in Northern Ireland you still need a licence to own a dog? These days, literally almost anyone can legally buy and own a dog, and there are no restrictions on who can or cannot keep a pet, other than people that have been banned from keeping animals due to a conviction for cruelty. But despite over twenty five years having passed since dog licenses were abolished within Britain, many organisations including the RSPCA are lobbying for the re-introduction of a mandatory dog licence for every dog, and claim that this will help to reduce the number of homeless and uncared for dogs in the country and generally improve welfare standards. Are they correct? Why were the original dog licenses introduced, how effective were they and why were they eventually abolished? What would bringing in a new dog licence mean for dog owners today? Read on to find out more!

The original British dog licensing system

The old system by which all dogs owned within the UK had to be formally licensed, ended in Great Britain in 1987 but is still in place in Northern Ireland. While it is often thought that dog licensing in the UK was a way of monitoring dog ownership and the standard of care dogs received, and so reducing the amount of neglected or abandoned dogs resident in the UK, in fact this was not the case. The dog license was more of less simply a tax upon dog ownership, much like the TV license or any other tax. Under the rules of the old system, all dogs had to wear a collar and tag denoting the details of their legal owner. Any dog found on the streets without a collar and tag could be taken by the dog warden and not returned to their original owner without a license being presented.

Why was dog licensing in the UK abolished?

Despite it being mandatory to have a licence to own a dog within the UK up until 1987, it was estimated that less than 50% of dog owners actually complied with this law and registered their dogs and paid their license fees. The revenue brought in to the government from dog licensing was simply not matched by the effort, manpower hours and funding it took to follow up on complaints of non-compliance and unregistered dogs. The scheme was abolished in 1987, and replaced in 1989 with the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) and additional regulations pertaining to the control of dogs in public places were added to the Environmental Protection Act of 1990.

Why does the RSPCA think re-introducing dog licensing is a good idea?

The RSPCA conducted an investigation in 2010 into the viability of the government re-introducing a type of dog licensing scheme- a mandatory registration system for all dogs, only this time, with the welfare and wellbeing of dogs at the heart of the scheme rather than a revenue-generating tax. The RSPCA believes that such a scheme would make it easier to reunite lost dogs with their owners, help to identify unethical and potentially unhealthy breeding practices such as puppy farming and crowded conditions, and encourage people to take a more responsible approach to lifelong dog ownership. A poll of almost 1,000 people, made up of a mixture of both dog owners and non dog owners found that 76% of people were in favour of a compulsory dog registration scheme for a variety of reasons. While this figure is impressive, that is the only formal survey that has been conducted within the UK, and so may not be representative of general public opinion. The Kennel Club has stated that they are opposed to any mandatory registration system, as they feel that the plan would penalise responsible dog owners. Similarly, The Dogs Trust believes that mandatory registration or licensing of dogs would be unfeasible, and is instead in favour of the compulsory microchipping of all dogs.

Could the mandatory licensing of dogs in the UK be viable again?

Whatever the full remit of any future compulsory dog licensing or registration scheme might entail, it is fair to say that it would be exceedingly difficult to implement it. Separate registration schemes would have to be brought in for England, Wales and Scotland, and introducing all of them and making them all work together would present significant challenges. Also, much as was the case with the now abolished dog licensing law, ensuring full compliance with a new scheme could prove almost impossible. Compliance with the old law was less than 50%, which hardly inspires confidence. The challenges of introducing and enforcing a new law appear to be almost overwhelming, and of course, responsible dog owners who already take good care of their pets would be the people most likely to comply; with dogs owned by less caring owners and irresponsible people again being left out in the cold.

Alternatives to dog licensing

Few dog lovers would argue that with the amount of stray and un-owned dogs awaiting re-homing within the UK, the current systems in place for their protection are not working totally effectively. If re-introducing mandatory dog licenses is not the solution though, what is? The Dogs Trust proposal for the mandatory microchipping of all dogs may have some merit, as does greater implementation of the existing laws and regulations pertaining to responsible dog ownership and the care of stray dogs. Currently, each individual local authority is responsible for the policies and procedures that they apply in their own area to deal with stray dogs, neglected dogs and dogs that require re-homing, and often, there simply are not enough resources to go around. However, much like every other aspect of pet ownership and breeding, the eventual onus for the care and welfare of any particular dog falls on the shoulders of the individual that owns it. Every dog lover and owner should think carefully about the long-term implications of bringing a new dog home, or breeding from their pet. However, the likelihood is that if you are reading this article, you are already one of those responsible people; reaching the remaining dog owners, breeders and potential buyers within the UK is the challenge. Spread the word!


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