My Dog Has Attacked Someone or Another Animal.


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.

My Dog has Attacked a Person or Another Animal

A dog attack is an incident in which your dog either injures a person, puts a person in fear of being injured, or injures another animal, whether on public or private land. If any of those things happen, you may be guilty of an offence. If a person is injured in the attack, it will be treated more seriously. You might also be liable for civil damages if they sue you.

You should take reasonable precautions when exercising your dog to ensure that you prevent such circumstances arising.  Depending on the circumstances, that may mean walking your dog on a lead, or putting on a muzzle.

Where your dog bites someone or injures another animal who is trespassing on land and the dog is kept by or in the charge of the occupier of the land or is in the charge of someone authorised by the occupier to remove that person or animal, that will be a defence to any charge brought.

A further defence to a charge of your dog injuring another person or animal is to show that at the material time your dog was in the charge of another person whom you believed to be a fit and proper person. Whether that person is ultimately considered fit and proper will depend upon their age, experience, the specific circumstances and the characteristics of the dog in question.

What can happen if I break the law?

If your dog attacks and injures another person’s pet, you may be guilty of an offence punishable by a fine of up to £1,000.

If you deliberately set the dog on livestock or another person’s pet animal you could be fined up to £2,500.

If your dog puts someone in fear of an attack because they act aggressively you may be subject to six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000.

If your dog injures someone during an attack, this is known as the aggravated offence :

  • you could face up to two years in prison and a fine of £5000.
  • a court may order the dog to be put to sleep (euthanised or the court can make  a Contingent Destruction Order to PTS unless certain measures are complied with.  Such measures might include muzzling when the dog when out in public, confining the dog to a secure place from which they cannot escape, or exclusion from public places, or such other conditions to reduce the risk of further incidents.
  • Even if you are not taken to court over the incident, if a dog warden believes your dog has attacked a person or animal the dog warden can impose dog control conditions on you and/or your dog.
  • The individual who was attacked can also bring a civil claim against you as the owner for their injuries. For this claim to be upheld they will need to show they suffered an injury, the injury was as the result of any act or omission on your part in controlling your dog, i.e. that your dog was ‘dangerously out of control’ –  for example they were not suitably restrained in a public place etc. If they are awarded damages for injuries suffered you will most likely also have to pay their legal costs as well. Typically, an adult person injured has 3 years from the date of the incident to initiate legal proceedings whilst a person under the age of 18 has until they turn 21 to initiate a claim. Insurance to cover such an event is to be recommended.
  • Both the owner of the dog and the person who is in charge of it, if different, at the material time can both be held responsible in terms of criminal and civil liability.
  • Your dog could also be seized by the Dog Warden and held by the local government district in certain circumstances following an incident. Pending the dog’s return you could be liable for the cost of kennelling by the local government district .


The Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, (as amended); article 28 – attacks on animals, article 29 – attacks on persons, article 53 – civil liability.