Illegal Dog Types


There is currently no specific regulation of dog rescues, rehoming organisations or sanctuaries.

In lieu of a specific regulatory framework rescues are subject to an (often confusing) array of legal provisions.

There is also no settled or accepted definition of what it means to rescue, rehabilitate or re-home dogs. ‘Rescue’ encompasses such a wide range of activities, from those coordinating home-from-home rehoming, to those operating multi-site rescue centres. Scotland is the only UK jurisdiction to licence rescues/sanctuaries and organisations who engage in rehoming activities.

This guide is therefore intended to help navigate the legal duties on individuals or organisations who hold themselves out to the public to receive vulnerable dogs on a regular basis, with a view to rehabilitating and either rehoming, or providing long-term care. It provides an outline of legal duties applicable to rescue and rehoming organisations operating in Northern Ireland. Rescues based in Northern Ireland but operating outside of this jurisdiction may need to pay attention to regulation in the other jurisdictions in which they operate.

Illegal types of dog

The following types of dogs are currently ‘banned’ in Northern Ireland:

·      Pit Bull terrier

·      Japanese Tosa

·      Dogo Argentino

·      Fila Brasileiro

·      XL Bully type dogs will be added to this list effective of 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 dogs. This means that organisations cannot rehome a dog if you have you have reason to believe it is one of these types.

If a dog enters your care and you are unsure as to whether it is an illegal type, you should contact your local government district for further guidance. A dog warden, or an expert used by the council, will assess your dog’s physical characteristics. They will decide whether the dog appears to be a banned type. A dog identified as banned by a dog warden will be presumed to be of type unless you, as the rescue in possession of the dog, can prove in court that it is not of a banned type. If you wish to contest that decision, you/your organisation as the keeper of the seized dog must let the court know that you plan to give evidence that the dog is not a banned dog type at least 14 days before the hearing is due to take place.

Following the assessment, the council will decide either of the following:

·      the dog will be released back into your care if it is not believed to be a banned breed

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

You can give up ownership of the dog, but you cannot be forced to. If you do, the dog could be destroyed without a court order. This means that if a dog in your care is seized under suspicion of being an illegal breed and you plan to contest this, do not sign over ownership of that dog.

However, given the probable difficulties in practice of responsibly rehoming a dog who resembles a pit bull type or an XL bully, coupled with the time and cost entailed in legal challenges it is likely in practice that any dog seized from a rescue will be euthanised. However, for the procedure post seizure, see the discussion of illegal types in owners’ section.

What can happen if me or my organisation break the law?

Rescue or rehoming organisations who keep, or attempt to rehome, an illegal type of dog could face prosecution for a criminal offence. In the case of an incorporated association liability can attach to a director, manager or any staff member who it is shown was responsible for the care of the dog at the relevant time.  For smaller volunteer-led charities individual trustees could be responsible especially if they were to place the dog for in a home.  Therefore, they do need to think carefully when making decisions or issuing instructions.  Anyone who breaches the rules regulating prohibited types might face a sentence of up to 5 years in prison, a fine of up to £20,000 and/or both. Illegal breeds of dogs will likely be euthanised. Individuals found liable of these offences may also be banned from caring for or keeping animals in the future.


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,

Dangerous Dogs (Designated Type) Order (Northern Ireland) 2024.

Best Practice:

To limit exposure to potential criminal liability your board of trustees should assess and identify risks your organisation faces in terms of potential criminal liability. Any offence for which a charity could be found liable will be closely linked to the principal operational activities of the charity concerned. Thus, for a charity dealing with the rehoming of dogs, it is important that trustees, (especially those closely involved with homing decisions), clearly understand what the risks are in relation to a dog which is of a banned type, even if exempted. When trustees make a decision or issue instructions about rehoming a dog it is important that the decision is based on knowledge of the potential personal consequences if a law is breached. While, as a matter of public policy the consequences of criminal activity cannot be insured against, the charity should obtain legal costs insurance to cover the costs of any potential criminal prosecution affecting trustees/employees etc.