The law on keeping guard dogs

Owners and handlers of guard dogs are subject to various laws primarily for the protection of themselves and third parties. The law relating to keeping guard dogs is contained in section 1 of the Guard Dogs Act 1975, the Animals Act 1971 and in the common law.

Dangerous dogs

In addition, you must be aware that certain breeds of dog are banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act – even if only kept as guard dogs. The prohibited breeds are:

  • the Pit Bull Terrier;
  • the Japanese Tosa;
  • the Dogo Argentino;
  • the Fila Brasileiro.

The Guard Dogs Act 1975

Breach of the 1975 Act is a criminal offence. An offender can be prosecuted and fined up to £5,000.

What is classed as a ‘guard dog’?

A guard dog is defined bysection 7 of the 1975 Act as being “a dog who is being used to protect premises; or property kept on the premises; or a person guarding the premises or such property”. However, it is important to note that only sections 1 and 5 of the Act are in force – but this definition is a useful starting point.

Control of guard dogs

The Guard Dogs Act 1975 prohibits the use of a guard dog on any premises unless there is a ‘handler’ capable of controlling the dog present on the premises and the dog is under the control of the handler at all times. The only exception is where the dog is secured so that it cannot go freely about the premises; or where another handler has control over the dog.

The Act prohibits a person from using or permitting the use of a guard dog at any premises unless a notice containing a warning that a guard dog is present is clearly exhibited at each entrance.

What does it mean by ‘notice’?

The Act requires that a warning notice is clearly present and displayed at each entrance to the premises, however, the meaning of ‘entrance’ is not defined. This could potentially cause problems, for instance, there may be a hole in a fence which is not a formal entrance to the premises, but if a child can access the premises through the hole, this could be deemed an ‘entrance’ to the premises for the purposes of the Act. If there is no warning notice displayed there, a criminal offence has potentially been committed.

The Animals Act 1971

Under the Animals Act 1971, if someone is injured on premises where a guard dog is being used, the owner and keeper will most likely be liable for the damage caused.

The Act imposes strict liability for any damage caused by an animal of a ‘dangerous species’, or by another animal in circumstances in which the resulting damage was likely to have been caused by such an animal (unless restrained), and was likely to be severe. In addition, if the likelihood of the damage or severity was due to characteristics not normally found in animals of the same species (or are not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances); and those characteristics were known to the keeper (or whoever had charge of the animal).

However, there are exceptions including where the damage or harm is caused wholly by the actions of the person suffering the injury/damage. Examples include deliberately ignoring warning signs, or jumping over a perimeter fence into the grounds of the premises.

The Common Law

In addition to the above, the common law imposes civil liability for negligence on someone responsible for the personal injury, death, and or damage caused to someone else by their guard dog. If you own a guard dog which causes injury or harm to someone to whom you owed a duty of care, a claim can be made against you for compensation.

Whether or not the claim will be successful depends on whether the injury caused was reasonably foreseeable.