The Guard Dogs Act 1975
Many of the provisions of the Guard Dogs Act 1975 – including Sections 2, 3, 4 and 6 relating to the licensing of kennels – are not yet in force. with only Section one and five applying
Section 1 of the Act prohibits the use of a guard dog unless a handler capable of controlling the dog is present on the premises at all times, and the dog is under the strict control of the handler unless secured (and is not at liberty to 'run free'). The use of any such guard dog is prohibited unless a notice warning that a guard dog is present is clearly exhibited at each entrance to the premises.
Under Section 5 of the Act, a breach of Section 1 will result in criminal liability and a fine of up to £5,000.
From a legal point of view, the requirement to have a notice at each entrance point warning that guard dogs are present in those circumstances in which the word 'entrance' has not been defined is somewhat vague Would a hole in the perimeter fencing constitute an entrance point? From a legal point of view, it is possible.
Owners of Pet dogs should be aware that the displaying of any sign which implies that any dogs within a residence are guard dogs could leave them open to this law in certain circumstances, and also could imply that they were aware that their animals could pose a risk under the Animals Act 1971.
Any such sign should be carefully worded. "Caution Dogs Running Free" signs would encompass that people take care to close the gate, whereas "Im on Guard" signs may imply your pet is kept as a guard dog or that you are aware that it might be dangerous.
Guard dog use and the common law
The common law of tort applies to the ownership of all animals, and not just dogs. Any owner of domestic and harmless animals may be liable on the grounds of negligence for damage caused to third parties by the animals.
Civil liability of the owner depends on whether or not the owner owes a duty of care to the relevant third party, and whether or not it was directly foreseeable that the animal would cause the injury suffered.
For example if a child climbed through a hole in the perimeter fencing and enters a premises patrolled by guard dogs (even those complying with the Guard Dogs Act) and is then badly mauled by a guard dog secured on a chain.
Then the owner and keeper of the guard dog would likely be strictly liable for the damage caused under the terms of the Animals Act 1971, and could also be deemed to be criminally liable for the aggravated offence under the Guard Dogs Act 1975.
They could in addition be liable for a damages claim under the common law of tort in circumstances in which it could be argued that damage was foreseeable, and that the security operator had not checked the security of the perimeter fencing before deploying guard dogs.