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Are Pit Bulls Banned in the UK? FAQ & Important Facts

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on April 26, 2024 by Dogster Team


Are Pit Bulls Banned in the UK? FAQ & Important Facts

Few breeds attract as much controversy and heated debate as the Pit Bull. On the one hand, proponents claim it is a friendly, loyal, and affectionate companion dog that is gentle with family and friends. Opponents of the breed point to fatal attacks by Pit Bull breeds that led to numerous casualties, including fatalities. Due to the last mindset, Pit Bull Terriers are banned in the UK.

As a result of a rise in fatal dog attacks in the 1980s, four breeds of dog were banned: the Pit Bull, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Fila Brasileiro. Anybody found to own one of these breeds can face up to an unlimited fine and 6 months in prison, and the selling, abandonment, and breeding of the breeds is also illegal.

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Are Pit Bulls Banned in the UK?

According to the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991, Pit Bull Terriers are banned in the UK. There are exceptions, under the Index of Exempt Dogs, but exceptions need to be agreed upon with the courts and are rarely awarded.

Pit Bull crosses exist in more of a grey area. Breeding Pit Bulls is illegal, and if a cross does not have the physical characteristics of a Pit Bull, it is unlikely to be seized by police or other officials. If one is seized, it is up to the discretion of the court to decide whether the dog has enough Pit Bull physical characteristics to be considered a Pit Bull-type dog.

Potential Punishment

Police have the right to seize banned breeds, including Pit Bulls. If the dog is on public property, the police do not need a court order, but if the dog is on private property, they do need a court order to make the seizure. The dog can be seized even if there have been no complaints about the dog and even if it is not acting dangerously.

Owners that are found to own a Pit Bull not only face the seizure and possible destruction of their dog. Courts have the power to administer up to an unlimited fine. They can also impose a maximum 6-month prison sentence.

Pitbull Terrier Dog walking on a leash in a dog park, South Africa
Image By: Elizabeth Grieb, Shutterstock

Index of Exempt Dogs

Pit Bulls and dogs of other banned breeds can be put on the Index of Exempt Dogs. The owner needs to show that the dog poses no threat whatsoever to the public. It must be neutered, to prevent breeding. It must also be microchipped, must be on a lead and muzzled while in public, and must be kept somewhere where it cannot escape. The owner must have liability insurance against injuries caused by the dog, be over 16, and show a Certificate of Exemption within 5 days of being asked by the police.

There are more than 3,000 dogs currently on the Index of Exempt Dogs, so exemptions are granted, but it is rare, and if an exemption is not granted, the dog can be taken away and destroyed.

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About Pit Bulls

Originally used to bait bulls and used in bullbaiting, the breed’s loyalty, strength, and affection for its humans meant that the breed became popular as a companion dog. But these same characteristics also saw the breed used for dog fighting for criminal activities. Known to be friendly with family and children, the Pit Bull can be aggressive towards other dogs, and early socialization and training are very important to ensure a friendly and safe dog.

American Pitbull Terrier with flowers
Image By: Jumpstory

Why Are They Banned?

The Pit Bull was bred for its strength and to be aggressive towards large animals. It has a strong bite force and when the dog’s jaws lock while biting, it can cause serious damage. In the UK, there was a spate of dangerous dog attacks in the 1980s, many of which involved Pit Bulls. The breed was also used in illegal dog fighting. As a result, the government introduced the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991, which prohibited the ownership, breeding, and keeping of the breed.

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Other Banned Breeds

The Pit Bull is one of four breeds that have been banned in the UK. The other breeds are:

  • Japanese Tosa – The Japanese Tosa was bred primarily for fighting in its home country of Japan, where dog fighting is still considered legal. The Tosa is a large and strong breed, with Tosa fighting said to be the canine equivalent of Sumo.
  • Dogo Argentino – The Dogo Argentino originates from Argentina. It was bred for hunting boar and pumas and was bred from fighting dogs in the country. The Dogo Argentino is a mastiff breed, which means it is a large and heavy breed.
  • Fila Brasileiro – The Fila Brasileiro comes from Brazil and was originally used to protect livestock from predators including Jaguars. It is a skilled fighter and will protect its family. Its size, strength, and reputation have seen the dog used for fighting and as an attack dog.

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The 3 Alternative Breeds

Pit Bulls are strong dogs that are said to be loyal and affectionate family dogs. However, they are banned in the UK. Alternative, similar breeds, include:

1. American Bulldog

brindle american bulldog
Image By: Zanna Pesnina, Shutterstock

The American Bulldog is an athletic dog with a thick, strong body. It is a somewhat independent dog that gets along with family members and can get along with other dogs. It was bred from the English Bulldog in the 19th Century and used to hunt pigs and other animals.

2. Bull Terrier

bullterrier-outdoor on beach
Image By: TC-TORRES, Pixabay

The Bull Terrier was bred as a fighting dog. It requires plenty of companionship and is considered friendly and sociable, getting along with family members of all ages. The Bull Terrier does require early socialization from a young age to ensure that it gets on with other dogs, however.

3. Cane Corso

cane corso with collar and leash
Image By: Dioniya, Shutterstock

The Cane Corso is a large breed of dog that is a mastiff-type breed. As well as having an imposing stature, its naturally cropped ears give it an intense appearance. Although banned in a lot of countries, it is not currently banned in the UK.

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The Pit Bull divides opinion. Many know it as a loving and loyal companion dog that gets along with all family members and strangers. However, the breed has historically been involved in several fatal dangerous dog attacks in the UK and, as a result, is a banned breed. Owners of banned breeds in the UK can face up to a maximum fine and a six-month prison sentence, although with court permission it may be possible to register the dog on the Index of Exempt Dogs.

Featured Image Credit: otsphoto, Shutterstock

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