I am an expert witness, I assess dogs involved in bite/injury incidents, assess and bring a report to court and give evidence. Increasingly I am seeing dog walkers, professionals or just friends helping out, end up charged for an incident and misunderstanding the law. Here is some advice.
This is not a substitute for qualified legal advice but as an expert doing in excess of 45 cases a year and more that don’t go to court, I have a lot of experience.
Here are some best practice ideas if you are a professional (or maybe just doing someone a favour.
Ensure a contract is drawn up and signed that covers at least
- emergency contact and vet details
- if a dog can go on or off lead
- specifically what equipment is used (muzzle, type/length of lead, harness, toys, treats)
- whether the dog can interact with other dogs
- any medical or dietary needs
- the vet details for emergency
- cancellation agreement
- timing of walk and duration
- whether can be walked with or travel with other dogs
- whether the dog can be taken in a vehicle and whether that vehicle should be crated, have other dogs in it or any other secure transport needs
- the current insurer details (3rd party/public liability is the least you should have but loss/theft of dog and “care, custody and control of dogs” is worth looking at too)
- a system in writing to report a walk has been done and if anything happens or a change is needed or any material fact changes (such as incident with owner, walker insurance lapsed etc)
- GDPR policy
- cancellation and notice policy
The Dangerous Dogs Act makes it an offence for a dog to injure a person (injury, not just bite) or to cause reasonable apprehension that it may do so. This applies in public and in private.
You commit an offence if the dog jumps up and causes a scratch OR bite, or knocks into someone or knocks them over. It is not limited to bites.
The wearing of “warning” items does not stop you being guilty of an offence. Causing injury is strict liability and whether the dog is wearing anything that suggests it may react badly makes no difference to your culpability.
Telling people not to touch a dog and they do and get bitten is also not a defence. It is up to you to protect the dog and the public and you should move quickly away if someone might not comply with your requests not to touch or not to allow their dog to approach.
Check your legal cover on your insurance. Many have “legal cover” which turns out to be a helpline advice but not the cost of a legal defence should you be prosecuted.
The law says the owner or for the time being, the person in charge is potentially guilty of the offence. If you are walking the dog, or still in the home collecting it and something happens, the offence is yours. The owner can potentially also be charged, but that usually only happens if they have employed someone unsuitable or not disclosed a fact. That could be them not saying the dog should not go off lead or has dog or person reactive issues.
If the incident is dog on dog only and no person is injured or reasonably feared they could be, then the matter is civil. The dog warden would usually deal with it. It is a police matter if injury to person is caused.
Examples (these are real from the last year or so):
- walker employed for a year, insured and contract in place but inadequate, collecting 2 collies from home when the owner was at work. One day a neighbour tapped on the door when she was inside putting leads on. The man opened the door to put the parcel in. Both dogs were not quite on a lead and ran out. One barked hysterically at him and one bit him. Walker charged with 2 offences, eventually fined and had to pay costs in court, dogs have orders on them. Owner paid the legal bills as the walker insurance only covered advice.
- walker employed 6 months, insured, contract in place. Warned that the dog can be reactive to some dogs and advised to keep on long line or extending lead. Walker decided as park quiet to let him off, dog appeared, he ran over and bit dog and the owner who tried to defend her dog. Walker charged, got community service and paid costs and compensation, order on dog.
- walker collecting dog from home, no contract but insured. As they came out of the front door, they found a delivery driver with a parcel right outside. The dog had walked through first and the driver was bitten on the leg. The walker tried to blame owner, saying they had not disclosed that fact that the dog might bite but the police were having none of it. Prosecuted, fined and costs, order on dog.
- dog on lead in park with walker, insured and contracted although poor version. Dog wears an “I need space” jacket. Person comes up and insists on stroking the dog. Walker says don’t he is nervous but person does and gets serious hand bite. When interviewed, the walker tried to use the jacket as the reason not her fault. Rightly police said makes no difference and she was prosecuted, paid fine, costs and compensation and did community service. Dog on order not to wear anything warning again and muzzle and on lead.
I would go on but you get the idea. If you think the dog may react badly, move away as fast as possible, don’t stay and explain or argue. Pull dog behind you, step in front and tell person to leave if there is no room to get away. Do not just stand there with dog pulled against you arguing. You are not suddenly not guilty because the dog was wearing a warning jacket, lead or collar or you have said not to approach or touch.
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