Tough new laws to tackle irresponsible dog handling could affect dog-friendly holiday homes in England and Wales.
Guests who allow their dogs to behave ‘dangerously out of control’ in a garden or other private place now face longer prison sentences and fines of up to £20,000.
The measures were introduced following the death of teenager Jade Anderson, who was mauled to death by a pack of four “hyper-aggressive” hounds three years ago this month.
A legal loophole previously existed, which prevented Beverley Concannon, the owner of the dogs, from being prosecuted because the tragedy took place on private, rather than on public, property.
The risk of attacks taking place in or around holiday homes is said to be greater than normal because dogs are hardwired to protect a new home and territory, and because more children play outside in summer.
Youngsters are also more inclined to pet, feed or play with ‘new arrivals’ which they haven’t seen before, experts fear.
Owners of holiday homes, guest houses and B&Bs across the country are now being urged to maintain boundary fences and to learn about the new legislation before the summer season begins.
Accommodation owners who have failed to take adequate measures to protect the public from harm – for example, by erecting a suitably high fence or gate - may also be liable under existing civil law up to three years after the incident took place.
Karl Scarr, one of the world’s leading canine behaviourists, said the “vast majority” of people – including those paid to implement it – are clueless about the changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act.
Speaking yesterday Scarr, who lives with more than 150 dogs at an animal sanctuary in Morocco, said victims should report all incidents to the police.
“Police, local councils and even solicitors just don’t have a clue,” he said.
Scarr, the author of ‘Scarr’s Pocket Guide to Canine Diseases’, ‘Scarr’s Pocket Guide to Dogs Aggression’ and ‘Leader of the Pack’, said owners of holiday homes should be especially cautious if they welcome dogs because they could be sued under the Dogs Act 1871 if an incident occurred on their property.
“The majority of dog bites involve children, primarily because their body language can be confusing to dogs,” he said.
“Children tend to seek close facial contact with dogs, which many animals find threatening. Children are also loud and playful, which could excite an otherwise placid dog into behaviour that could be threatening.”
Under the Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, an extension of the Dangerous Dogs Act, there are severe punishments for owners who were responsible for the dog at the time of the incident.
Dog owners will now not only face longer prison sentences for the actions of their animals, they will also be liable for prosecution regardless of where an attack takes place.
A dog does not have to bite to be prosecuted under the act. It is now an offence if a person is simply worried that a dog might do so.
It means that anyone who feels threatened by a dog when they walk past a fence or enter a garden could bring criminal proceedings.
The Dangerous Dog Act misleadingly suggests this is a law only applying to certain breeds of dogs - most famously the banned Pit Bull. In fact it is a law that has always applied to all owners and all dog breeds, regardless of size.
Incidents can be reported to police up to three years after an incident took place.
Additional measures were also introduced in 2014. These include giving police and local authorities extra powers to deal with irresponsible owners by demanding that they take preventative action.
If a complaint is made about a dog to the council or police, its owners could be ordered to attend dog training classes, muzzle the animal, or repair or erect fencing to safeguard the public.
They could also be slapped with a Community Protection Notice, and see their pet put down.
The aim is to protect postal workers, utility providers and neighbours from feeling afraid, being threatened or otherwise coming into contact with an aggressive dog.