The legal rights and obligations of dog owners
We are famously a country of dog lovers, with around 8.5 million pooches in the UK, and the world’s most famous and prestigious dog show – Crufts – taking place in Birmingham next week. There, the finest dogs from around the world will come to compete in incredible displays of agility and obedience.
But what if your dog isn’t quite as well behaved as those on show? Can man’s (and woman’s) best friend get you in trouble with the law? What are the legal rights of pet owners? And what about those who are fed up with other people’s nuisance pets?
Sarah Garner, solicitor from DAS Law, tells you what you need to know.
If my dog bites someone or another dog, can I be sued or be forced to put my dog to sleep?
Dog owners have a duty of care to ensure that their animal is kept under control. If it can be argued that, as a result of a dog being out of control, it has caused an injury to a person or another dog, the owner can face a civil action as a result of the injury to the person or damage to the dog.
A dog can even be deemed to be out of control whilst it remains on the lead.
If a dog is known to bite others or act in a particular way when startled, the owner has a duty to ensure that these acts are avoided. A dog can even be deemed to be out of control whilst it remains on the lead.
As well as civil action, if the matter is referred to the Magistrates Court and they determine that the dog was dangerously out of control they can make a destruction order for the dog to be put down.
Is it a legal requirement for a dog to wear a collar on walks?
In short, the answer is ‘yes’. The Control of Dogs Order 1992 states that any dog in a public place must wear a tag with the name and address of the owner engraved or written on it.
This can be attached to a collar or harness. Anyone who allows their dog to be in a public place without this information is guilty of an offence under the Animal Health Act of 1981. Fines can be imposed up to £5,000.
Certain dogs are exempt from having to wear a collar with a tag. These include registered Guide Dogs, emergency rescue dogs, and dogs that are part of the Armed Forces, HM Customs and Excise or the Police.
Under s.27 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, you can be guilty of an offence for allowing your dog to be walked on a road without being on a lead.
Is it a legal requirement for my dog to be microchipped?
Every dog owner who has had their dog escape from their grasp whilst out walking or from their home will understand the stress of trying to be re-united with their beloved pet. The legal requirement for all dogs over the age of eight weeks to be microchipped greatly assists reuniting lost dogs with their owners.
Since 6 April 2016, all dogs in England, Scotland and Wales must be microchipped. If you fail to microchip your dog and register on an approved data base, you may be liable to pay a £500 fine and could face criminal prosecution.
If your contact details change and you don’t update your details on the database, then you could be liable to pay a fine of £500.
Can I be prosecuted if I don’t clear up after my dog during walks?
If you fail to clean up after your dog you can be given an on-the-spot fine. The amount varies from council to council. It’s often £50 and can be as much as £80.
Many local authorities also have their own rules around dog fouling, and can insist that dog owners carry poop scoops or doggie bags to evidence that they are able to clean up in the event of their dog fouling. Fines can be issued for merely failing to carry a poop scoop or doggie bags.
In theory, fines can be issued for merely failing to carry a poop scoop or doggie bags.
If you refuse to pay the fine, you can be taken to court and fined up to £1,000. Fines however do not apply to those who are registered blind and have an assistance dog.
Can I be prosecuted if I hit a dog with my vehicle?
Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 imposes a duty to stop and report an accident where damage has been caused to an animal. The penalty for failing to stop and/or report hitting an animal falls in the same category as failing to stop in a regular traffic collision, which carries a maximum fine of £5,000 and/or six months in custody.
If the dog is not wearing a collar with a tag to identify and notify the owners, you must notify the police within 24 hours of the accident.
I can’t enjoy my garden because of a neighbour’s dog, is there anything I can do?
It may be possible to argue that a neighbour’s dog may amount to a nuisance if it is producing excessive noise, or if your neighbour fails to properly clean up after their dog, creating noxious smells or attracting an excessive amount of flies. However, whilst all this may be an annoyance, it needs to constitute a substantial interference with your ability to enjoy your property for it to be deemed a nuisance.
Is it illegal to use sprays or deterrents to keep other people pets out of my garden?
There is a risk to any person who uses sprays or deterrents to keep animals out of their garden. If the spray or deterrent causes harm or unnecessary suffering to an animal there is a risk of being held liable for a criminal offence against animal welfare for which you may be prosecuted.
It is advisable to give serious consideration to the use of any potential spray or deterrent and to ensure they are being sold legally and that they won’t cause any harm or suffering to an animal.
Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created.