Dog law and your legal position

Dog Law

This is a brief summary of the law as it applies in England & Wales compiled by specialist Doglaw Solicitor Trevor Cooper of Cooper & Co. However, it does not constitute legal advice in and of itself and so you are strongly advised to take legal advice on the individual facts of your particular case as no two incidents are the same.

Criminal Law

Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 usually enforced by the Police

If your dog is an assistance dog as defined by s173(1) of the Equality Act 2010, then there is likely to be an offence under s3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.  The maximum penalty for a case where an assistance dog is injured or is killed is 3 years prison and/or unlimited fine + compensation.

For a non assistance dog, if you were also injured during the incident (= aggravated offence) or you reasonably believed that you would be injured (= non aggravated offence), then it may be regarded as an offence under s3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.  It has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that there were “grounds for reasonable apprehension that the dog would injure a person…whether or not it actually does”.  Maximum penalty : aggravated = 5 years prison and/or unlimited fine + compensation; non aggravated = 6 months prison and/or unlimited fine

Animal Welfare Act 2006 usually enforced by the RSPCA

If the other dog was deliberately set on your dog, this may be regarded as an offence of causing unnecessary suffering under s4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.  Maximum penalty = 6 months prison and/or unlimited fine + compensation NB There is a Bill going through Parliament which, if passed, will increase the maximum prison sentence for this offence to 5 years.

Community Protection Notice under the Anti Social Behaviour Crime & Policing Act 2014 usually enforced by the Local Authority

If the behaviour of the other dog (a) is having a detrimental effect on your quality of life, and (b) it is persistent or continuing, and (c) it is unreasonable, the Police or the Council may serve a Community Protection Warning under s43 of the Anti Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 to require the behaviour to stop.  If it continues, they can serve a Community Protection Notice specifying requirements (eg for that dog to be on a lead, muzzled or trained).  If those requirements are breached the Police or Council may issue a Fixed Penalty Notice of up to £100 or the owner can be prosecuted where the maximum penalty is a fine of £2,500 + discretionary forfeiture of the dog + compensation.

Dogs Act 1871 usually enforced by the Local Authority or the Police

Whilst not a criminal case, it is still heard in a Magistrates’ Court.  If a dog is proven on the civil standard to be dangerous and not kept under proper control an application may be made under s2 of the Dogs Act 1871 for the dog to be kept under proper control or destroyed.  A single incident is unlikely to be sufficient to prove that the dog is dangerous unless that single incident is regarded as exceptional. There is no provision for the Court to order compensation.  The Court has no power to punish unless the order is breached.

Civil proceedings

You may be able to pursue a claim for damages but, assuming the claim is for less than £10,000 (which in most cases it will be) it is likely to be heard in the Small Claims Court.  Legal Aid is unlikely to be available for you to bring this action.  Neither the Police nor the Council will bring these proceedings on your behalf.

Animals Act 1971

If the dog had dangerous characteristics which were known to the owner they may be strictly liable for the damage that the dog has caused to your dog under s2 of the Animals Act 1971.


If the Animals Act doesn’t apply, to succeed in a compensation claim you would need to prove that the owner was negligent under common law ie. (a) they owed you a duty of care, and (b) they did something that they shouldn’t have done or they failed to do something they should have done and (c) you suffered a loss as a result of that breach and (d) the damage caused was reasonably foreseeable.

Trevor Cooper, Solicitor

This summary of the law has been provided by Trevor Cooper of Cooper & Co Solicitors.  Regulated and authorised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.  SRA 258139.  

For assistance see the website or call them on 01304 755 557 during normal office hours.  They offer a reduced cost fixed fee telephone consultation for only £36 for up to 20 minutes and same day appointments are sometimes available.