Breed Specific Legislation:
Section 1 & 4B Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

If you’ve received a summons to attend at a Magistrates’ Court anywhere in England or Wales under Section 1 or 4B of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (or you believe you are at risk of having these proceedings being brought against you) then don’t delay – speak to us now and we can offer you chargeable legal advice and representation. 

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Specialists in Dog Law | Tel: 01304 755 557

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 prescribes certain types of dog so that owners only had a limited period of time to make possession of them lawful. Those time limits have expired.

This law applies to the following types:-

  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Fila Braziliero (aka Brasileiro)
  • XL Bully

The type of dog that will most commonly be the subject of cases will be the pit bull terrier (PBT) and the XL Bully (XLB). Possessing an unregistered PBT or XLB type dog is unlawful and if you have such a dog you are committing a criminal offence. If you think you have an unregistered PBT or XLB type dog, it can no longer be voluntarily registered (i.e. at present there is no application you can make to register your dog) as the dog can only be exempted from the prohibition under Court Order after it has been seized.

You must prove to a Court that your dog is not a danger to public safety in proceedings brought against you.

There are currently over 3,500 PBT type dogs that are exempted from the prohibition i.e. have been registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs. It is believed that there are around 35,000 XLB types that have been exempted. 

If the Police believe that your dog is an unlawful type of dog which has not been exempted, your dog will be seized and may remain in a secret Police appointed kennel until the case is concluded. It is possible that the Police may allow the dog to be released subject to the conditions of the Interim Exemption Scheme (‘bail’) although this is entirely at their discretion.

1. The Police will have your dog examined by their expert(s) and if they conclude that your dog is an unlawful type:-

(a) You could be prosecuted under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. At Court, unless you can prove that your dog isn’t an unlawful type of dog you will be convicted. Provided you qualify on financial grounds, you may be granted Legal Aid (a representation order), which means that public funding will pay for your dog to be examined by experts of your Solicitor’s choosing. The Act gives a maximum penalty of 6 months prison and/or an unlimited fine and you are likely to be ordered to pay costs + kenneling fees. In theory you could be disqualified from having custody of a dog, but this is very rare. There is an appeal available to the Crown Court.

(b) As an alternative to using the criminal provisions in Section 1, the Police may choose to use the civil provisions in Section 4B:-

  •  It is commenced by ‘application’ i.e. not by complaint or information
  • There is no legal aid available
  • It can be argued that there is no presumption that the dog is an unlawful type (so unless you admit the case the Police will probably have to prove their case on the balance of probabilities)
  • There is no power for the Court to punish you by way of prison or fine.

2. As to your dog, (if the case is proven under either Section 1 or Section 4B) you will need to prove that it would not constitute a danger to public safety, and if you can, the Court may allow it to be registered (otherwise it must be destroyed). You will have to pay for the registration fee, the neutering, microchipping and insurance. The dog will not be returned to you until all this is completed. Please remember that once the dog is returned then other conditions must also be complied with.

If you have exempted an XL Bully via the DEFRA portal by 31st January 2024, then please remember that there is an additional condition regarding neutering. If the dog was over a year old as at 31st January 2024, then there is a deadline to provide evidence to DEFRA by 30th June 2024 that your dog has been neutered. If the dog was less than a year old, as at 31st January 2024, then the deadline is 31st December 2024. N.B. If the dog was less than 7 months old as at 31st January 2024, the deadline is 30th June 2025.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is (a) a pit bull terrier type dog and (b) what is an XL Bully type dog?

(a) What is a pitbull terrier type?

The High Court has decided that for a dog to be a pit bull type, it must have a substantial number of the physical characteristics of a pit bull terrier. These characteristics are listed in a number of places, and probably the most comprehensive (and that generally relied on by Courts) is the American Dog Breeders Association’s Basis of Conformation for the American Pit Bull Terrier.

This is a functional standard which describes the ideal, and so the dog does not have to conform in every detail to be regarded as a pit bull type. The dogs behaviour has been said by the High Court to be relevant but not conclusive. Recent High Court rulings have clarified that a dog can also be exempted by the person for the time being in charge of the dog, which must be someone who has had responsibility for the dog in the past or present.

(b) What is an XL Bully type?

DEFRA has provided guidance by way of an “official definition”. However, it will be a matter for a Court to determine whether or not a dog is indeed an XL Bully type. According to DEFRA, it does not apply to established breeds, such as those recognised by the UK’s Kennel Club. The DEFRA official definition goes on to state:-

  • If it is an adult dog, then there is a minimum height standard of 19″ for a female and 20″ for a male.
  • If the dog meets the minimum height standard, you then need to consider whether it has a substantial number of the physical characteristics as set out in DEFRA’s official definition.
But I have a dog with a nice temperament. Surely this can’t be regarded as an illegal type?

The High Court has ruled that the behaviour of a dog is relevant but not conclusive when determining whether a dog is a pit bull type.

Surely there is a DNA test that can be used?

Not at present. In any event, the legal test is predominantly on the basis of physical conformation so it isn’t just about the breeding but is about what the dog looks like.

Doesn’t the law just apply to pure bred unlawful breeds?

No. Cross-breeds and mixed-breeds could be regarded as unlawful types depending on their physical conformation.

How does the prosecution prove their case?

In a case under Section 1 the burden of proof is on the Defendant to prove that the dog isn’t an unlawful type (but in a 4B case the burden of proof will probably be on the Police to prove that your dog is an unlawful type on the balance of probabilities).

This reversal of the usual burden of proof in a Section 1 case has been challenged in the European Court, but has been found to be lawful. It is therefore very difficult to successfully defend a case but it can be done if the Court prefers the evidence of the defence expert(s).

Can an unlawful dog type be made legal?

Owners were given a short period of time to have their dogs registered onto the Index of Exempted Dogs, but this form of voluntary registration has now ended.

Since 1997 the law has been slightly relaxed, so that the Court may allow the dog to be registered (and all of the other conditions must be complied with) but only if the owner can prove that the dog would not constitute a danger to public safety.

The Court must have regard to the temperament of the dog and whether the owner (or person in charge) is fit and proper. If this cannot be proven then the Court must order that the dog be destroyed.

If it is an XL Bully type dog, the owner will probably also be expected to provide a good reason why the dog had not been exempted before the cutoff date.

What are the conditions of owning an unlawful type apart from having the dog registered?

The dog has to be neutered (see above for XL Bully date of neutering), microchipped and insured. It must be kept in secure conditions to prevent it from escaping.

If the address where the dog is kept changes for more than 30 days you must notify the Index. The registered keeper must be a natural person*. The registered keeper must have the dog residing with them except for up to 30 days in any 12 months.

Keepership of an exempted dog cannot change unless (i) the registered keeper dies, or (ii) the registered keeper is so seriously ill they cannot look after the dog. N.B. For an XL Bully type that was exempted via the DEFRA portal, it is currently not possible for keepership to be changed in this manner as the provision only applies to a dog that has been exempted via a Court order.

You must notify the Index if the dog dies or is exported.

Also, no person shall:-

  • Breed, or breed from, the dog
  • Sell or exchange the dog or offer, advertise or expose the dog for sale or exchange
  • Make or offer to make a gift of the dog or advertise or expose the dog as a gift
  • Allow the dog to be in a public place without being muzzled and kept on a lead
  • Abandon the dog or allow it to stray

*Rescues were able to exempt XL Bully type dogs by 22nd January 2024, but this is no longer possible and cannot be done by Court order.

What would happen if any of the conditions are breached after a dog has been registered?

The dog would then become non-exempted and so it is a criminal offence and in addition to penalties for the Defendant there is a presumption that the dog shall be destroyed.

The High Court has recently clarified that a previously exempted dog can be re-exempted, provided (a) the dog would not constitute a danger to public safety and (b) that it is exempted to the owner or the person for the time being in charge of the dog.

Please note that the above summary only relates to the law in England and Wales.

You must not rely on it as constituting legal advice and so for specific guidance on your particular doglaw issues please contact us – see our “How we can help” section for details.