Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (DDA)

Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (DDA)

Just because dogs may be particularly good-natured doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not classed as a Dangerous Dogs under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

It is the breed that classifies it, not the nature. It doesn’t have to bite a person for it to be classed as dangerous.

It is a criminal offence to sell, give away, or breed any dog classed as dangerous and there are rules and laws of how people must control dogs. It’s also an offence (apart from any offence with regard to cruelty to animals) to abandon any such type of dog.

As it is an offence to breed from any dangerous dog type, and the legislation has been in place from 1991 it follows that there should now be no dangerous dogs around because even the youngest would now be beyond the life expectancy of any known breed of dog.

Therefore, it is apparent that breeding is still going on.

Registered Dogs Not Illegal

The Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced to outlaw various dangerous dogs although it didn’t make possession of them illegal provided they were registered. If the dog has not already been registered it is now no longer possible to voluntarily register anything which falls under the premise of a dangerous and unlawful dog.

Section 1 of the act prohibits the ownership of certain type of dogs and prosecutions can be brought purely on the basis of the physical characteristics of the dog, what it looks like!

Dangerous Dogs Barking
Dangerous Dog Barking

If anyone is prosecuted for having a dangerous dog, they may be able to avoid having it destroyed provided they can prove the dog is not a danger to the public.

It is at the court’s discretion to allow the dog then to be registered, neutered (it is illegal to breed from these dogs), micro-chipped and insured.

Usually, if the dog bites and injures someone it will be destroyed unless an owner can prove to the satisfaction of the court that there is some compelling reason why this should be dealt with by an order to keep the dog under control rather than destruction.

For persistent breaches, a person can actually be disqualified from owning a dog at all. It doesn’t happen very often but the remedy is available.

You will find the 1991 DDA here http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1991/65/contents

Out of Control Dangerous Dogs

Section 3 created a criminal offence of allowing any dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place. It doesn’t actually have to be out of control, it just has to put people in fear that it may injure them. If there is actual injury, the offence is then aggravated. Action can be taken by the police or the local authority.


2007-08: 4,611 hospital admissions
2008-09: 5,221 hospital admissions
2009-10: 5,837 hospital admissions
2010-11: 6,005 hospital admissions
2011-12: 6,580 hospital admissions
2012-13: 6,302 hospital admissions

Fig.1 Chart showing the number of dog attacks

Whilst Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act deals with out-of-control dogs in a public place, there is earlier legislation, the Dogs Act 1871 which is especially important for visitors to properties such as postman who are regularly at risk from dogs which are not under control.

The 1871 act does lack some teeth in that the dog cannot be seized but the court (Magistrates court) can order the dog be kept under control by the owner or destroyed. If you want to read the full 1871 Act (still good law) it is here. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Vict/34-35/56

Prohibited Dog breeds

It is a criminal offence under the Act to own a variety of breeds if they have not been registered and the animal is liable to seizure. The usual remedies of the police or dog warden applying to court for a warrant apply to enable them to enter a building where they have reasonable suspicion that there is an illegal dog.

There is a substantial fine of up to £5000 and the possibility of six months in jail for contraventions of the act along with destruction of the animal.

The dogs which are now deemed to be dangerous are:

  • Japanese Tosa
  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Fila Braziliero
  • Dogo Argentino

How are Pit Bull Terrier (PBT) types identified or defined?

The standard used to identify a Pit Bull Terrier type used by local authorities and police is the American Dog Breeders Association criteria which was published in the Pit Bull Gazette in 1977. It doesn’t have to have all these characteristics but just a substantial number.

Any dog which fits these criteria is liable to be seized and kept by the police pending any criminal prosecution. The burden is on the defendant to prove that the dog is not a pit bull type, one of the strongest dog breed, and in that respect, it would require evidence from an expert or veterinary surgeon.

PBT criteria
  • When first viewing the dog it should appear square from the side, and its height to the top ofits shoulders should be the same distance as from the front of its shoulder to the rear point of its hip.
  • Its height to weight ratio should be in proportion.
  • Its coat should be short and bristled, (single coated).
  • Its head should appear to be wedge shaped when viewed from the side and top but rounded when viewed from the front. The head should be around 2/3 width of shoulders and 25 per cent wider at cheeks than at the base of the skull (this is due to the cheek muscles).

    American Pit Bull
    American Pit Bull
  • The distance from the back of the head to between the eyes should be about equal to the distance from between the eyes to the tip of its nose.
  • The dog should have a good depth from the top of head to bottom of jaw and a straight box-like muzzle.
  • Its eyes should be small and deep-set, triangular when viewed from the side and elliptical from front.
  • Its shoulders should be wider than the rib cage at the eighth rib.
  • Its elbows should be flat with its front legs running parallel to the spine.
  • Its forelegs should be heavy and solid and nearly twice the thickness of the hind legs just below the hock.
  • The rib cage should be deep and spring straight out from the spine, it should be elliptical in cross section tapering at the bottom and not ‘barrel’ chested.
  • It should have a tail that hangs down like an old fashioned ‘pump handle’ to around the hock.
  • It should have a broad hip that allows good attachment of muscles in the hindquarters and hind legs.
  • Its knee joint should be in the upper third of the dog’s rear leg, and the bones below that should appear light, fine and springy.
  • Overall the dog should have an athletic appearance, the standard makes no mention of ears,colour, height, or weight

Suggested reading:

Here is a very informative Government booklet intended for enforcers which is extremely useful and informative for people who own dangerous dogs.


The Government have also produced a few website pages which, with their associated links are also extremely useful for dog owners.


About the Author

About the Author
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers team and posted by Lloyd Barrett, Admin & Customer Services Manager for online advice service Expert Answers. Expert Answers provides first step legal advice & support to users in the UK who post a question on their secure platform.

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