There is specific legislation which governs the way in which dogs are used to guard people or property. The Guard Dogs Act 1975 states that any dog used for this purpose is one which is used to guard or protect property, people or premises.
Under this legislation individuals are prohibited from allowing or using a guard dog on any property unless they are deemed to be a suitable person who is able to sufficiently control the dog. This designated individual is referred to as the handler. Dog handlers must be present on site and the dog must be under their control at all times unless is it sufficiently secured and cannot roam freely around the property.
The Guard Dogs Act 1975 goes on to state that clear notices should be displayed around a property or premise to provide a warning that a guard dog is used. Failure to comply with this condition is a breach of the legislation. Where a breach does occur, this is dealt with as a criminal offence which usually results in a fine.
All buildings and pieces of land are covered by the legislation with the exception of residential property or agricultural land.
There are certain terms and conditions associated with the Guard Dogs Act 1975 and it is important that you comply with them. One of these conditions concerns licensing. Keeping guard dogs does require a licence for guard dog kennels. Essentially this term refers to any place where during the course of business, you keep a dog which is used as a guard dog elsewhere. Exceptions apply when the dog is used only by you as the owner and at your own premises.
If you intend on running kennels specifically for guard dogs you will need to obtain the relevant licence from the local authority. Applicants for a guard dog kennel licence are required to complete the necessary application form and pay a prescribed fee. The application and associated fees do change from time to time so it is recommended that you contact your local authority to obtain the most up to date information. On occasions there may be sufficient grounds for the local authority to decline your application. Where an application is refused, you do have the option of appealing the decision. Appeals are dealt with through the Magistrates Court.
Once a licence has been granted there may be strict conditions attached that you must comply with. The conditions of the licence are determined by each local authority and it is at their discretion as to what conditions they impose on licence holders. However, where conditions have been attached to the licence you can appeal against these through the Magistrates Court.
Licences for guard dog kennels usually last for a period of twelve months unless it is cancelled or revoked by a Court before this time. The Courts have a right to exercise their powers and cancel a licence at any time if they believe that you have committed an offence. This offence must fall under the remit of the Guard Dogs Act 1975, the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973, the Pet Animals Act 1951 and the oldest piece of legislation under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Furthermore, the courts can also suspend the cancellation of a licence if you as the licence holder decides to lodge an appeal.
There is an area of tort law that applies to all animals and their ownership. Any person who owns a harmless domestic animal may be liable if damage occurs to a third party. Any incident of this nature would be dealt with as negligence.
When applying this area of law, the dog owner’s liability in civil terms will be determined by assessing whether the dog owner owed a duty of care to the involved third party. This judgment will be made whether or not it could be foreseen that the animal would act in a way that resulted in injury to the third party.
As an example, it could be foreseen that an individual could climb through an opening in a perimeter fence around a site or property which is patrolled by guard dogs. The site owners should ensure that the dogs are used in accordance with the regulations set out in the Guard Dogs Act. If the individual who has gained access to the site is then mauled by the guard dog secured on a chain the owner and/or keeper of the guard dog would be liable for the damage to the third party. This would be dealt with using the guidance outlined in the Animals Act 1971. In addition the owner/keeper of the guard dog may also be liable in criminal terms for the aggravated offence in line with the legislation of the Guard Dogs Act 1975.
As well as being liable under the above Acts, the owner/keeper of the guard dog would be liable for a significant damages claim pursued under the common law of tort. In this situation it would be argued that the damage to the third party was foreseeable because the security of the fencing had not been adequately checked before guard dogs were used on site.
Any organisation, security firm or individual looking to deploy guard dogs must ensure that they not only comply with the legislation, they must also ensure they have suitable insurance in place. This insurance cover will provide an additional layer of protection if a dog causes damage to a third party. Furthermore, the operator or organisation considering the use of a guard dog should make sure that they have consulted with the relevant regulatory bodies.
Deploying guard dogs on any site or property is a decision which should not be taken lightly. Owners of guard dogs must ensure that they are aware of the legislation and they take reasonable steps to protect third parties particularly in foreseen circumstances. If you are in any doubt about your obligations under guard dog law, it is recommended that you seek advice from a legal professional.
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This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team and posted by Lloyd Barrett. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.