How your dog could get you in trouble with the law

We are famously a country of dog lovers, with around 12.5 million pooches in the UK in 2021.

2nd March 2022

The recent story of a postman seeking compensation after he claimed a dog bit part of his finger off has raised questions about owners’ responsibilities over damage caused by their pets. 

Can man’s best friend get you in trouble with the law and what are the legal rights of pet owners and those who are fed up with other people’s nuisance pets? Nicole Rogers, solicitor from DAS Law, tells you what you need to know.

If my dog bites someone or another dog, can I be sued or be forced to put my dog to sleep?

Dog owners have a duty of care to ensure that their animal is kept under control.  If it can be argued that as a result of a dog being out of control it has caused an injury to a person or another dog, the owner can face action as a result of the injury to the person or damage to the dog.

If a dog is known to bite others or act in a particular way when startled, the owner has a duty to ensure that these acts are avoided. A dog can even be deemed to be out of control whilst it remains on the lead. As well as civil action, if the matter is referred to the Magistrates Court and they determine that the dog was dangerously out of control they can make a destruction order for the dog to be put down. 

Is it a legal requirement for a dog to wear a collar on walks?

In short, the answer is ‘yes’. The Control of Dogs Order 1992, states that, (subject to very limited exceptions) any dog in a public place must wear a collar with a tag with the name and address of the owner engraved or written on it.

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988, it is considered a criminal offence for a dog to be on a public road without being on a lead. You can be fined for such an offence.

Certain dogs are exempt from having to wear a collar with a tag; these include registered Guide Dogs, emergency rescue dogs and dogs that are part of the Armed Forces, HM Customs and Excise or the Police.

Whilst there are legal requirements which you must comply with, it is also advisable to check with the Local Authority as it is possible for a council to impose additional requirements.

Can I be prosecuted if I don’t clear up after my dog during walks?

If you fail to clean up after your dog you can be given an on-the-spot fine. The amount varies from council to council. It’s often between £50 to £80. Many local authorities also have their own rules around dog fouling and can insist that dog owners carry poop scoops or doggie bags to evidence that they are able to clean up in the event of their dog fouling.  Fines can be issued for merely failing to carry a poop scoop or doggie bags.

If you refuse to pay the fine, you can be taken to court and fined up to £1,000.  Fines, however, do not apply to those who are registered blind and have an assistance dog.

I can’t enjoy my garden because of a neighbour’s dog, is there anything I can do?

It may be possible to argue that a neighbour’s dog may amount to a nuisance if it is producing excessive noise, or if your neighbour fails to properly clean up after their dog creating noxious smells or attracting an excessive amount of flies. However, whilst all this may be an annoyance, it needs to be regarded as an unlawful interference with your ability to enjoy your property for it to be deemed a nuisance.

Is it illegal to use sprays or deterrents to keep other people pets out of my garden?

There is a risk to any person who uses sprays or deterrents to keep animals out of their garden. If the spray or deterrent causes harm or unnecessary suffering to an animal there is a risk of being held liable for a criminal offence against animal welfare for which you may be prosecuted.

It is advisable to give serious consideration to the use of any potential spray or deterrent and to ensure they are being sold legally and that they won’t cause any harm or suffering to an animal.