Helping dogs with a legal problem

Helping dogs with a legal problem

iStock_000011121954_SmallPerhaps one of the most serious problems that a dog and its owner can face is to get into trouble with the law.

This can happen more easily than most dog owners imagine particularly since May 2014. In that month, changes to the Dangerous Dog Act affected all dog owners. Every dog owner needs to be aware that:

  • Under section 3 of the Act it is a criminal offence for the person in charge of the dog to allow it to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place. What does that mean? It means that a dog doesn’t have to bite to be considered dangerous in the eyes of the law. It is deemed to be dangerous if a person feels that the dog is out of control and may injure them. Were you aware of that? Most people are not.
  • The Act now covers dog incidents on private property in addition to public spaces. This includes your own house and both front and back gardens. Unless the person on your property is a trespasser or a burglar any incident that occurs with your dog may render it as being dangerously out of control.
  • It is an offence for your dog to attack an assistance dog (Guide Dog, Hearing Dog etc.).
  • Prison sentences have been increased for those convicted of some of these offences
  • Police or an appointed local authority now have powers to seize a dangerously out of control dog in a private place. The existing legislation already covers public places.

 What can you do to protect yourself and your dog?

There are practical steps that you can take to lessen the chances of you and your dog ending up in trouble with the law.

Make sure your garden is safe and secure.

  • You must ensure that any unexpected visitor who comes to your door is safe on your property.  They should be able to access your front door without being accosted by your dog.
  • Your dog will not be considered dangerously out of control if the person attacked is a burglar or trespasser and the attack takes place within your private dwelling.  However, this exception does not extend to any area of your garden.   This places the obligation squarely on dog owners to ensure that their gardens are safe and secure.
  • As a precaution it may be prudent to request your neighbours not to allow their children to climb/enter your yard to retrieve toys, balls etc.

Be sensible – take precautions

  • Many dogs are reactive to visitors at the door so it makes sense to have a plan in place before hand so that when someone knocks the door, you know that both the visitor and your dog will be safe.   This could mean shutting the dog in another room or putting him out in the garden (as long as the front door is not accessible from the garden).
  • An alternative is to train your dog that it is not acceptable for him to approach the door and that he is to sit back and wait for you to deal with the situation.  If this kind of behaviour training is beyond you, we may be able to help.
  • How your dog greets people is also very important.  If your dog jumps up at visitors it may be interpreted by that person as threatening behaviour even though you may feel he is just being friendly.  Again, we can help you to modify this kind of behaviour.

Owning a dog means that you must act responsibly.  If you give the matter thought and take steps to ensure that visitors and your dog are safe then you are unlikely to fall foul of the law.

Should the unthinkable happen and you and your dog end up in trouble with the law I can provide information about the law and your legal options. This service is free and provides basic information only. I can sign post you to experts in the field if you require further help.

“Every dog is a lion at home” – Italian proverb