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Dangerous Dogs Act: All you need to know

Get clued up on the Dangerous Dogs Act, when it was introduced, which types of dogs are banned under the Act and more with our helpful guide.

What is the Dangerous Dogs Act?

The Dangerous Dogs Act is a law that bans certain types of dogs in the UK. It was first introduced in 1991 after a rise in dog attacks and designed to prevent dog attacks, focusing on dog types that were originally bred to be used in fights. Originally it only covered attacks in public places.

The Act evolved in 2014 to prohibit a dog from being ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place and private properties. That includes the owner’s home and garden and can apply to any breed.

Read on to learn more about the Dangerous Dogs Act, the penalties owners can face, and which breeds are considered dangerous dogs in the UK. 

What does the Dangerous Dogs Act cover?

The Dangerous Dogs Act makes it illegal to own certain dog types that are considered dangerous. 

At first, these banned dog types were subject to a mandatory destruction order. This meant they were automatically put to sleep - even if they didn’t show signs of aggression.

Then in 1997, the law was amended with the Index of Exempted Dogs. This ruled that breeds on the dangerous dogs list were exempt from a mandatory destruction order if they passed a court behavioural assessment. 

The Act also made it illegal to allow your dog to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public space. It was updated in 2014 to include private properties and the owner’s home and garden.   This law also applies to any dog breed.

A dog can be seen as ‘dangerously out of control’ if they injure a person or animal, or a person is worried the dog might attack them. Additionally, it’s considered an aggravated offence for a dog to attack an assistance dog.

What breeds are included in the Dangerous Dogs Act?

The Dangerous Dogs Act is often referred to as ‘breed specific legislation’. However, the Act bans ‘types’, not breeds. Dogs that fit certain characteristics are classed as dangerous until they are evaluated to decide whether they belong to one of the banned types.

It also means the decision on whether a dog is illegal is based solely on its looks. Therefore, the dog’s breed, its parents’ breeds, its behaviour and DNA testing aren’t deciding factors.

The types that are banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act include: 

  • Pitt Bull Terrier
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Fila Brasileiro
  • American XL Bully (2023) 

Under the Act, it’s also illegal to:

  • Sell a banned dog
  • Give a banned dog away
  • Abandon a banned dog
  • Breed from a banned dog

What are the penalties for breaking the Dangerous Dogs Act?

People who own dangerous dog breeds, or a dog that attacks a person, can be given a prison sentence and/or a ban on keeping dogs. They can also face fines and may have to pay costs or compensation if the dog injures a person or another animal.

Penalties and punishments for dog attacks were increased in 2014. Under the current Dangerous Dogs Act, owners could face:

  • five years in prison if the dog has injured someone
  • three years in prison if the dog has injured an assistance dog
  • a 14-year maximum prison term if the dog causes a human fatality. 

Police can seize a dog that injures a person. Unless the owner can convince the court that the animal is not a danger, the dog is likely to be put down.

The ban on XL Bully Dogs

On Friday 15 September 2023, the government announced that American Bully XL types were to be added to the list of dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act. This followed a spike in attacks and fatalities caused by XL Bully dogs. 

From 31 December 2023 it is illegal to:

  • Sell an XL Bully dog
  • Give away an XL Bully dog
  • Breed from an XL Bully dog
  • Abandon an XL Bully dog or let it stray
  • Have an XL Bully in public without a muzzle and lead.

From 1 February 2024 it is a criminal offence to own an XL Bully dog in England and Wales unless your dog has a Certificate of Exemption.

Owners of XL Bullies were required to apply for a Certificate of Exemption by 31 January 2024 to keep their dog. 

They must also make sure that their XL Bully dog is:

  • Neutered
  • Microchipped
  • Kept in a secure place so it cannot escape
  • Kept on a lead and muzzled at all times when in public.

What are the most dangerous dogs?

The Dangerous Dogs Act has been criticised by animal rights organisations and charities for banning dogs based on how they look. But it’s also raised the question of whether dogs are dangerous due to their nature or their upbringing.

While environment is always a factor, certain breeds can be prone to aggression. Recent figures based on the number of bites suffered by certain dog types have revealed some of the most dangerous dogs in the UK.

Jack Russell

Weighing six to eight kilos with a height of 26-33 centimetres, it might be a surprise that the Jack Russell made the dangerous dogs list. They were bred for fox hunting, are very energetic and are “most likely to bite when excited”. However, Jack Russell dogs are intelligent and playful with a kind temperament, making them suitable for families with children. 

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a muscular dog weighing up to 17 kilos and standing around 36-41 centimetres tall. While they have been involved in attacks and are seen as vicious dogs, Staffies are mild-mannered, playful and great around children. They’re also courageous and loyal. With the right training and socialisation, they can make an ideal pet. 

Pit Bull

At 27 kilos and 53 centimetres in height, the Pit Bull is slightly bigger than a Staffy. They were initially bred as fighting dogs and were banned in 1991 under the Dangerous Dogs Act due to unprovoked attacks. Pit Bulls are known for their strength and confidence and can possess a loving nature.

German Shepherd 

Naturally protective and loyal, German Shepherds are closely bonded to their family. But they can also develop behavioural problems if they aren’t socialised properly. German Shepherds require physical and mental stimulation, so they must be trained properly and be well looked after. This loving breed can grow to be 60 centimetres and weigh up to 40 kilos. 


With a protective temperament and strong physique, the Rottweiler is seen as one of the most dangerous dogs. But like the German Shepherd, the right training and socialisation can make them loving and friendly dogs. They’re one of the bigger breeds, reaching up to 69 centimetres in height and weighing 60 kilos.

Does pet insurance cover dangerous dog breeds?

Any dog that is registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs must have pet insurance including third-party liability cover. However, most pet insurance providers won’t cover a banned dog under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Sainsbury’s Bank Pet Insurance is unable to insure certain breeds of dogs or offer our £10,000 lifetime cover on selected breeds. It may be best to contact insurance providers directly to see which ones will provide cover.

Depending on your breed, it’s worth considering Sainsbury’s Bank Dog Insurance. Choose from lifetime, time-limited or maximum benefit cover and protect your furry friend from illness, accidents and more.

Frequently asked questions 

What constitutes a dangerous dog?

A dog is classed as dangerous if they share physical characteristics with one of the banned breeds under the Dangerous Dogs Act. However, any dog can be considered ‘dangerously out of control’ if it attacks another animal or person – or poses a threat to others.

What if I have a banned dog?

If you have a banned dog, the local council or police can take it away and keep it. This applies even if a complaint hasn’t been made or the dog isn’t behaving dangerously. In more serious cases, the dog may be put to sleep.

How many times can a dog bite before being put down?

No rule states a dog should be automatically put down if it bites a person or other animal. If it’s your dog’s first offence, you may face a lenient penalty. However, the dog’s behavioural history and whether it was provoked are considered when deciding on punishment. In severe cases, you may be brought to court and ordered to have the dog put down. 

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