Next Tuesday (13 May) sees the new changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act coming into force.
It comes in the wake of the tragic case of Jade Anderson who was killed by four dogs in the home of Beverley Concannon, who was not liable for prosecution under the Dangerous Dogs Act because of the incident happening on private property.
The Dangerous Dog Act misleadingly suggests this is a law only applying to certain breeds of dogs most famously the banned Pit Bull. In fact it is a law that has always applied to all owners and all dog breeds.
And a little known part of the existing legislation says that a dog doesn't have to bite a person in order to be regarded as dangerously out of control. If a person feels that the dog may injure them, the law still applies.
Couple this with the fact that the new changes now extend to incidents involving dogs on private property, it means that anyone who feels threatened by your dog when they come into your garden or to your door, could potentially put you at risk of prosecution under the new act.
And there's one group of people who are very relieved about the new changes coming into force - the nation's postmen and women. The requirement for the law to cover private places as well as public ones has long been campaigned for by the Communication Workers Union. Numerous Royal Mail and other delivery services employees are injured by dog bites each year and up until now there has not been the legislation to enable action to be taken to ensure their future safety.
We all know that fewer letters are being sent through the post, but the rise in internet shopping means that more parcels and especially signed for parcels are being delivered, which requires the delivery person to knock at the door. This change in legislation should be a wake up call to all dog owners to ensure their dogs are under control when they open the door otherwise they risk committing a criminal offence.
There is a slight grey area in these changes in that if the person attacked is a burglar or trespasser your dog may not be considered dangerously out of control if it is in a building that is your private dwelling at the time of the attack. However, this does not cover incidents in your back or front garden.
As an example, I have two dogs and live in a row of cottages with an electric gate to the drive on one side and gates for access to the back on the other, both with signs on saying dogs running loose. I recently had an incident where I discovered an elderly gentleman who was delivering election leaflets wandering round the back of the properties. If my dogs had been out at the time and they had run up barking at him, I would potentially have been guilty under this legislation. I think actually he found me more scary than any dogs as I was so shocked to discover him!
I am sure there will be some interesting test cases on this part of the legislation, but all dog owners should ensure that all their garden gates are locked so their gardens cannot be accidentally accessed - I know mine now are.