"There are no bad dogs, there are just bad owners" is a phrase commonly used within dog behavioural training circles. Discussions in which the phrase occurs often demonstrate varying opinion as to how accurate the statement is, and there are frequently references to dogs that are exceptions to the commonly held generalisation. But what everybody usually agrees on, is that there is a principle of "responsibility" that attaches to the owner. That same principle is reflected in law.
The question is, how does the law portion consequences between the dangerous dog and what has frequently been referred to as "the dangerous owner".
In the United Kingdom, the Sentencing Council [SC] issued the first Guidelines on the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 [DDA] on August 20, 2012. Until then the courts treated defendants with undue leniency while often routinely killing their dogs.
Generally the SC recommended increased sentencing powers for the courts according to the various offences.
There are “8 Steps” in the Guideline which have to be taken by the court in relation to an offence under the DDA. The Guideline deals with all aspects of the offences particularly the “character of the owner” and the “character of the dog”.They are a positive aspect of the sentencing process because the courts sometimes seemed intent on punishing the dog for the conduct of the owner.
The Guideline has been published following a consultation which received more than 500 responses from members of the public, Judges and magistrates, the police, animal welfare organisations and many others with expertise or interest in this issue. Those responses have helped shape the final guideline in a number of ways:
- It has widened the definition of “vulnerable victims” so that it applies not only to children, but to others such as the elderly, disabled and blind or visually impaired people.
- It has been extended to include injuries to other animals as an aggravating factor in the offence of allowing a dog to be out of control and causing injury. There was strong support for this in a number of responses including the Association of Chief Police Officers.
- The problem of dog fighting has been taken into account in the offence of possession of a prohibited dog, training a dog to fight or possessing paraphernalia for dog fighting is now included as a factor increasing the seriousness of this offence. This follows concerns from the Police Federation about this issue.
Further recommended reading includes: