Dog Attacks FAQs

What does the new law mean?

It means that if a dog attacks an assistance dog then its owner will have committed an offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act. If the dog injures the assistance dog then its owner will be liable for prosecution and face a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

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What about the law in Scotland?

In May 2014, The Scottish Parliament introduced a measure which is equivalent to the Act Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act was already in place which empowered dog wardens to be able to issue Dog Control Notices to try and curb anti-social behaviour from dogs. We are currently researching which of these Acts should be used when a dog attack happens and will update this section when we have more information.

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If my guide dog is attacked before May 2014 will this new law apply?

The law comes into force from May 2014 so it is only dog attacks which take place after this date which will be covered by this law. But you should still report the attack to the police as there are other laws they can use to charge the irresponsible dog owner.

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My guide dog was attacked before this new law was announced, can I retrospectively raise my case with the police?

No, this law only comes into force from May 2014. However, if your guide dog or another assistance dog is attacked after this law is in force the police will have a lot more power to tackle it as it will be considered an aggravated offence.

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Does this new law cover guide dogs when they are free running?

Yes, the law will cover all dogs which have been trained to provide assistance and does not stipulate that they have to be providing assistance in the moment that they are attacked.

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Does this new law cover retired guide dogs?

Yes, because the law will cover dogs which have been trained to provide assistance.

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Does this new law cover guide dog puppies?

A guide dog puppy will not be covered as it has not been trained to provide assistance. However, an attack of this type should still be reported to the police because the new law does include some other measures which may apply. For example, the owner of the dog can be obliged to take responsible dog ownership classes.

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Does this new law cover guide dogs in training?

The law is not specific on this point. It states that it will cover "a dog which has been trained to guide a blind person". An ordinary reading of these words would imply training to qualification standard. Whether this includes a dog currently undergoing training may need to be tested in the courts.

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Which 'assistance dogs' does this cover?

The law will cover all those assistance dogs which are already covered by the Equality Act 2010. This includes guide dogs, hearing dogs, epilepsy dogs, dogs which help people with physical disabilities affecting mobility, co-ordination and dexterity, and specific dogs which have been trained to help other disabled people.

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Where does this new law apply?

This law will be in force in England and Wales as well as Scotland, where the Parliament has agreed to adopt these measures too. Northern Ireland has laws in place to protect assistance dogs, though they don’t go quite as far as the new laws in the rest of the UK.

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What do I do if my guide dog is attacked from now on?

Report it to the police and to your local guide dogs mobility team. Your mobility team will be able to help you through the whole process from reporting it to the police, seeking veterinary treatment if necessary and pressing charges.

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Are you sure the Police are aware of this new law?

We have spoken to the Association of Chief Police Officers and  they have told us all Dog Legislation Officers have received a written update on the legislation, and they will all be trained in due course.

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What is happening in Scotland?

We are still campaigning for compulsory microchipping in Scotland. Supporters have encouraged the government to adopt this measure which would mean the whole of the UK would soon have compulsory microchipping of all dogs. The government closed a consultation earlier this year on whether to introduce compulsory microchipping. Guide Dogs Scotland submitted a response and were invited to speak at a summit on the subject of dog attacks. We will continue to campaign for compulsory microchipping in Scotland.

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What happens next for the Dog Attacks campaign?

We will be monitoring the number of attacks reported to us and any changes to the way these attacks are treated by police to ensure the new laws are effective. It is therefore really important that you tell your local mobility team and the police if your guide dog is attacked by another dog in the future. 

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What else does this law change mean?

As well as protecting guide dogs from attack by other dogs, the new law gives powers to local authorities and police to tackle irresponsible dog ownership without the need to involve the justice system. For example, the new law means that owners whose dogs cause a nuisance can be required to keep them muzzled or on a lead in public places.

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What happens if my guide dog attacks another assistance dog?

There are no exemptions for guide dogs under this law so you would be guilty if your dog attacks another dog. However, as with most laws, the police and the courts will take account of any mitigating factors, for example if your dog was provoked by another dog, if you had tried to intervene to prevent the attack or if you could show evidence of good character and responsible ownership.

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Why aren't you campaigning for all dogs to be covered by this new law, not just assistance dogs?

An attack on any dog is upsetting for both the animal and its owner; however, attacks on assistance dogs can also severely limit a person's ability to go out independently. A guide dog will require time to recover from an attack, possibly need retraining, and in the most severe cases may need to be retired. All of this will impact on the dog's owner who will not only have lost a companion but also a vital mobility aid. Therefore this new law is designed to recognise the impact such attacks have on the guide dog owner.

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Why doesn’t Guide Dogs support life imprisonment as the maximum sentence?

When considering any change in the maximum penalty for an aggravated dog attack, it should be noted that a person convicted of causing death by using a dog as a weapon may be convicted of manslaughter or murder and may already be given a sentence of life imprisonment. As such, life imprisonment is already available as an option for the courts.

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What do Guide Dogs think about Dog Control Notices?

Guide Dogs support Control of Dogs Notices as introduced in Scotland and would welcome a similar tool introduced in England, so that individual dogs who pose a threat to other dogs and their owners can be controlled by legal means. It should be noted that some of the measures in the proposed Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill do the same thing.

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What about more “breed specific” legislation?

We believe that responsible dog ownership, rather than targeting particular breeds, is the way to address this problem. As such, we do not support any further “breed specific” legislation.

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What is or isn't an attack?

The law does not use the work 'attack' but says that an offence has been committed by the dog owner or the person in charge of a dog, if the dog is "dangerously out of control".

The definition of "dangerously out of control" is that "there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure any person or assistance dog, whether or not it actually does so". So the law has been broken even if there is no physical injury to the person or assistance dog, and this should still be reported to the police.

If a person or an assistance dog does get injured by the dog while it is out of control, then an aggravated offence has been committed. This is the more serious form of the offence and it carries stricter penalties.

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Jenny and her guide dog Toby

"It was horrible. Because of where the wound was, Toby couldn’t really move about and he couldn’t work for almost four weeks. I had to rely on other people to get out of the house, which I’m just not used to."

- Guide dog owner Jenny on the impact an attack on her guide dog had on her independence

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