Illegal Dog Types


Multiple pieces of legislation apply to dog owners in Northern Ireland. This guide will help you understand your responsibilities, but it is not to be considered legal advice. The information below applies to Northern Ireland only. The rules may be different in the Republic of Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland.

Four types of dogs are currently banned in Northern Ireland:

Pit Bull terrier

Japanese Tosa

Dogo Argentino

Fila Brasileiro

XL Bullies will be added to this list on 5th July 2024 and a phased ban will then take effect.

It is an offence to breed, sell, offer for sale, or make a gift of these types of dogs.

While it is not an offence to own dogs of these types, certain restrictions are placed on their ownership and how they are managed. As with any breed of dog they must be licensed. However a local government district may licence a dog of a prohibited  type only if that dog has been exempted from the prohibition in Article 25A(3) of the Dogs Order.

Thus, the owner must apply for an exemption which requires them to: 

·      neuter the dog

·      keep the dog leashed and muzzled when in a public place 

·      when not in a public place, keep the dog in secure conditions

·      take out third-party insurance for the dog

·      make the dog available to council dog wardens for inspection 

If you own a dog who may be of a prohibited type and have not applied for an exemption the dog is liable to be seized. A council dog warden, or an expert used by the council, will assess your dog’s physical characteristics.  A dog identified as prohibited type by a dog warden will be presumed to be so unless the owner can prove in court that it is not one of these types. An owner of a seized dog must let the court know that they plan to give evidence that the dog is not a prohibited dog type at least 14 days before the hearing is due to take place. Such expert evidence can only realistically be given by an experienced dog behaviourist following his examination of the dog. The cost of instructing a suitable dog behaviourist and the cost of his coming to court to give evidence is borne by you as the dog’s owner.

Following the assessment, the local government district will make one of the following:

·      your dog will be released if it is not believed to be a banned breed

·      your dog will be kept in kennels while the council applies to a court for a destruction order

·      You can give up ownership of your dog, but you cannot be forced to. If you do, your dog could be destroyed without a court order.

Once seized, your dog will be kept in kennels before a court hearing – this could be for several weeks or months. Cases are heard in the magistrate’s court. In most cases, a court will order a dog seized as a banned breed to be put to sleep (euthanised), even if the owner is not prosecuted. You can appeal against decision to destroy a dog deemed to be of a prohibited type. An Appeal would be heard by the County Court. However, because the identification of e.g. a Pit Bull Terrier type is based on measurement of physical characteristics, it is very difficult to challenge a decision based on a finding that dog conforms to certain physical standards. Moreover, as the identification is based on appearance, evidence that the dog is a cross of different breeds is irrelevant. Consequently, whilst it is rare for an appeal to be brought regarding a dog who has been ‘typed’, any appeal can only be taken and based upon the expert evidence of a dog behaviourist.

If your dog is deemed to be a banned type but the court believes it would not be a danger to the public if kept under certain strict conditions, the court may make a ‘contingent destruction order’. This exempts the dog from the ban if the exemption conditions are met. 

The exemption conditions are: 

·      the dog is neutered 

·      the dog is kept leashed and muzzled when in a public place 

·      when not in a public place, the dog is in sufficiently secure conditions 

·      the dog is made available to council dog wardens for inspection 

·      the council is notified of any change of address of the dog, or of the death or export of the dog

·       third-party insurance policy is taken out for the dog 

You have two months to show that the exemption conditions have been met and if so you apply for a dog licence from the council. 

What can happen if I break the law?

If you are found guilty of any of these offences, you face a sentence of up to six months imprisonment and a fine of £5,000. If having achieved an exemption you fail to comply with the conditions it is then highly likely that the dog would be euthanised.

The Law:

Dogs Order (Northern Ireland) 1983 (as amended) Article 25A.

Dangerous Dogs (Designated Types) Order (Northern Ireland) 1991/467,

Dangerous Dogs Compensation and Exemption Schemes Order (Northern Ireland) 1991.

Barnes v Belfast City Council [2012] NICA 13