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Out of Control Dogs

This page provides information on the legal requirements of dog owners to keep their animals under control and the sanctions available to authorities in dealing with out of control dogs.

Do dogs have to be kept on a lead?

The law says that dogs must be kept under close control, but does not state dogs must be kept on lead. If a dog responds to the owners commands and is kept close to heel, can lie down or returns on command, the dog would be considered to be under close control. If you're not sure that your dog can do this the responsible thing is to keep them on a lead.

'Out of Control'

Any dog, regardless of its breed, can cause fear and alarm, or even serious injury, if its behaviour is 'out of control'. This does not necessarily mean that the dog has acted in an aggressive manner. All incidents involving dog bites on people, or dangerous dogs must be reported to the Police in the first instance. Where appropriate our officers can provide assistance to the Police in dealing with such incidents, but we will only take referrals directly from the Police. Other types of dog control concerns can be reported directly to our service.

For more information, see below.

The Control of Dogs Act (Scotland)

Many households now have a dog as a family pet. In the right hands, and with the right training and environment, dogs can really enrich the lives of their owners and others around them. However, a dog which is out of control is no pleasure for a dog owner, and may cause fear and apprehension in other members of the public or in some circumstances even cause injury to other people or animals.

The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act was brought in to effect on the 26th February 2011. The main aim of the Act is to promote awareness of the responsibility involved in dog ownership.

The Act focuses on the "Deed not the Breed" (dealing with the problem rather than the particular breed of dog) approach in tackling irresponsible ownership. The key aim is to:

  • highlight the responsibilities of owners of "out of control" dogs at an early stage; and
  • provide the information and assistance needed to change the behaviour of the dog and the owner before the dog becomes dangerous. 

This is fundamental in helping reduce the number of attacks by dogs of all breeds. The Act gives new powers to local authorities for action to be taken against out of control dogs and enforce measures to improve any such behaviour.

The Act empowers local authorities to seek to exercise control over irresponsible dog owners throughout Scotland. The new powers granted in the Act allow local authorities to take both preventative and direct actions in a bid to reduce dog attacks.

Any dog, regardless of its breed, can cause fear and alarm, or even serious injury if its behaviour is 'out of control'. This does not mean that the dog has necessarily acted in an aggressive manner, however. What may seem like playful, friendly behaviour to one person, can be quite alarming to another i.e. dog running up uninvited to people/other dogs. Also, an overexcited dog which runs up to a dog which is not confident or sociable with other dogs, can lead to fights. All dog owners have a responsibility to ensure that their dog is under control and does not interfere with other members of the public.

After investigation, a Dog Control Notice (DCN) can be issued to owners of dogs that have been shown to be 'out of control', require the owner to modify and manage the dog's behaviour in order to control it in the interest of public safety. The DCN places a statutory duty on dog owners to keep their dog(s) under control and may contain a number of measures that the owner is required to implement within a stated timeframe. These measures can include (but are not restricted to):

  • Muzzling the dog whenever it is in a public place
  • Keeping the dog on a lead
  • Having male dogs neutered
  • Keeping the dog away from specific environment or specified type of environment
  • Undertaking training to modify/control the dog's behaviour
  • Having the dog microchipped

The Act places a statutory duty on the Authorised Officers to monitor any DCNs that have been issued to ensure they are being complied with. Failure to comply with a DCN is a criminal offence and any breaches may be reported to the Procurator Fiscal. The owner may incur a fine of up to £1,000. In addition the court may make an order to disqualify a person from owning or keeping a dog for a period of time, instruct the Authorised Officer to reissue a new DCN with revised conditions, re-home the dog, or have the dog destroyed.

Any individual who has been caused alarm or apprehension by the behaviour of a dog should report the matter to the Animal Welfare Officers for further investigation. For more information on the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010, pdf icon download our leaflet [711kb].

Dangerous Dogs / Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 Act makes it an offence for anyone in charge of any type of dog to allow it to be dangerously out of control in a public place, or in a private place where it has no right to be. A person found guilty of an offence may face imprisonment of up to 2 years and/or an unlimited fine. The courts may also disqualify the offender from having custody of a dog for any period as it thinks fit. Any complaint of this nature  must be reported to the police who will investigate the matter under the Act.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 also puts strict controls on types of dogs which were specifically bred for fighting (the Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Braziliero). Following the commencement of the 1991 Act on 12 August 1991, there was a period of time until 30 November 1991 where owners of these types of dogs could apply for their dog to be registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs ("the Index"). If successfully placed on the Index, a dog required to be kept in compliance with the strict requirements of the Act meaning the owner had:

  • To obtain a certificate to enable them to retain such a dog;
  • To have the dog neutered or spayed;
  • To ensure the dog is permanently identified with a tattoo and microchip (electronic transponder);
  • To maintain insurance against their dog injuring third parties;
  • To keep the dog muzzled, on a lead in public places; and
  • To ensure the dog is not left in charge of a person under the age of 16.

From 1st December 1991 onwards, any person owning such a dog which was not recorded on the Index was committing a criminal offence and liable for prosecution. Until 1997, it had been the case that if one of the specific types of dog was kept without having been placed on the Index, then the person in charge of the dog would be prosecuted and if found guilty, the court would be required to order the destruction of the dog.  This changed following the passing of the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997 so that the court had discretion in sentencing and was not always required to order that the dog be destroyed where an owner was found to have kept a dog in breach of the legislation (though this did remain as an option for the court).  

Livestock and dogs

Under the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987, a farmer, in some cases has the right to shoot a dog if it is worrying their livestock. Sheep worrying is one of the most notorious crimes that a pet dog can commit. Livestock worrying does not necessarily mean a dog has attacked a livestock animal. A dog which gives chase to livestock can cause extreme stress to the animals and sheep which are chased by dogs may miscarry their unborn lambs resulting in further stress to the sheep and losses for the farmer.

Regardless of size, breed or temperament, ALL dogs pose a potential danger to livestock. Regrettably it is part of a dog's genetic makeup to chase moving creatures, making all manner of things indiscriminate targets of a chase.

What happens to a dog that has worried sheep?

The law states:

Where a dog has attacked or killed livestock the court shall make an order directing the dog to be destroyed.

Where it appears to a court that a dog has chased livestock in such a way as might reasonably have been expected to cause injury or suffering to the livestock or to result in financial loss to the owner of the livestock the court shall:

  • Make an order directing the dog to be destroyed, or;
  • Make an order directing the dog to be kept confined in a building, shed, yard or other enclosure from which it cannot escape.

Get information for dog owners and the country code of practice.