Dangerous dogs. A growing concern.

Written by Sean Landis

We act for a client who was mauled by an unleashed Bull Arab. A breed of dog that was originally bred for wild boar hunting in Australia. The incident left our client seriously injured both physically and psychologically. This dog, despite its aggressive behaviour and poor training, was walking off leash and had never been registered as a dangerous or menacing dog. The result of this case was dire for all involved, from our client, to the dog owner, to the dog itself. Our client had to have multiple surgeries on their face, the dog was put down, and criminal charges have been pressed against the owner.

From the 21st of July 2020 to 30 September 2020, 1,021 dog attacks were reported across NSW. This included 495 adult victims, and 89 victims who were under the age of 16. The rest were attacks on other animals. Despite action being taken by local councils to find solutions to these attacks, these numbers have remained constant since 2017. Every quarter in NSW we have between 1,000 and 1,200 attacks.

What is the law in NSW?

The Customs (Prohibited Imports) Amendment Regulations 2004 specifies four breeds of dog that cannot be imported into Australia; Dog Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, Japanese Tosa, and American pit bull terrier. However, these are not the only dog breeds who have caused injury to other people and animals. Restrictions for other breeds of dogs in Australia is very ad hoc in its approach. Any breed of dog can be declared either dangerous or menacing by council or the relevant authority if:

  • Dangerous: they have either killed, attacked or repeatedly threatened attack of a person or animal.
  • Menacing: they have either displayed unreasonable aggression or attacked a person or animal but did not cause a serious injury.

If you own a Dangerous or Menacing Dog, you must comply with the control requirements of s51 Companion Animals Act 1998 (NSW). Control Requirements include, but are not limited to:

  • Dog must be muzzled and on a lead, while in public
  • Dog must not be left in the charge of a person under 18
  • Dog must be micro chipped & registered
  • Dog must be de-sexed
  • You must hold a valid annual permit
  • You must display ‘Dangerous Dog’ warnings on your property
  • You must not sell, advertise, re-home or breed a restricted dog

Advice for Dog Owners

At MTM Legal we love and own dogs ourselves. The Australian Veterinary Association in their report ‘Dangerous Dogs – A sensible solution’ highlights that “dog bites are the result of a complex behaviour caused by the interaction of many factors” and not just something that only happens in certain breeds. Experts have identified that breed specific legislation is unsuccessful in reducing the frequency of dog bites.

Animal behaviouralist Kersti Seksel advocates “If we respect dogs and understand their emotions and read their body language, then we can live together in harmony and prevent many dog bites. It is not what they look like or their breed. It is all about understanding what dogs do and why they do it” (To learn more about the work of Kersti, go to http://www.sabs.com.au/)

Factors which lead to aggression in dogs include:

  • heredity (genes, breed)
  • early experience
  • socialisation and training
  • health (physical and psychological) and
  • victim behaviour (Beaver 2001, Seksel 2002, Snyder 2005).

For more information on dog bites, see https://www.ava.com.au/siteassets/advocacy/dangerous-dogs/dangerous-dogs-a-sensible-solution-final.pdf

It is suggested you talk to a vet before committing to an animal. They will be able to advise you on the best kind of dog for your specific situation, and how to best look after them, so that you both can have the greatest chance at a harmonious relationship.The results of not giving your dog what they need can be disastrous for others in the community, for yourself, and for the dog themselves who may end up being put down or forced into a less free life.

Implications if your dog attacks a person or animal

If your dog attacks a person or animal, you are strictly liable. You will be held liable for your dog’s actions regardless of your intent, knowledge of the law, or your behaviour.

Criminal: If you own a dangerous, menacing or restricted dog, and you were not compliant with the control measures at the time of the attack you can face up to 5 years in jail or be fined up to $77,000. You can face criminal charges regardless of your dog’s classification.

Civil: Claims for damages can be brought against you. Depending on the degree of injury, these can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It could mean losing your house, your business or savings if you don’t have insurance cover.

What if your dog is just a dope?

If your dog trips or knocks someone over, runs in front of a car or bike or cause injury to another person, animal or their property, you are responsible. Dogs are considered your property, and so any damage they cause is normally covered under Home & Contents insurance. Check with your insurer that damage or injury caused by your dog is covered by your policy. If you aren’t covered or don’t have insurance, you should consider getting it to protect your financial liability. Though it should be noted that if you have a dangerous or menacing dog and are not complying with the control requirements at the time of the damage – your insurance may not cover you.

Owning an animal is a big responsibility. Not only are you looking after another living being, but the legal ramifications of their actions will be felt by you; and these legal ramifications could be extreme. Make sure you understand the law before buying a potentially dangerous dog.

If you have been attacked by a dog, or your dog has attached another person/animal, it is advised that you speak with a lawyer for more specific legal advice.

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