What to do if your dog is attacked

Action you can take if your dog is attacked

The purpose of this help sheet is to assist you if your dog has been attacked by another dog. If you personally have been attacked or threatened by a dog, you should report this to the police. However, the police will probably not investigate cases where a dog has been attacked by another dog, unless your dog is a working assistance dog.

Taking civil action for damages

If your dog, or other animal belonging to you, is attacked and killed or injured, you may have civil redress for damages. For instance, you may be able to recover the cost of your vets’ bills. If you feel confident enough you can do this by going through the small claims court procedure, and you can represent yourself. The process is relatively simple. You should be aware, however, that if you win damages you may have to take further steps to recover the money awarded. Your nearest county court should have a leaflet which explains the cost of taking action and what you need to do.

Dog Control Orders

Sometimes you may find that suing for damages is not the best way of proceeding. For instance, the owner of the other dog may not have any money, or the injury to your dog may not have needed treatment by a vet. You may wish to simply stop the other dog from being a nuisance and endangering your pet. Under these circumstances you might consider making a complaint to the magistrates under the Dogs Act 1871. The magistrates have powers in such cases to order that the dog is kept under control or, in extreme cases, order that the dog is destroyed, although the latter is very rare. The magistrates cannot fine the owner or order compensation, but they can award costs. Be aware that the other side could be awarded costs if you lose.

Although the magistrates normally deal with criminal matters, proceedings under the Dogs Act 1871 are civil, with the civil burden of proof being used. The magistrates will decide whether you have proved your case on the ‘balance of probabilities’.

The Dogs Act 1871 has been successfully used in proceedings against persons whose dogs attack other dogs. It is not quite so clear that the legislation applies to attacks on other pet animals. As a result of case law we know that it does not apply to rabbits. It is probable that the same applies to other small domestic pets.

Proving your case

If your dog is attacked by another dog, it is important that you gather as much information as possible. A Summary of Witness Information form can be downloaded which will guide you through the sort of information that is needed. Fill this in when the circumstances are still fresh in your mind and take it to court with you. Courts place a good deal of reliance on notes made whilst incidents are fresh in the mind of witnesses.

If you are able, get a photograph of the injuries to your dog. Try and include in the photograph some evidence of the day on which the picture was taken. Including the front page of the day’s newspaper in the picture is one method you might adopt.

Although the police do not normally deal with dog-on-dog attacks, they may have attended the scene. They may have information they are willing to pass on to you, such as the identity of the person in charge of the dog, and any witnesses.

If your dog has to go to the vet, ask the vet to provide you with a report on your dog’s injuries. In some cases the vet may be able to comment on the most likely cause of the injury, particularly where there are teeth marks on your dog. Be aware that your vet will probably charge you for a report, but it is essential that you have this evidence if the matter goes to court.

If you have any witnesses to the incident, ask them if they are prepared to provide a written witness statement and attend court to give evidence.

An action under the Dogs Act 1871 is against the owner of the offending dog, so you will not be able to proceed unless you have the name and address of the owner. If you know the address from which the dog comes, you may be able to establish the names of the occupiers by visiting the library and looking in the electoral register. However, do be aware that this may not necessarily prove ownership of the dog.

Once you have collected together all the evidence you can, think for a moment as to whether you have sufficient evidence to take the matter further. Sometimes young dogs will engage in play fighting which does not present any real danger to anyone. Although this may be a nuisance, you are required to demonstrate that the dog is dangerous and not simply an irritation. Try and put yourself in the position of the magistrates and ask yourself whether you would be persuaded by the evidence that the dog is dangerous and needs to be controlled or destroyed.

Filing a complaint

You can start proceedings for an order under the Dogs Act 1871 by filing a complaint at your nearest magistrates court. There is no special form to fill in, but there are fairly well accepted formats for making a complaint. An example is attached to this help sheet. It is preferable that the document is typed, but a handwritten complaint is just as valid. Please read through our example carefully before preparing your own information.

You should take the complaint to magistrates’ court office. It may be a good idea to telephone the court first. You will be required to swear an oath or affirm the complaint in front of a court official, and there may not be one available if you turn up unannounced. They will also advise you of the fee you will have to pay.

When you file the complaint you will be asked to confirm that the contents are true, either by swearing on the Bible (or other religious book appropriate to your beliefs), or by affirming. It does not matter which you do, as long as it is binding on your conscience. However, you should be aware that there are severe penalties for saying something that is not true, or which you believe is not true.

The following is the example of a complaint format mentioned earlier. This information is for guidance only. If you are considering legal action you are advised to contact the court or obtain your own independent legal advice. If you do decide to take your own action, your complaint should look something like the document below. The sections shown in italics indicate where you should use your own text. The sections in brackets are intended as guidance and should be removed from your final document.




Worthing Magistrates Court [the name of the court you are applying to]

Date of complaint: The First Day of November 2012 [the date this document is submitted to the court]

Defendant: Mr Joe Bloggs of 1 Letsby Avenue, Anytown, West Sussex AB1 2CD. [Name and address of owner of offending dog]

Matter of complaint: At 3.15 pm on Monday 22 October 2012 I was walking my dog Rover in Letsby Avenue, Anytown. Rover is an eight year old golden Labrador. He was on a lead at the time. As we passed 1 Letsby Avenue, a large dog ran out of the garden of that address and attacked Rover. The dog jumped on top of Rover and bit him in the neck. A man came out of 1 Letsby Avenue and grabbed hold of the Alsatian and pulled him off my dog. I recognise the man as Mr Joe Bloggs, who lives at 1 Letsby Avenue. The dog that attacked Rover was a large Alsatian type dog, light tan in colour, with a substantial ruff. I have seen this dog before with Mr Bloggs. As a result of the attack, Rover had blood on his neck. I later took Rover to see a veterinary surgeon where four puncture wounds were found on the back of his neck. [Details of complaint]

Mrs Sarah Smith [Your name] applies to this court pursuant to section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 for an order directing that the owner of the dog Rover [Name or description of offending dog] mentioned in this complaint, to be kept by the owner under proper control or destroyed.

The complaint of: Sarah Smith. [Your name]

Address: 48 Letsby Avenue, Anytown, West Sussex AB1 2CD. [Your address]

Telephone number: 01234 567890. [Your telephone number]

Who upon oath / after affirmation [Choose whether you are going to swear the complaint on oath (swear on the Bible or other religious book) or affirm] states that the defendant is responsible for the matter of complaint of, which particulars are given above.

Taken and sworn/and affirmed [Choose one – must be the same as previous paragraph] before me.

Justice of the Peace/Justices’ Clerk