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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 September 2007, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Dog control laws and pit bulls
After a woman was found not guilty of the manslaughter of five-year-old Ellie Lawrenson, who was mauled to death by a pit bull terrier, the issue of how to deal with potentially dangerous dogs is once again in the spotlight.


The government has taken several steps to try to crack down on those who breed and trade dangerous dogs, as well as those who own them.

Dangerous dogs: The four breeds that are restricted in UK

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is the most prominent of the various laws that cover dog ownership in the UK.

The act bans the breeding and sale or exchange of four kinds of dog - pit bull terriers, Japanese Tosas, the Dogo Argentinos, and the Fila Brasileiros. Cross-breeds of those dogs are covered by the law.

Any other dogs "appearing... to be bred for fighting or to have the characteristics of a type bred for that purpose" are also banned.

Under the act, a dog classed as being "dangerously out of control in a public place" can be destroyed. The owner can be fined and imprisoned for up to six months.

If a dog injures someone, the owner can be jailed for up to two years.

Other pieces of legislation covering dogs include the Animals Act 1971, which says the keeper of an animal is liable for any damage it causes, the Guard Dogs Act 1975 and the Dogs Act 1871.

The Animal Welfare Act, which comes into force this March, also includes codes of practice for keeping dogs.


The Dangerous Dogs Act has proved to be controversial, after having been quickly introduced following a series of attacks by dogs.

The act states that anyone who owns a "type of dog known as a pit bull terrier" must have it neutered, and keep it muzzled and on a lead in public.

If they are properly trained, however, they're no more likely to bite you than a Jack Russell
Chris Laurence,
Dogs Trust

The wording has led to many discussions in courts about what exact type a particular dog is.

Although the act covers any dog which is out of control, it only applies if the animal is in a public place or somewhere it is not allowed to be.

The RSPCA says the act is like using "a sledgehammer to crack a nut" and believes it is wrong to criminalise individual breeds of dog.

"Demonising individual breeds does not achieve anything as all breeds can attack people, just as all breeds can produce wonderful dogs," said a spokeswoman.


Originally pit bulls were bred for bull-baiting, a gambling "game" where bulldogs attacked bulls in pits.

But when that was banned in 1835, breeders turned their attention to the practice of dog-fighting.

Pit bulls were bred to maximise aggression, to have a high pain threshold and a willingness to fight to the death.

They were not trained to be aggressive toward humans, and are said to make loyal, obedient pets.

Owners claim well-trained dogs will enjoy being around children and adults.

According to figures released in September, there are more than 1,000 pit bull terriers owned legally under the Dangerous Dogs Act in England.

Chris Laurence, veterinary director of the Dogs Trust, believes it is pit bulls' new standing as a macho status symbol for young men that has been a major reason behind recent attacks.

"Like any dog, it comes down to the way they're trained and taught," he said.

"The problem is not with the breed. They're bred to be aggressive to other dogs but not to humans, and are very obedient.

"But sadly, they're now being trained to growl and show aggression, because it's a macho dog to own and if they're kept in a kennel outside, not interacting with humans and not being supervised around children, it's a recipe for disaster.

"If they are properly trained, however, they're no more likely to bite you than a Jack Russell."


In September, a five-month-old girl died after being attacked by two Rottweiler guard dogs in Leicester.

And in the same month a 12-year-old girl needed 30 stitches after she was said to have been "thrown around like a rag doll" when another Rottweiler bit her right arm while she was in a Birmingham park.

Princess Anne became the first member of the royal family to have a criminal record when one her dogs bit two children in Windsor Great Park.

She was fined 500 in 2002 under the Dangerous Dogs Act after her English Bull Terrier, Dotty, attacked the pair. The dog was later destroyed.

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