DEFRA Issues Guidance on Responsible Dog Ownership

The guidance has been created to reflect the new powers contained within the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (ASB Act), the key provisions of which relating to dog control came into force on the 20th October 2014 giving local authorities more options and greater flexibility when dealing with dog related incidents.  

Prepared by Defra in conjunction with the Home Office, Welsh Government, the National Policing lead on Dangerous Dogs and representatives of local authorities in England and Wales, the manual encourages responsible dog ownership through early engagement and education. It advises practitioners on the main legal provisions relating to dog ownership, and assists each agency by defining their responsibilities and identifying the measures which can be taken to prevent and/or address any dog related incidents. Most importantly, the guide also provides detailed information on two of the new provisions contained within the ASB Act; Community Protection Notices (CPN) and Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPO), and locates them within the context of dog ownership.

A CPN is defined as a low level notice issued to stop antisocial behaviour. In the context of dog ownership, it refers to low level incidents involving dogs, where dog behaviour has had a negative effect on anyone in the community. This may include, for example, incidents where a dog has repeatedly been allowed off lead in a public space and has subsequently been out of the owner’s control, causing a nuisance to others. CPN’s can be issued to individuals over the age of 16 or to bodies, by police officers, police community support officers, local authority officers and registered social landlords.  The aim of the CPN is to give dog owners an opportunity to address issues before escalating to litigation.  A CPN can require individuals to do specified things and to take action to achieve specified results. In relation to dogs, requirements may include keeping dogs on a lead, ordering that kennels which are emitting odours are cleaned and that dog related waste is disposed of properly. A CPN can only be issued by an authorised person if they are confident that the conduct of the individual is having a detrimental effect of a persistent nature on the quality of life of those in the locality and the conduct is unreasonable. A CPN can be challenged within 21 days of issue, and breach of a CPN is punishable by a Fixed Penalty Notice of £100, or by prosecution. In extreme cases, dogs can be seized, but this is a significant step and should be considered very carefully.

A PSPO is defined as an order to restrict persistent anti-social behaviour in a public space. In relation to dog ownership, PSPOs will replace and permit similar restrictions as the Dog Control Orders under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. 

A PSPO can be made if activities carried out in a public place, such as a park, town centre or rural footpath, are having, have or will have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality. Activities subject to a PSPO are likely to be persistent and unreasonable, therefore justifying the restrictions imposed by the notice. PSPOs will cover the same activities which were prohibited under DCOs and can contain prohibitions or requirements to prevent or reduce these activities. They can, for example, exclude dogs from certain areas, require faeces to be cleared up, require dogs to be on a lead or restrict the number of dogs being walked by one person at any one time. 

PSPOs will not affect orders under the Dogs Fouling of Land Act 1996. Following the coming into force of this part of the Act, no further DCOs can be made, and all existing DCOs must be converted to PSPOs within three years. Authorities are required to review the status of PSPOs every three years, and can choose to renew, revoke or amend a PSPO where appropriate. A breach of a PSPO is treated much the same as a DCO breach, but the maximum Fixed Penalty Notice for a breach is £100. 

There are a number of issues practitioners need to consider when contemplating making a PSPO. Where a PSPO will affect dog owners or walkers by restricting access to all or certain parts of a park, town or other public space, local authorities should consult with the parties which will be affected by the order.  The guide advises that this can be done through engaging with working groups, as well as locally organised pet groups and national organisations, such as the Kennel Club, who have a wide network of contacts.  If local authorities decide to make a PSPO covering large areas, they must balance this with the terms of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which states that owners must provide for the welfare needs of their animals, including making sure their pets get regular exercise. If councils decide to restrict dogs from accessing particular areas, they must also provide spaces where dogs can be walked and exercised without these restrictions.

Click here to access a copy of the guidance