Out of Control Dogs
This page provides information on the legal requirements of dog owners to keep their animals under control and the sanctions available to authorities in dealing with out of control dogs.
Please note that any incidents involving a dog biting attack or serious injury on a person or another animal should be referred to Police Scotland for initial investigation. West Lothian Council will consider other incidents involving a dog being out of control which gives rise to reasonable alarm or apprehension for the safety of a person or another animal. For further information see below.
Do dogs have to be kept on a lead?
The law says that dogs must be kept under close control, but does not state dogs must be kept on lead. If a dog responds to the owners commands and is kept close to heel, can lie down or returns on command, the dog would be considered to be under close control. If you're not sure that your dog can do this the responsible thing is to keep them on a lead.
'Out of Control'
Any dog, regardless of its breed, can cause fear and alarm, or even serious injury, if its behaviour is 'out of control'. This does not necessarily mean that the dog has acted in an aggressive manner. However, the legislation relates to when a dog's behaviour give rise to alarm, or apprehensiveness, which are reasonable in the circumstances.
All incidents involving dog bites on people, serious injury to another animal, or dangerous dogs must be reported to the Police for initial investigation. Where appropriate our officers can provide assistance to the Police in dealing with such incidents, but we will only take referrals directly from the Police. Other types of dog control concerns can be reported directly to our service.
For more information, see below.
Dealing with out of control dogs
The local authority can investigate concerns brought to our attention if we have the following information.
- Details of when the incident took place, date and time.
- Details of the dog(s) owner, - address, name (if possible).
- Details of dog(s) involved in incident.
If we are provided with this information we will require you to complete a more detailed statement regarding the incident. We will also request a statement from the owner of the dog(s) involved.
If there is reasonable evidence from the statements received that the dog(s) have been out of control then we will issue a warning to the dog owner. This will outline steps the dog owner should take to prevent further incidents.
The responsibility for ensuring the control of any dog remains with the owner.
The main aim of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 is to promote awareness the responsibilities of dog ownership.
The Act focuses on the "Deed not the Breed" (dealing with the problem rather than the particular breed of dog) approach in tackling irresponsible ownership. The key aim is to:
- highlight the responsibilities of owners of "out of control" dogs to deal with problems at an early stage; and
- provide the information and assistance needed to change the behaviour of the dog and the owner before the dog becomes dangerous.
All dog owners have a responsibility to ensure that their dog is under control and does not interfere with other members of the public.
The local authority can issue a warning to the dog owner, or take more formal action in serving a Dog Control Notice (DCN). The aim of each is to make the owner aware of the measures which need to be addressed to prevent the dog causing more serious problems in future.
These measures can include (but are not restricted to):
- Muzzling the dog whenever it is in a public place
- Keeping the dog on a lead
- Having male dogs neutered
- Keeping the dog away from specific environment or specified type of environment
- Undertaking training to modify/control the dog's behaviour
- Having the dog microchipped
Please note that issuing a DCN is the last resort that a local authority will use. In all cases we will try and work with dog owners to informally resolve any issues by giving appropriate advice and guidance to them and issuing a warning letter.
Failure to comply with a DCN is a criminal offence and any breaches may be reported to the Procurator Fiscal. The owner may incur a fine of up to £1,000. In addition the court may make an order to disqualify a person from owning or keeping a dog for a period of time, instruct the Authorised Officer to reissue a new DCN with revised conditions, re-home the dog, or have the dog destroyed.
In the event of the dog being involved in a police 'dangerous dog' investigation, the existence of a warning letter or Dog Control Notice will be taken into account by the courts.
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 Act makes it an offence for anyone in charge of any type of dog to allow it to be dangerously out of control in any public place (following amendment by the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010). A person found guilty of an offence may face imprisonment of up to 2 years and/or an unlimited fine. The courts may also disqualify the offender from having custody of a dog for any period as it thinks fit. The existence of any previous warning letter or Dog Control Notice will be taken into account by the courts. Any complaint of this nature must be reported to the police which will investigate the matter under the Act.
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 also puts strict controls on types of dogs which were specifically bred for fighting (the Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Braziliero). Following the commencement of the 1991 Act on 12 August 1991, owners of these types of dogs could apply (until until 30 November 1991) for their dog to be registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs ("the Index"). If successfully placed on the Index, a dog required to be kept in compliance with the strict requirements of the Act meaning the owner had:
- To obtain a certificate to enable them to retain such a dog;
- To have the dog neutered or spayed;
- To ensure the dog is permanently identified with a tattoo and microchip (electronic transponder);
- To maintain insurance against their dog injuring third parties;
- To keep the dog muzzled, on a lead in public places; and
- To ensure the dog is not left in charge of a person under the age of 16.
From 1st December 1991 onwards, any person owning such a dog which is not recorded on the Index is committing a criminal offence and liable for prosecution. Until 1997, it had been the case that if one of the specific types of dog was kept without having been placed on the Index, then the person in charge of the dog would be prosecuted and if found guilty, the court would be required to order the destruction of the dog. This changed following the passing of the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997 so that the court had discretion in sentencing and was not always required to order that the dog be destroyed where an owner was found to have kept a dog in breach of the legislation (though this did remain as an option for the court).
If you believe that a dog is one of the specified 'banned breeds', this should be reported to Police Scotland which is authorised under the act. Our officers will provide assistance to Police Scotland where necessary but they are not authorised under the Dangerous Dogs Act to take any action themselves.
Under the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987, a farmer, in some cases has the right to shoot a dog if it is worrying their livestock. Sheep worrying is one of the most notorious crimes that a pet dog can commit. Livestock worrying does not necessarily mean a dog has attacked a livestock animal. A dog which gives chase to livestock can cause extreme stress to the animals and sheep which are chased by dogs may miscarry their unborn lambs resulting in further stress to the sheep and losses for the farmer.
Regardless of size, breed or temperament, ALL dogs pose a potential danger to livestock. Regrettably it is part of a dog's genetic makeup to chase moving creatures, making all manner of things indiscriminate targets of a chase.
What happens to a dog that has worried sheep?
The law states:
Where a dog has attacked or killed livestock the court shall make an order directing the dog to be destroyed.
Where it appears to a court that a dog has chased livestock in such a way as might reasonably have been expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock or to result in financial loss to the owner of the livestock the court shall:
- Make an order directing the dog to be destroyed, or;
- Make an order directing the dog to be kept confined in a building, shed, yard or other enclosure from which it cannot escape.
Get information for dog owners and the country code of practice.