|Now the Government wants competence tests before you
can be a dog owner
Mail | February 28, 2010
Every dog owner will have to take a costly ‘competence test’ to prove they can handle their pets, under new Government proposals designed to curb dangerous dogs.
Owners of all breeds would also have to buy third-party insurance in case their pet attacked someone, and pay for the insertion of a microchip in their animal recording their name and address.
The proposals are among a range of measures to overhaul dog laws in England and Wales being considered by senior Ministers, who are expected to announce a public consultation within weeks.
But critics said responsible dog owners would be penalised by yet more red tape and higher bills – one expert estimated the extra costs at £60 or more – while irresponsible owners of dangerous dogs would just ignore the measures.
They added that genuine dog lovers could end up paying for efforts to control a small number of ‘devil dogs’ that terrorised socially deprived areas.
The RSPCA said last night it would welcome a review of legislation which
has failed to curb the numbers of dangerous dogs that can attack, and sometimes
kill, children and adults.
A government source said the proposals, contained in a confidential document headed Consultation On Dangerous Dogs, have been drawn up by the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra).
They follow mounting public concern about the spate of serious injuries and deaths inflicted by dogs.
Police figures show an increase in the number of ‘status’ dogs used to intimidate or threaten others. According to the last available figures, there were 703 convictions for dangerously out of control dogs in 2007 – up from 547 in 2004.
Under the proposals, would-be owners would have to show they had a basic understanding of their dogs before being allowed to keep one.
The document says: ‘There have been suggestions for a competency test for all or some dog owners, akin to the driving theory test.’
But the document admits the cost of setting up such a scheme to cover Britain’s six million dog owners ‘is likely to be prohibitive’, and would have to be met by either charging for the test or by imposing a dog licence fee. Moreover, the officials concede that there were disagreements over what would constitute competence in looking after and controlling a dog.
Third-party insurance would be less contentious, as owners of certain breeds of dogs are already required to take out such cover.
It is also included in the pet insurance taken out by owners to cover unforeseen vets’ bills and it can be bought for a little as £5, though it will be more expensive for larger and more powerful breeds.
In addition, many owners have had microchips implanted in the necks of their dogs – a process that costs about £30.
Other proposals due to be floated by the Government include giving the police and local authorities the power to impose Asbos on the owners of unruly dogs, and extending the law to cover attacks everywhere.
At the moment, dogs which attack people on private property where they
are allowed to be are exempt from the law, despite the complaints from
As part of the proposed overhaul, all dog laws, including the Dangerous Dog Act 1991, often cited as an example of poorly drawn-up ‘knee jerk’ legislation, could be incorporated into a single law.
An RSPCA spokesman said: ‘We welcome a review but the problem is that while responsible owners will abide by the rules, inevitably you are going to get a fraternity that does not. There are always people who will buy a dog from their mate in a pub and won’t tell the authorities.
‘So the danger is that sensible owners will be out of pocket while irresponsible dog owners will ignore any new rules unless the policing of them is rigorous.’
He said, for example, that while the RSPCA encouraged the use of microchips, the system relied on owners keeping the information up to date.
‘It is no good finding an aggressive dog roaming the streets, perhaps having attacked someone, and going to the address on the microchip to find that the owner hasn’t lived there for years,’ he said.
The Kennel Club said that it was in favour of measures to promote responsible dog ownership, but that the competence tests sounded impractical.
A spokesman for Defra said: ‘We do not comment on leaked documents.’