I bought a dog that was wrongly described. What are my legal rights?

What is the law that governs the sale of a dog?

A dog may be a domestic animal, however, in most senses the law treats the sale of a dog in the same way as it treats the sale of goods.

Where a dog is wrongly described as being good with children the purchaser may have a claim against the seller for breach of contract and/or misrepresentation. However this will depend upon a number of things.

What was agreed?

An agreement for the sale of a dog will include both “express terms” (those terms which were specifically agreed between the parties) and “implied terms” (terms implied by conduct or the law).

In an agreement for the sale of a dog it will be an express term that the seller will sell to the buyer the dog and that the buyer will pay the seller an agreed amount for the dog. In many instances nothing more may have been said by the parties at the time when the agreement was made. However, the agreement will contain certain other terms implied by the law. Certain terms may, for example, be implied by the Sale of Goods Act 1979, as amended by the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994.

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 implies into a contract for the sale of goods certain terms relating to the quality of the goods being sold where such goods are sold in the course of a business. However, in the case of the sale of a dog because the purchase of an animal is an unknown quality a Court may be reluctant to imply terms as to the quality of the dog, unless a defect is known to the seller or is very obvious to the seller.

As a general rule the principle “caveat emptor” (“let the buyer beware”) applies to the sale of animals and, therefore, the buyer will ordinarily be responsible for checking the suitability of a dog before purchasing it.

Where a seller sells animals in the course of a business and if an animal is sold for a particular purpose and that purpose is made known to the seller before the agreement was made and the buyer relied on the skill and judgment of the seller, then it will be an implied term of the agreement that the animal was reasonably fit for that purpose. If, therefore, the buyer of a dog made it clear that the dog would be sharing a home with small children the seller may be liable if the dog has an aggressive temperament.

What, if anything, did the seller say about the dog prior to the agreement being made?

If, prior to the agreement being made, the seller stated that the dog would be good with children the seller may be liable if the dog is found not to be good with children. However, if the dog was good with children at the time of the agreement but his temperament has changed since then, for example, as a result of it suffering from an illness or being involved in an accident, it is unlikely that the seller would be found to be liable.

How was the dog behaving when it was inspected prior to the agreement being made?

A seller is not liable for any “patent” defects. A patent defect is one which is so obvious that the buyer should have seen the defect himself before the agreement was made.

For example, if the dog was behaving in a very aggressive manner before the agreement was made it ought to have been obvious to the buyer that the dog would not be good with children and if this is the case it is unlikely that the seller will be found to be liable.

What are my rights where the seller is liable and what should I do?

The law expects the buyer to give the seller notice of any defect as soon as possible. In some cases the seller may be quite happy to take back the dog and provide a refund of the monies paid. However, in other cases Court proceedings may be the only way of obtaining a refund and it may be necessary to find the dog a new home.