Thank you for contacting me about dangerous dogs and XL Bullies.
I share the widespread public concern about the recent distressing rise in dog attacks and I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the families of the victims.
Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, it is an offence to allow any dog to be out of control in any place. In addition, the Dogs Act 1871 allows a complaint to be made to a Magistrates’ court by any individual, the police, or local authorities where dogs are dangerous and not kept under proper control. The court may make any order it considers appropriate to require owners to keep their dogs under proper control.
I recognise the strength of feeling regarding the existing provisions around dog breeds in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. However, I am also aware that any changes to current legislation would require careful consideration to ensure that public safety remains at its heart.
Simply repealing the breed specific provisions contained in the Dangerous Dogs Act with no other changes may increase the risks to public safety. The Government firmly believes that these restrictions play an important part in tackling dangerous dogs.
In December 2021, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published research in collaboration with Middlesex University, investigating measures to reduce dog attacks and promote responsible dog ownership across all breeds of dog. It included recommendations relating to improved data recording and collection, consistency in enforcement practice, the quality of dog training and dog awareness courses, and improved awareness of appropriate behaviour around dogs.
Defra established an expert Responsible Dog Ownership working group with the police, local authorities and animal welfare experts to identify additional measures to reduce dog attacks and promote responsible dog ownership. I look forward to reading more about the group’s recommendations in due course.
XL Bully Dogs
Following the rise in tragic dog attacks appearing to be driven by XL Bullies, the Government is taking decisive action to protect the public by adding the XL Bully type to the list of dogs prohibited under the Dangerous Dogs Act. It will be illegal to breed, sell, advertise, exchange, gift, rehome, abandon or allow XL Bully dogs to stray in England and Wales from 31 December 2023. It will also be compulsory for owners to keep these dogs on a lead and muzzled when in public. A failure to comply will be a criminal offence.
Owners of XL Bully dogs should start training their dog to wear a muzzle and to walk on a lead ahead of the legal restrictions coming into force. Breeders should also stop mating these types of dogs in preparation of it being a criminal offence from 31 December 2023 to sell or rehome these dogs. From 1 February 2024, it will become illegal to own an XL Bully dog if it is not registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs. By staggering these dates, current owners of this breed will have time to prepare for these new rules.
Owners who wish to legally keep their dogs will have until 31 January 2024 to register their dog on the Index of Exempted dogs and comply with the requirements. As part of the process, all owners will need to provide proof that their dog has been microchipped and neutered. XL Bully owners should now arrange this as soon as possible if applying for an exemption.
From 1 February 2024, owners without a Certificate of Exemption could receive a criminal record and an unlimited fine if they are found to be in possession of an XL Bully type, and their dog could be seized. Owners can choose to have their dog put to sleep, rather than keeping them under the new conditions. I am informed that the Government will pay a contribution of £200 per dog towards the costs associated with this.
While I appreciate that you have strong views about this matter, it is a fact that fatal and serious dog attacks have risen sharply this year, and the XL Bully breed appears to have been disproportionately involved in this rise. The Government must balance the views of those who want to repeal or amend breed specific legislation with our responsibility to ensure that the public is protected from dog attacks. Given this rise in fatalities and other attacks, Ministers are clear that more decisive action is needed, aimed specifically at the XL Bully. The Government convened experts, including canine and veterinary experts, police, and animal welfare organisations to define the breed.
Defining an XL Bully
The definition of the XL Bully breed has been published. This provides clear assessment criteria for owners and enforcement authorities and is a requirement under the Dangerous Dogs Act so the ban can be delivered. Dog owners should use this official definition to check if their dog is an XL Bully. I understand that it is up to the owner or keeper to self-identify whether a dog may be an XL Bully. To check if a dog is an XL Bully, owners need to check the dog’s physical characteristics such as its size and height. The full definition can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/official-definition-of-an-xl…
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has recommended taking a precautionary approach. Therefore, if an owner is not sure if their dog is an XL Bully, they should prepare for the ban on the XL Bully. This applies to puppies that may grow up to be an XL Bully. If owners wish to keep their dog after the ban comes into force, they must apply for a Certificate of Exemption and must ensure they meet specific requirements, which include ensuring the dog is microchipped, neutered, kept on a lead and muzzled at all times when in public, and kept in a secure place so it cannot escape. The deadline for applying for a Certificate of Exemption is 31 January 2024. More information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/prepare-for-the-ban-on-xl-bully-dogs
While I have noted your comments about the breed classification, the definition of the XL Bully breed type follows meetings of an expert group, made up of police, local authority, vets and other animal welfare experts to help define the breed.
Ages of XL Bully Dogs: Neutering
If your dog is less than one year old on 31 January 2024, it must be neutered by 31 December 2024. If your dog is older than one year old on 31 January 2024, it must be neutered by 30 June 2024. XL Bully owners who have not neutered their dogs should arrange for this to take place soon as possible if they wish to apply for an exemption.
XL Bully Dogs: Rehoming
I understand that after the end of this year, it will not be possible for XL Bully dogs to be rehomed from rehoming centres. It will be for rehoming centres to decide whether to take the necessary steps to keep these dogs, or whether to put the dog to sleep.
The transition period for owners to apply for an exemption is now open and application forms can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-a-certificate-of-exemption-to-kee…
I am assured that Ministers will continue to work closely with the police, canine and veterinary experts, and animal welfare groups, as these important measures are taken forward.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP