Dangerous Dogs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:26 pm on 15th June 1989.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 7:26 pm, 15th June 1989

The hon. Gentleman does me a considerable injustice. I was not suggesting that the matter should be adjudicated in the instance of every single dog which might or might not be a guard dog. That is not the question. The question is whether any old dog is capable of being a guard dog when being used as a guard dog for the purposes of guarding domestic premises.

The answer to that question, at first blush, is yes. If a dog is being used to guard premises that fall within the scope of the 1975 Act—and that does not appear to be confined to commercial premises, subject to what I have already said regarding the interpretation of section 1(1)—it is possible that the dog is a guard dog. But that is subject to one important proviso, which is that the Act expressly excludes farms and domestic dwellings. That proviso limits the scope and the application of section 1, so I ought to modify the opinion that I have previously expressed.

The Act would not apply to most flats, which are clearly domestic premises. It would depend on the flat and on the circumstances in each case. The Act would not apply to domestic premises, and flats arc domestic premises, but it might apply to other premises.

As I have said, the Act is concerned solely with working dogs that are carrying out the functions of a "guard dog": that is, a dog being used to protect premises, property or, in very narrowly defined circumstances, a person. The Act ensures that those dogs are securely held. It does not control dogs while they are being kept as family pets.

Pausing to make a point which must be self-evident, any dog is capable of being a guard dog. I suppose a pekinese is capable of being a guard dog. I had an extremely attractive Welsh springer spaniel, not the kind of dog that one would contemplate as a guard dog, yet he performed most admirably in that role, whereas my rather nice black labrador, which looks formidable, is probably not the kind of dog that one would choose as a guard dog. The definition of a guard dog has nothing to do with the breed but relates to the function that is being performed by the dog at the relevant time.

I foresee many difficulties in following the path which the hon. Gentleman suggests. There is a very great difficulty in defining a guard dog once one has departed from the simple definition used in the Guard Dogs Act, which I have endeavoured to summarise. The Act is not concerned with breeds or type of dog.

Breeds and types of dog have no status in law. The reasons for that are probably self-evident. The evidential problems are great, and cross-breeds are extremely difficult to define and identify. In any case, the evidence of the last few weeks and the tragic attacks which have occurred suggest that dogs of a whole variety of breeds can be dangerous.

We have seen attacks by rottweilers, dobermans and alsatians. We must bear in mind that many alsatians are used as guide dogs. However, I must come back to the fact that spaniels, of which I am particularly fond, are sometimes rather vicious animals. I had a pleasant Welsh springer spaniel of which I was very fond. However, that does not alter the fact that, from time to time, he could be extremely vicious. I am ashamed to say that on one occasion he caught a postman. Worst of all are the Jacks—Jack Russells. My father has had many Jack Russells and they have all been nasty. One Jack Russell—I forget its name—bit my mother three times. The last time was its last bite because it was put down. My point is that Jack Russells can be nasty. My daughter had the misfortune to be caught by another Jack Russell and her face was rather badly bitten.

So there are problems with dogs of all kinds. One must not suppose that the problems are confined to the big and obviously dangerous dogs. I had the misfortune to be bitten twice last year by the same dog on the same evening. It was not a rottweiler, a doberman or an alsatian but a bad-tempered old cross-breed which probably had some terrier and some labrador in it. That dog was very disagreeable. It was guarding a garage. It bit me when I got out of the car and when I went to the garage mechanic's back door, it bit me again. Therefore, one cannot define dangerous dogs by any definition known to the law. Indeed, it was difficult to recognise that dog. One could speculate as to its breed, but one could do no more than that. It certainly could not have been defined in law.

We have to face the fact that there have been attacks by terriers, collies and mongrels and that such attacks are very commonplace. We do not know how many occur. I have heard estimates of 250,000 a year—about 700 a day—or even 1 million a year: nobody really knows. Most dogs present no risk at all. I do not think that there is anything to be gained by trying to define dangerous breeds.