Do children need to be a certain age to control a dog?
(Q) The other week, I was out walking my three dogs on a lead when we encountered a child with her dog off the lead, with no adult supervising them. The child ran off into her back garden but her dog did not follow and proceeded to charge at my dogs, barking and antagonising them. Luckily, the dog eventually decided to run off. If anything similar happened again and one of my dogs bit the off-lead dog, who would be at fault?
(A) Solicitor Trevor Cooper says: The only minimum age restriction for children walking dogs is if the dog is one of the proscribed types (such as a Pit Bull Terrier), in which case they have to be at least 16 years old.
Other than that, assuming that the particular area doesn’t have any unusual by-laws, it’s at the discretion of the dog owner, having regard to the capability of the child, and the behaviour and size of the dog.
Changes that have been introduced to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 don’t affect the law on dog-on-dog incidents unless the victim dog is an assistance dog.
Potentially, new laws dealing with anti-social behaviour could be used for this issue from this autumn. If the local council believes there are activities taking place in a public place which are having a detrimental effect on quality of life, it can bring in a Public Spaces Protection Order.
It might be worth speaking to your local councillors to see if they intend to take steps to deal with this problem if it is happening often.
Alternatively, if it isn’t a general problem but specific to a particular family, then new powers coming in will enable councils or police to serve a Community Protection Notice if there is conduct of a persistent or continuing nature which is having a detrimental effect on quality of life.
If one of your dogs does retaliate, then a claim could be brought against you for compensation (such as for payment of vets’ fees), if it can be shown that you were negligent, or if the court takes the view that the dog had dangerous characteristics which you were aware of.
I strongly recommend that you have adequate third party liability insurance just in case the worst should ever happen; in the event of an incident you can forward the claim to them to consider if you are legally liable to pay.
In theory, you could be taken to court by the council or police under the Dogs Act 1871, if it can be shown that your dog was dangerous and wasn’t under proper control.