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Is it the dog or the owner?

November 14, 2016 at 9:00 AM

When the news of a savage dog attack hits the headlines, there is a tendency to assume it will relate to pit bull terriers or Japanese Tosas (both of which are banned breeds).

I was therefore surprised to hear that Liverpool police reported last year that a family favourite, the Jack Russell was in fact responsible for the most dog bites in that city.

Being a dog lover, I am always reluctant to believe that a dog should be held responsible for its actions and tend to think that it is more about the owner than the animal.

It seems that I am not alone in my thoughts as, according to statistics from the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association there are an estimated 8 million or more dogs in the UK.

One of my biggest bug bears as a dog lover and a reasonably responsible citizen is the number of dog owners who think it is perfectly acceptable to allow their dogs off the lead to pester other dogs who are not so free to roam.

I simply don’t understand why owners cannot put their dogs on the lead in the vicinity of others even for a short time. There may be multiple reasons why dogs are ON a lead; they might be timid with other dogs, aggressive themselves to other dogs or elderly like my mum’s dog and not therefore receptive to being sniffed or approached by another dog. Elderly or vulnerable dog owners can even dread taking their dogs out for fear of unwarranted attacks on them or their much loved companions. Why should this be acceptable?

It is frankly inconsiderate in my view to allow your dog to roam without taking responsibility for it and I tend to think such behaviour also exhibits a degree of arrogance. As demonstrated by statistics from Liverpool police, any dog can be aggressive and as we haven’t yet mastered the ability to talk to our animals in the way of Dr Dolittle, it is impossible to predict any dog’s behaviour at all times.

As a result it is, I think, important that the law adequately covers the care and handling of Britain’s dogs.

In fact, the law dates back to at least 1871 in the form of the Dogs Act and further laws drawn up since include the Animals Act 1971, Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the Anti-Social and the Crime and Policing Act 2014.

So when is a dog owner responsible for attacks by their dog?

The owner of a dog either belonging to a dangerous breed or having special characteristics making it dangerous (such as specific training to bite or attack) would be liable for any damage or injury sustained by another person.

If, like me, you tend to think that all dogs can be friendly with the right owners, you might find it difficult to understand that some dogs are defined by law as inherently dangerous but the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has defined some banned breeds.

Also, if your dog is found to be dangerously out of control in either a public area, like a park, or on private property, such as in the owner’s home or garden you could be held personally liable for any damage or injuries it causes.

Liability is not confined to owners either but applies equally to anyone looking after a dog e.g. a friend or relative. You cannot therefore escape liability by saying the dog is not yours and if you have a dog walker, they could also be responsible.

Most recently, The Anti-Social, Crime and Policing Act made it an offence for any dog to attack a guide dog, hearing dog, or assistance dog. Such attacks are particularly distressing for the handlers and sometimes those owners or handlers are injured in defending their pets or working animals from other dogs. This is therefore an important development in the law to help protect vulnerable handlers and their working dogs.

Tips for Buying a Dog

If you want to find the right dog for you the Kennel Club provides some advice on what to consider to help you on their website - but don’t tell my children!

What should you do if a dog bites you?

1.   See a doctor for treatment to avoid any infections and take photographs of your injury

2.   Obtain names and addresses of any witnesses and details of the dog and the owner

3.   Report the incident to the police and the local authority and ask them to try and find out if the dog has attacked before

But don’t let it put you off owning or loving these faithful friends of man (and woman) and help us stay a nation of responsible dog lovers.

Contact Spencers Solicitors today if you would like to talk to an expert about a dog bite claim.


About the Author

Jane Cooper Photo

Jane Cooper is a Solicitor and Manager with more than 20 years experience dealing with personal injury claims for victims of accidents at work, on the roads and in public places.

During her extensive years of experience, Jane has also acted for clients injured in accidents at work, suffering from industrial disease or affected by clinical negligence.

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