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 is a domestic animal, but the law generally treats the sale of a dog in the same way as it treats the sale of any other goods.

Where a dog is wrongly described as being good with children, you 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 the dog to the buyer 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 the agreement was made.

As a general rule, the principle ‘caveat emptor’ (‘let the buyer beware’) applies to the sale of animals if you’re buying off a private seller and, therefore, you will ordinarily be responsible for checking the suitability of a dog before purchasing it.

However, where a seller sells animals in the course of a business, the agreement will contain certain other terms implied by the law. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, it is implied into the contract of sale that the dog must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described.

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

If you tell the trader before buying that you need a dog that is good with children, it will be an implied term of the agreement that the animal was reasonably fit for that purpose. If the dog turns out to have an aggressive temperament, therefore, the seller may be liable. However, if the dog was good with children at the time of the agreement but his temperament later changed, for example, as a result of illness or an accident, it is unlikely the seller would 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 you should have seen the defect before the agreement was made.

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

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

The law expects you to give the seller notice of any defect as soon as possible. In some cases the seller may be happy to take back the dog and provide a refund of the money paid or exchange it for another dog. 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.