Getting a dog is a big responsibility, we all know that. The relationship between dogs and their owners can be hugely rewarding, provided it's built on love, care and respect.
All dog owners in the UK have a legal duty to make sure they are providing for their pup’s welfare needs.
It’s important to be aware of your obligations before you decide to take on a pet, but with so many different acts, legislations and codes of conduct in place, staying up-to-date with specific laws can get confusing.
To keep things simple, we’ve created a guide to UK dog laws as they apply in 2022.
Find the information you need:
- An owner's duty of care
- Driving with dogs and road accidents
- Walking with your dog in public places
- Keeping others safe around your dog
- Laws on banned dogs
- Stray dogs, breeding and buying puppies
- Microchipping and dog tags
An owner's duty of care
The Animal Welfare Act 2006 was set up to ensure pet owners meet the five welfare needs when looking after their animals. Under this act, if a dog’s needs aren’t met, dog owners could be prosecuted for animal cruelty.
The term ‘cruelty’, refers to the act of causing an animal unnecessary suffering. As well as covering deliberate infliction of pain or hurt onto an animal, cruelty includes neglect and failing to meet a dog’s needs to live a healthy and fulfilled life.
In the UK, all domestic animals, including dogs, have the legal right to:
- Environment: Live in a suitable environment.
- Diet: Eat a suitable diet.
- Behaviour: Exhibit normal behaviour patterns.
- Companionship: Be housed with, or apart from, other animals.
- Health: Be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
📖 Tip: The Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs provides more information to help pet owners understand and meet these five needs.
Under section 32 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, dog owners who are found to be failing to care for their dogs could face:
- Going to court and facing a prison sentence of up to 51 weeks
- A fine of up to £20,000
- Their dog being taken away
- Being banned from owning pets in the future
Finn's Law 🐕🦺
In 2019, legislation was introduced under the Animal Welfare Act to make it harder for people who harm service animals to claim that they were doing so in self defence.
Referred to as ‘Finn’s Law’, this amendment followed the stabbing of a police dog named Finn. Finn sadly sustained stab wounds to the chest and his head, but at the time, the only charges brought against his attacker were criminal damage.
As of June 2021, Finn’s Law Part 2 has brought a change in the law which has increased the maximum prison sentence for such animal cruelty from six months to five years with an unlimited fine.
Laws on driving with dogs and road accidents 🚗
The Highway Code
Under the Highway Code, published in 2015 and updated in March 2022, certain rules are in place that dog owners should be aware of.
- Rule 56: Do not let a dog out on the road on its own. Keep it on a short lead when walking on the pavement, road or path shared with cyclists or horse riders.
- Rule 57: When in a vehicle, make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.
Breaking the Highway Code is not currently an offence in the UK. However, the act of allowing a dog to distract or injure you while driving could be taken into account in the event of an accident.
Road Traffic Act
Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states that any driver who injures a dog while driving a car, motorbike or other vehicle type must provide their name and address to the dog owner or person in charge of the dog at the time.
In the event no person is accompanying the dog during the time of the accident, drivers are required to report the incident to the police within 24 hours.
Under this act, failure to stop or report is an offence and could result in the following:
- Penalty points on your driving licence from 5 - 10
- A fine of up to £5,000
📖 Read the legislation for more details.
Laws on walking with your dog in public places 🐾
Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs)
Previously referred to as Dog Control Orders (DCOs), Public Spaces Protection Orders are in place in certain public areas in England and Wales.
It’s important to refer to the PSPOs that exist in your local area. Each local council is required to provide public access to these rules via their website.
While each specific PSPO can differ from place to place, the orders may require dog owners to:
- Clear up after their dogs (keeping pick up bags on hand during dog walks)
- Limit the number of dogs being walked at one time (regardless of personal or professional dog walking status)
- Keep dogs on leads, and follow instructions to put dogs on leads if told to by police officers, support officers or council members
- Prevent dogs from entering specific places like parks, children’s play areas and farmlands
Under these regulations, dog owners found to be breaking orders can be fined. These fines include:
- Fixed Penalty Notice: Fined £100 on the spot
- A higher fine up to £1,000 if the charge goes to court
Road Traffic Act
Section 27 of this act outlines the rules for walking dogs on roads. Under this act, a person who is found to be walking their dog without a lead on a designated road could be guilty of an offence.
A ‘designated road’ in this context means a length of road specified by an order in that behalf of the local authority in whose area the length of road is situated.
For this reason, it’s important to check the roads in your local area, as local councils have the power to issue specific PSPOs as mentioned.
Photo: Dog wears Barc London's Lush Green Collar and Lead Set while crossing the road.
The Countryside Code
This code outlines advice for enjoying UK parks, waterways, coastal and countryside areas safely.
When it comes to walking your dog in these areas, it’s important to keep your dog under control to ensure it stays away from wildlife, livestock, horses and other people.
To do so, the code advises:
- Keeping a dog on lead or in sight
- Being confident in a dog’s recall abilities
- Making sure a dog doesn’t stray from the path or area where right of access applies
As per the PSPOs mentioned above, it’s crucial to check local signage provided by the council to ensure you are following local restrictions.
The code highlights the importance of keeping a dog on a lead when walking close to livestock.
It is a legal requirement to keep your dog on a lead when walking on Open Access land (even if there is no livestock on the land at the time of your walk).
The most crucial piece of information here is that under section 9 of the Animals Act 1971 and Protection of Livestock Act 1953, ‘a farmer can shoot a dog that is attacking or chasing livestock. They may not be liable to compensate the dog’s owner.’
📖 Find out more about The Countryside Code.
A summary of UK dog walking laws:
- Dog Fouling: Not cleaning up after your dog can result in an on-the-spot fine up to £100 depending on your local council’s PSPO.
- Carrying Pick-up Bags: Some councils have made it mandatory to carry a poop scoop and disposable bag when walking dogs in public places.
- Walking On Agricultural Land: Under certain circumstances, farmers retain the right to stop and / or shoot dogs that are chasing or attacking their livestock.
- Walking On Designated Roads: It is a criminal offence for dogs to be walked on these roads without being held on a lead.
Laws on keeping others safe around your dog 🏥
It is a legal requirement to keep your dog under control in both private and public places, and failure to do so could result in you being fined, sent to prison for up to six months, or both.
It is against the law to allow your dog to be dangerously out of control and injure, or threaten to injure another person or animal. This law applies to all dogs in all places, including (but not limited to):
- Public places
- Private places
- Your own home
The penalties in place for this law include:
- Up to five years imprisonment and / or a fine if you fail to stop your dog from injuring someone
- A ‘malicious wounding’ charge if you deliberately use your dog to injure someone
- Up to fifteen years imprisonment and / or an unlimited fine if you allow your dog to kill someone
- Up to three years imprisonment and or a fine if you don’t prevent your dog from injuring an Assistance Dog
📖 Read more information about controlling dogs in public.
Laws on owning and dealing with 'banned dogs' 🚫
Another important rule to be aware of is the legal implications of owning ‘banned dogs’ under UK law. The government states that it is illegal to own the following types of dogs:
- Japanese Tosa
- Fila Brasileiro
- Dogo Argentino
- Pit Bull Terrier
Important: A dog’s characteristics is the determining factor in establishing whether or not a dog is ‘banned’, rather than its breed or name. So, if a dog was to match a number of the characteristics of the above types, it may be classed as banned.
In addition to not being able to own these types of dogs - it is also illegal to sell, abandon, give away or breed these dogs.
Rules to be aware of:
- Police rights: Banned dogs can be taken by the police or local council dog wardens even if it is not acting dangerously or a complaint has not been filed
- Warrants: To take a dog from a private place, a warrant must be in place (in public places warrants are not required)
- Assessing dogs: While determining whether or not a dog is banned, they will be kept in kennels before either being released or an application gets made to court
- Visitations: Dog owners are not allowed to visit their dogs in kennels while waiting for the court’s decision
Index of Exempted Dogs
In the event your dog is found to be a banned dog, but the court does not believe it to be a danger to the public, you may be able to keep him or her under the Index of Exempted Dogs (IED).
When this happens, your dog will be registered on the index and you will be provided with a Certificate of Exemption (valid for the dog’s entire life). Owners of an exempted dog must:
- Neuter and microchip their dog
- Keep their dog on a lead and muzzled in public
- Keep their dog in a secure place to prevent them from escaping
- Take out insurance against their dog injuring others
- Show the Certificate of Exemption as and when required by police and wardens
- Keep the IED informed with changes in address and the death of the dog
Laws on stray dogs, breeding and buying puppies 🐕
There are several acts and legislation in place to protect dogs and puppies when it comes to breeding, buying and selling. In England and Wales, it is illegal to sell a puppy under the age of eight weeks old.
Following a petition against poor puppy farming conditions, Lucy’s Law came into effect in April 2020.
Lucy was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel rescued from a Welsh puppy farm, where she had been found to spend five years in a cage, used to continuously breed litters upon litters of puppies.
Under this law, it is illegal to sell puppies and kittens under the age of six months old unless the seller has bred the puppy or kitten themselves, or is a legitimate rescue centres.
Environmental Protection Act 1990
Under this act, any person who finds a stray dog has an obligation to make an attempt to:
- Reunite them with their owner
- Report them to a dog warden
In England and Wales, the police are not responsible for stray dogs. However, if you find a stray dog and do not contact a dog warden, you could be accused of theft.
Microchipping and dog tags, UK law 🏷️
It is a legal requirement for dogs in England to be microchipped, and for their details to be registered on an authorised database. Dog owners must also ensure that the information provided on the database is kept up-to-date.
Under the new microchipping laws - which have been in place since 6 April 2016 - dog owners found by police not to have microchipped their dogs will be given a short period to comply.
After this period, a fine of up to £500 could be issued.
📖 Get help with getting your dog microchipped.
The Control of Dogs Order 1992
In addition to microchipping, there are rules when it comes to collars and dog tags. UK law requires pups to wear dog collars with identification tags in public places. These dog tags must display:
- The name of the dog owner (initials and surname)
- An up-to-date address of the owner (house number and postcode)
Despite not being a legal requirement, it is also a good idea to include your phone number on the tag too.