Dog bites, and being attacked by a dog, can sound like dangers from another era – perhaps belonging to a time when dogs were kept for hunting and defence instead of as the companions we know and love today.

But unfortunately these dangers remain very much a part of our modern world, and the recent news of a woman who was killed by out-of-control dogs when visiting her grandson is a tragic reminder of that.

One of the reasons the story is so shocking is how fast an apparently peaceful domestic scene could be transformed so completely. And dogs form a part of a huge number of households, with an estimated 12 million pet dogs living in the UK as of 2023 (data according to the World Animal Foundation).

Even if you aren’t a dog-owner, this is significant as well; when was the last time you went out and about and didn’t see at least one dog?

All of which makes it especially concerning that the numbers of attacks by dogs is rising.

In this blog, we’ll look at how drastic this rise is, as well as exploring parts of the current law and the issues around whether it does enough to protect us.

Rising numbers of dog attacks

Back in March 2023, using data collected from 37 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, the BBC reported that dog attacks had risen by 34% over the preceding 5 years.

NHS statistics on people treated for dog bite injuries also show a significant increase over the last 20 years. In 2007-8, there were 4,699 recorded courses of treatment for dog bites or attacks. In 2022-23, this had risen to 9,336 courses of treatment.

And, most alarming, is that deaths caused by dog attacks have also increased considerably. According to ONS figures, in 2019, across England and Wales, there were 2 deaths in which the cause was recorded as being bitten or struck by a dog. In 2023, there were 16.

Possible causes

Whilst the number of dog attacks is on the rise, so is the number of dogs in the UK.

The pandemic in particular saw an enormous boom in dog ownership – with potentially as many as 3.2 million households acquiring a dog during that time. And it’s been estimated that dog ownership went from around 9 million in 2019-20 to 13 million in 2021-22.

The sheer volume of dogs living alongside us could easily be a factor in the increased attacks but, coupled with this spike in pet ownership, the pandemic brought its own problems for dog behaviour. With the country on lockdown, the opportunities for dogs to socialise and become accustomed to the presence of other dogs and humans were drastically curtailed. Research commissioned by the Royal Veterinary College suggests that ‘pandemic puppies’ are at a greater risk of developing behavioural issues due to the conditions and restrictions in place at the time they were acquired by their owners.

A failure of the law?

With these seemingly mounting risks, it is reasonable to ask whether the law is doing enough to protect us from dangerous dogs.

But firstly, it is important to understand that these laws have two aspects – a criminal side and a civil side.

Under the civil law, if you have been injured by someone’s dog, you may have the right to claim compensation for your dog bite injuries.

Under the criminal law, the dog’s owner can be prosecuted for failing to keep proper control their dog, and can face fines and imprisonment. This has remained broadly the same since the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was passed, and changes to the law made since have been focused mainly on targeting specific breeds of dog as ones which are considered particularly dangerous.

This is a controversial approach, with many organisations (including the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, and The Kennel Club) arguing that breed-specific legislation does not work.

From the figures outlined above, it is clear that the current approach is not causing an overall reduction in dog attacks.

What is breed-specific legislation?

Certain breeds of dog are banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act. The most recent ban targeted the XL bully and was passed in 2023 following another tragic death due to a dog attack.

This ban makes it illegal to own an XL bully unless the owner has been granted an exemption certificate and registered their dog. Owners are then required to keep their dog on a lead and muzzled when in public. There are also requirements in relation to keeping the animal, such as ensuring it is kept in sufficiently secure conditions to prevent escape, and to keep it at the address where it has been registered, informing the government if this changes.

The legislation also made it illegal to sell, give away, or abandon an XL bully, and prohibited breeding from them.

Under the Dangerous Dogs Act, the following breeds of dog are banned:

  • XL bully
  • Pit bull terrier
  • Japanese tosa
  • Dogo Argentinos
  • Fila Braziliero

Do breed-specific bans make us safer?

The banned breeds listed above were traditionally bred as fighting dogs, with a reputation for aggression and the physical characteristics to cause serious harm in an attack. But campaign groups believe that nurture plays a greater role than nature – that a dog’s breed does not determine its aggression, but how it has been raised.

As such, they argue that the underlying cause of dog attacks is owners who do not train their dogs properly, either through a lack of understanding or irresponsibility. Therefore, alongside robust, breed-neutral dangerous dog laws, they call for measures focused on better educating dog owners in how to care for their dogs properly.

Of course many other breeds of dog, not just those which are banned, have the potential to cause severe injuries if they are aggressive and out of control.

For example, Truth Legal helped a woman who was injured in an unprovoked attack by a German Shepherd to claim personal injury compensation. You can read more about her story here.

Engagement with the XL bully ban

Then there is the matter of how owners engage with breed-specific bans. To give some indication of the response to the XL bully ban it is worth looking at some figures.

The RSPCA estimates that, at the time of the ban, there were between 50,000 and 100,000 XL bullies in the UK. The government stated it received over 35,000 applications for registration and exemption certificates.

The only lawful alternative to registration under the ban, was for dogs to be euthanised. Owners could claim up to £200 compensation if they elected this option. The government stated it had received around 150 claims.

Even taking the lowest end of the RSPCA’s estimate, that leaves a lot of dogs unaccounted for. And the argument could be made that those owners who do not comply with the law, in one way or another, represent the greatest concern. To put it bluntly, if they did not adhere to that law, what other rules have they decided not to follow in relation to their dog? And does this put other people at risk of being attacked?


Unfortunately, all of this speaks to the fact that there are very clear dangers from dogs in 2024.

If you have been bitten or attacked by a dog, it can have a huge effect on your life. There are the physical injuries, but perhaps less immediately obvious are the psychological effects, which can be just as much, if not more debilitating.

It is important to be aware that, if you have been subjected to a dog attack, you may be able to claim personal injury compensation.

You can find out more about doing so on our dog bite claims page, or you can speak to one of our friendly lawyers to explore your rights.

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Catherine Reynolds
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