Dogs and puppies

Dogs and puppies

The law on buying a dog

When you buy a dog or a puppy, it must be:

  • of satisfactory quality;
  • fit for its purpose;
  • as described.

In addition, any person buying a dog or a puppy has the right of an implied guarantee that the seller can sell the dog or puppy. This means that, although this guarantee may not be in writing, the seller still promises that nobody else has any right to prevent the sale.

You can find out more about your rights in the section Introduction to your legal rights.

In England and Scotland, the following people must be licensed:

  • Anyone who sells animals as pets in the course of a business
  • Anyone who keeps animals in the course of a business for later sale as pets
  • Dog breeders who breed 3 or more litters of puppies in any 12-month period.

It is illegal for a licence holder to sell a puppy as a pet or to permanently separate it from its biological mother, if it's under 8 weeks old. A puppy under 6 months may only be sold by its breeder, who must be the person named on the licence. It may only be shown to a prospective buyer in the presence of its biological mother (unless she has died).

A dog or puppy may only be sold from the licensed premises and, in the case of breeders, from the licensed premises where it was born and reared. The sale of the dog or puppy may only be concluded if the buyer is personally present at the licensed premises. This means that it would be illegal to sell or buy a dog or puppy at a public place or market, unless that forms part of the licensed premises.

All puppies must be microchipped and registered to the license holder before they are sold.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, the law requires breeders to retain ownership and possession of the puppy on the premises where it was bred until the puppy is at least 8 weeks. Any sale before then is illegal.

Identification of dogs and puppies

Owners must make sure their dog wears a collar with an identification tag that includes the owners' name, address and telephone number as required by the Control of Dogs Order 1992 and, in Northern Ireland, the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983.

Most dogs in the UK are legally required to be microchipped at 8 weeks (or older if not yet microchipped). It is also a legal requirement that when a microchipped dog is sold, the new owner's details must be recorded on the microchip. More information is on GOV.UK.

Dangerous dogs

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and the Dangerous Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 make it a criminal offence to own, sell, gift or breed certain types of dogs that are considered to be dangerous (unless they're registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs). The following kinds of dog have been outlawed:

  • pit bull terrier
  • Japanese tosa
  • dogo Argentino
  • fila Brasileiro

XL Bully dogs

In 2023 the XL Bully was added to the list of banned dog types in England, Wales and Scotland under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Since 31 December 2023 (in England and Wales) and 23 February 2024 (in Scotland), it's been unlawful to sell, abandon (or allow to stray), gift or breed an XL Bully, or to have one in public without a lead and a muzzle.

Since 1 February 2024, it's been unlawful to own one in England and Wales without a certificate of exemption (which must have been applied for by 31 January 2024).

From 1 August 2024, it'll be unlawful to own one in Scotland without a certificate of exemption (or having applied for one). The last day to apply for a certificate is 31 July 2024.

XL Bully dogs with a certificate of exemption must be kept in a secure place from where they can't escape.

Breed v type

In the UK, dangerous dogs are classified by type, not by breed. This means that whether a dog is banned depends on its physical characteristics and whether they match the description of a banned type of dog. The courts are responsible for assessing the physical characteristics of the dog and can decide whether the dog should either be destroyed or placed in the Index of Exempted Dogs.

It's also an offence to be the owner of any dog that is dangerously out of control in a public place or in a private place where the dog isn't allowed to be (e.g. a neighbour's house or garden). This rule applies to all dogs, not just dangerous ones.

Caring for dogs

Before buying a dog or puppy as a pet, you must keep in mind that you're taking on a long-term responsibility. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 in England and Wales, Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 set out the legal duties of the owner of a dog or puppy.

Under this legislation, the owner has legal obligations to:

  • provide it with a suitable environment and diet;
  • enable it to exhibit normal behavioural patterns;
  • give it the appropriate level of companionship (including whether it needs to live with or apart from other animals); and
  • protect it from pain, suffering injury and disease.

Codes of practice have been published in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, all aimed at helping you comply with your legal duties of care. Although non-compliance with the codes is not an offence in itself, they are taken into account when deciding if you've broken the law.

Most sellers therefore want to emphasise the need to care for the animal. To address this, the seller often puts a term in the contract of sale that asks the buyer to promise that they'll look after the animal. Unfortunately, this kind of term is very difficult to enforce and means very little in practice.

If you suspect that a dog or puppy is being mistreated, contact the following organisations:

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