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Are Pitbulls Banned in the UK? The Surprising Facts

Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

By Kerry-Ann Kerr

Agressive pitbull terrier Dog training

The UK government passed legislation to prohibit certain dog breeds in 1991, which was in response to several incidents that involved unprovoked attacks on humans by dogs. This breed-specific legislation is controversial, and some countries have revised or abandoned similar laws.

It is illegal to own a Pitbull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Fila Brasileiro in the United Kingdom, with some exceptions. So, what exactly does this legislation mean for the Pitbull in the UK, and why are only some breeds included? Let’s dive right in.

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The Dangerous Dog Act 1991

The Dangerous Dog Act 1991 was created to prohibit people from owning some breeds of dogs that had originally been bred to fight. Between 1981 and 1991, there were 15 fatal attacks in England and Wales.

It made it illegal to breed, sell, give away, or abandon one of these dogs. Whether your dog falls into the banned category is determined by its appearance, as opposed to its breed or name. This means if you have a dog that matches any of the characteristics of a Pitbull Terrier, it may be banned.

The original legislation ordered the mandatory destruction of dogs on the banned list. However, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1997 amended the law, so a dog found guilty of looking like a banned breed would be exempt if it passed a behavioral assessment.

Blue Brindle Pitbull_Zanna Pesnina, Shutterstock
Photo Credit: Zanna Pesnina, Shutterstock

Are All Pitbulls Banned in the UK?

Pitbull Terriers are a specific breed of Terrier and are banned. However, there are different breeds that are classified as Pitbull types but would not be included in the ban. The American Bully,1 for example, has been called a “natural extension” of the better-known American Pitbull Terrier. However, they aren’t subject to any prohibitions under the Dangerous Dogs Act, and owning one in the UK is still legal.

So, why exactly are some dogs banned and others aren’t? Certain breeds developed a reputation for being more aggressive and responsible for seriously injuring people than others. That is why the usefulness of the Dangerous Dog Act has become a controversial topic. With a 26% rise in dog bites in the UK since the start of the pandemic, people have been calling for changes to this Act to be put in place. Instead of banning breeds, people have suggested we should concentrate on socialization and training.

Some blame irresponsible owners for tarnishing the breed, while others suggest it is down to generations of breeding for behaviors like aggression that result in certain species being more dangerous than others. However, whatever side of the argument you stand on, it’s unlikely that the current illegal dogs will be allowed in the UK anytime soon.

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What Happens if You Own a Banned Breed in the UK?

The police or local council dog warden have certain powers if you have a banned dog.2 They can take it even if there hasn’t been a complaint made or your dog isn’t acting dangerously. The police or a council dog expert will then decide what type of dog you have and whether it is or could be a danger to the public. They will then either release the dog back to you or keep it in kennels while the council or police apply to a court. You won’t be able to visit your dog during this time while waiting for the court’s decision.

When you go to court, you will have to prove you don’t have a banned dog breed, but if you can’t prove this or plead guilty, you will be convicted of a crime. You can receive an unlimited fine or go to prison for up to 6 months (or both), and your dog will be destroyed.

black pitbull with chain collar
Photo Credit: Romero Joel, Pixabay

The Index of Exempt Dogs

The court may rule that your banned breed is not a danger to the public, in which case they will put your dog on the Index of Exempt Dogs and allow you to keep it. You’ll be given a Certificate of Exemption, which is valid for the life of the dog.

Your dog will need to be:
  • Kept in a secure place so it can’t escape
  • Kept on a lead and muzzled at all times when in public
  • Microchipped
  • Neutered
You will also have to:
  • Be over the age of 16
  • Let the Index of Exempt Dogs know if your address changes or your dog dies
  • Show the Certificate of Exemption when asked by a council dog warden or police officer (at the time or within 5 days)
  • Take out insurance against your dog injuring other people

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Final Thoughts

Pitbulls are banned in the UK, but there can be exceptions to this rule. If you are lucky enough to get an exemption for your dog, there are a few things you will have to do, like take out insurance and produce your certificate if asked for it. There are four banned breeds in the UK after they (wrongly or rightly) gained a reputation for being aggressive and causing more harm to humans than other breeds.

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Featured Photo Credit: Aneta Jungerova, Shutterstock

Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

Authored by

Kerry-Ann lives in Scotland and wishes her garden was bigger so she could have her very own Highland cow but thinks her dogs probably wouldn’t like that idea very much. She has a La Chon called Harry who was poorly with a liver shunt when he was a puppy. It wasn't likely he would make it into adulthood, which was difficult to comprehend, but he beat the odds and is a healthy old man now. She also has a Pug called Maddie...Read more

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