What laws should I be aware of when walking my dog?

Dog owners and the law

If you are a dog owner, or dog walker, there are a number of laws you should be aware of. We highlight the most important legal issues for dog owners and walkers.

Environmental matters

Local authorities, parish councils and similar authorities have powers where a dog is not under sufficient control in a public place, or its faeces have not been collected. Under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, local authorities, etc. have the power to make Dog Control Orders in relation to public land.

A Dog Control Order may relate to the fouling of land by dogs and the removal of dog faeces; the keeping of dogs on leads; the exclusion of dogs from land and the number of dogs which a person may take on to any land. Failure to comply with a Dog Control Order is a criminal offence punishable by a maximum fine at Level 3 (£1000).

An authority can issue a fixed penalty notice in place of prosecution. It is an offence, punishable by a fine, not to supply your name or address, or to give a false or inaccurate name or address to a person authorised under the 2005 Act to issue a fixed penalty notice.

Leads, collars and muzzles

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 it is a criminal offence for a dog to be on a designated road (ie. a public road) without being held on a lead. There are exceptions for dogs proved to be kept for driving or tending sheep or cattle in the course of a trade or business; and dogs proved to have been at the material time in use under proper control for sporting purposes.

The Control of Dogs Order 1992 requires every dog (subject to a few exceptions) while on a public highway or in a public place to wear a collar with the name and address of the owner inscribed on it or a plate or badge attached to it. The exceptions include:

  • packs of hounds;
  • dogs used for sporting purposes;
  • dogs being used for the capture or destruction of vermin;
  • dogs being used for the driving or tending of cattle or sheep;
  • dogs being used on official duties by a member of the Armed Forces or Customs and Excise or a police force;
  • dogs being used in emergency rescue work, and;
  • dogs registered with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

If you do not comply with the legal requirements for a collar, you can be prosecuted and fined under the Animal Health Act 1981. Furthermore, if your dog does not have a collar on a highway or in a public place, it can be treated as a stray dog and seized by the Local Authority.

Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 it is a criminal offence to allow a pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa or any dog designated by the Secretary of State as being a dog bred for fighting, to be in a public place without being muzzled and kept on a lead by someone who is 16 years old or above. Where an offence is committed the offender may be imprisoned and/or fined. The Court may also order the destruction of the dog and may order the offender to be disqualified from having custody of a dog, for such period as the Court thinks fit.

Micro chipping

From 6 April 2016, all dogs in England, Wales and Scotland are now legally required to be microchipped and their details registered on an authorised database. Failure to microchip your dog could lead to a £500 fine, and you may be given notice to microchip your dog within 21 days. Once registered, you must keep the registered details up to date.

Safety to others

If a dog is dangerously out of control in a public place, the owner and any person in charge of the dog at the time, commits a criminal offence which is punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

No actual harm is required for an offence to have been committed: an offence has taken place if the dog causes reasonable apprehension to someone that they will be injured, whether or not they actually are injured.

If at the time the dog was under the control of a person other than the owner, the owner will have a defence if they can show that they reasonably believed the person was a fit and proper person to be in charge of the dog. The Court may order the destruction of the dog and may order the offender to be disqualified from having custody of a dog, for such period as the court thinks fit. On conviction, a sentence of up to 6 months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine can be imposed by the court.

If the dog injures or kills someone while out of control, this will be treated as an aggravated offence. If the offence is aggravated because, for instance, someone was killed or an assistance dog injured, a higher sentence can be imposed (up to 14 years’ imprisonment if the dog kills someone).

Dogs and livestock

Where a dog causes damage by killing or injuring livestock the keeper of the dog is liable for such damage under the Animals Act 1971. This Act also provides a Defence to any civil proceedings brought against a person for killing or causing injury to a dog where the Defendant acted for the protection of livestock and was a person entitled to act for the protection of that livestock and reported the killing or injury to the officer in charge of a police station within 48 hours.

Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 where a dog worries livestock on any agricultural land, the owner of the dog and any person who is in charge of the dog at the time commits a criminal offence, punishable by a fine and, potentially, the destruction of the dog. There are exceptions for certain dogs – police dogs, guide dogs, trained sheep dogs, working gun dogs and for packs of hounds.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.