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Dog owners know your responsibilities

As a dog owner and mum to a toddler I was saddened to hear of the recent death of three year old Dexter Neal after being attacked by a dog in Essex. In England hospital admissions as a result of dog attacks have risen by 76% over the past 10 years, according to official statistics.  Calls to revisit the law in this area in England, as currently set out in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, came as no surprise.

Scottish dog owners take heed

The Dangerous Dogs Act has received a lot of press attention in recent years and criticism by some for appearing to concentrate on specific dog breeds. Dog owners in Scotland may not be aware of additional legislation in Scotland – The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010.

What Scotland – The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 means

The 2010 Act is designed to focus on the problem, rather than the breed. It seeks to emphasise dog owners’ responsibilities in terms of keeping their dogs under control. Local authorities are given power to take action against dogs deemed “out of control” and impose requirements on the owner to improve the dog’s behaviour.

How is ‘out of control’ defined?

“Out of control” in terms of the 2010 Act means that the dog is not being kept under control effectively and consistently and that its behaviour gives rise to alarm or apprehensiveness on the part of any individual, such alarm or apprehensiveness being reasonable. If a dog’s behaviour falls under this definition a local authority may issue the owner with a Dog Control Notice.

A Dog Control Notice sets out steps the owner must take to ensure the dog is controlled in a way that ensures the safety of others and prevents further incidents. Notices can include measures such as keeping the dog on a lead, muzzling it and attending behavioural training courses.  Failure to follow these steps amounts to a criminal offence which may lead to a fine of up to £1,000.  Alternatively, the owner may be disqualified from owning or keeping a dog for a specific period of time.  In more extreme cases an order for the dogs destruction may be made by the court.

There is a right of appeal against Dog Control Notices issued by local authorities.  Appeals must be made by summary application to the relevant sheriff court within 21 days of receiving the Notice. However, Notices issued during court proceedings cannot be appealed.

What you need to know: dogs and livestock

There is one further piece of legislation that all dog owners should be familiar with – the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987.  This gives farmers the right to shoot a dog in some cases if it is worrying their livestock.  In addition, where a dog has attacked or killed livestock the court must make an order for the dog to be destroyed.

Local authorities now appear to be making more use of their power to issue Dog Control Notices so all dog owners in Scotland should be aware of their responsibility to keep their dogs under close control.  Government guidance states that if you are not sure your dog will respond to your commands or stay close at heel the responsible thing to do is to keep it on a lead.

If you have any questions regarding the legal implications of dog ownership in Scotland and Dog Control Notices please contact Fiona Grant on 01383 721621.

Fiona Grant fmg@businesslaw.co.uk

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