United Kingdom

Experts warn XL Bully ban won’t work because ‘vague’ definition will mean it will be hard to root out banned animals and police don’t have time to enforce it

Experts have warned that the new XL bully ban won’t work because of the vague definitions outlined in the law will make it hard for to root out banned animals.

Under rules drawn up by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and published today, it will be illegal to ‘breed, sell, advertise, exchange, gift, rehome, abandon or allow XL Bully dogs to stray’ in England and Wales from December 31.

Dog behaviour expert Stan Rawlinson told MailOnline the definition as laid out by Defra was deliberately general to encompass a wide range of dogs, given the XL Bully’s loose definition.

The dog is not a recognised Kennel Club breed, but is borne out of the bloodline of the American Pit Bull Terrier, purebreds of which are banned in the UK.

He also said the definition makes it ‘totally impossible to enforce because all someone has to do is get papers to say that a dog matching that description is not an XL Bully, and nobody is going to police this’.

‘This will encompass a lot of dogs – it’s going to be totally impossible to enforce because all someone has to do is get papers to say that a dog matching that description is not an XL Bully, and nobody is going to police this.

The breeding and sale of American XL Bully dogs will be banned by the end of the year - with a ban on keeping them without a certificate following in February

The breeding and sale of American XL Bully dogs will be banned by the end of the year – with a ban on keeping them without a certificate following in February

 

I own an XL Bully – what do I have to do now? 

The UK Government has published advice for owners of XL Bully dogs on what to do next if they want to keep their animals, rehome them, or have them euthanised.

I want to keep my XL Bully

Owners of XL Bully dogs will need to register for a Certificate of Exemption by January 31 2024 – details of how to do this will be made available soon.

It will cost £92.40 and will require owners to buy third-party liability insurance for their animals and microchip their animals; Dogs Trust membership comes with cover for up to £1,000,000.

Dogs less than a year old on January 31 2024 must be neutered by the end of 2024, while older dogs must be neutered by June 30 2024.

The law will require XL Bully dogs to be muzzled and on a leash at all times when in public; Defra suggests starting to train your pet now if it isn’t already comfortable with both.

Owners who don’t register their dogs will face a criminal record, an unlimited fine and the risk of having their dog seized. 

I don’t want to keep my XL Bully

Under the new legislation, it will be illegal to rehome, sell or transfer XL Bully dogs from December 31 2023.

Rehoming centres will be required to apply for Certificates of Exemption if they wish to keep dogs to rehome them after this date.

If an owner or animal rescue centre wishes to euthanise an XL Bully dogs they will be able to claim back some of the costs from the government – £200 for private owners, and £100 for rehoming centres. 

I breed XL Bully dogs

It will be illegal to rehome, sell, buy, gift and breed XL Bully dogs from December 31 2023 – including allowing an XL Bully to be bred from any other combination of dogs.

It will not be an offence to allow a litter of puppies already conceived to be born – but it will be an offence to sell or rehome them if they are born after that date.

Defra recommends stopping all breeding activity now.  

Mr Rawlinson argued that the police have ‘no time’ to police and enforce the new ban which was promised by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak following a spate of high-profile attacks earlier this year, including the savaging of an 11-year-old girl and the death of a man in Staffordshire at the hands of two of the dangerous dogs.

‘The police have no time for it – they’re not coming out when people are getting burgled, they’re not going to come out for someone with a dog that looks like a mastiff to check if it’s banned,’ he said.

‘Nobody is going to admit that their dogs are of a certain bloodline and there is not a hope in hell of enforcing this. This ban isn’t going to do anything. Who’s going to enforce it? Where are the resources?

‘This government, at the moment, is flailing, and wanted to be seen to do something about XL Bully dogs. It’s not enough to just say you’re going to make the streets safer.

‘There have been more cases in the last couple of days of people being attacked – these things aren’t stopping and they will continue happening in the run up to December 31.

‘The only people that will get caught out, even then, are the ones whose dogs kill or really hurt someone. It won’t affect anyone else. This is just a sticking plaster for a very, very large wound.’

American XL bully dogs are now officially banned and owners have been offered £200 in compensation if they decide to put their animal to sleep.

It will be illegal to rehome, sell, buy, gift and breed XL Bully dogs from December 31 2023 – including allowing an XL Bully to be bred from any other combination of dogs. 

From the same date, existing XL Bully owners also must keep their dogs on a lead and muzzled in public. The government is advising people to start training their dogs to wear a muzzle and walk on a lead comfortably, if they aren’t already trained.

From February 1, owning an XL Bully will be outlawed unless owners register their animal on the Index of Exempted Dogs, as required by the Dangerous Dogs Act. They can also opt to put their animals down, with compensation for the vet bills. 

The government says it has ‘staggered’ the dates to give existing owners time to prepare for the laws to come in; the legislation was laid in Parliament on Tuesday.

Owners who want to keep their dogs will have until the end of January to register their dogs with the Government, and from then on must follow strict rules if they want to keep their pets.

Failing to follow the rules, or failing to register the dog on the index, will see owners potentially face criminal charges and an unlimited fine. Their dogs can also be seized under the new laws. 

Dogs under one year old when the ban comes in must be neutered by the end of 2024, while older dogs must be neutered by June that year.

Registering the dog on the Index of Exempted Dogs will cost £92.40; all registered owners must be over 16, and the animals must have a third party liability insurance policy covering injuries inflicted on other people.

Council dog wardens and police officers will be able to request to see the Certificate of Exemption – failure to do so within five days could lead to enforcement action.

There are already nearly 3,500 illegal dogs in England, Scotland and Wales that have been granted Certificates of Exemption under the Dangerous Dogs Act; the vast majority are pit bull terriers.

Under the existing legislation, owners must prove to the courts that their animal is not a danger to public safety and that they are a ‘fit and proper person’ to look after it. Defra has not specified whether the same process will be used for XL Bully dogs.

The government says it will compensate owners who wish to have their dogs put down before the ban comes into effect. If owners do choose to euthanised their XL Bullies, they can claim £200 compensation to cover the costs.

Guidance has been published for existing owners of XL Bullies to advise them of what needs to be done ahead of time: all dogs matching the definition must be microchipped and neutered.

The government has also published what it says is the official definition of an XL Bully dog under UK law, following consultation with dog experts, vets, police and local councils.

It defines the animal as having ‘a muscular body and blocky head, suggesting great strength and power for its size…(it is a) powerfully built individual’.

Breeders have been given nine weeks to legally sell any puppies that were bred before the legislation was tabled in Parliament today; the government says breeders considering starting a fresh litter should stop now.

News of the plan to introduce a ban in September was welcomed by many, including Jack Lis’s mother Emma Whitfield, but today animal experts expressed concerns over whether the ban could truly be enforced.

The Dog Control Coalition, which is made up of RSPCA, Blue Cross, Battersea, Dogs Trust, Hope Rescue, the Scottish SPCA, The Kennel Club and BVA, believes an opportunity to ‘completely overhaul’ the Dangerous Dogs Act has been missed.

In a statement, the group of charities said: ‘With its continued focus on specific breeds, rather than a focus on prevention and implementation of tougher penalties for those owners not in control of their dogs, (the Act) is not fit for purpose.

‘After such a worrying few weeks for responsible owners of American Bully XLs, they will be relieved that the Government has confirmed they will be able to keep their dogs, subject to them being registered and following the rules on muzzling, neutering and insurance.’ 

‘However, we have serious concerns about the very short amount of time in which owners have to comply with the rules, especially as the Government is yet to release information on how owners can register their dogs.’

The Coalition, echoing Mr Rawlinson’s sentiments, says the definition of an XL Bully as issued by Defra is ‘hugely subjective and open to interpretation’ – and places additional stress on owners who may now worry that they could be affected.

It added: ‘There is currently no clear understanding of how many tens of thousands of dogs could fall within this breed specification, and we urge the Government to ensure that the teams responsible for enforcing this law – the police and local authorities – have the resources and training they need before the ban begins to avoid any more dogs than absolutely necessary from being caught up in this.

‘As a coalition of the country’s leading dog welfare and veterinary organisations we have only just seen the information published by Defra today and will take time to thoroughly review this, whilst continuing to support owners in any way we can, including offering support and advice. 

‘We will also continue to support those working in the animal welfare sector who care for American Bully XLs, and the vets who may find themselves asked to euthanise healthy dogs for no other reason than how they look.’ 

Ian Price, 52, was mauled to death by two XL Bullies on September 14 - the ban on XL Bullies was announced by Rishi Sunak the next day

Ian Price, 52, was mauled to death by two XL Bullies on September 14 – the ban on XL Bullies was announced by Rishi Sunak the next day

Ana Paun, 11, was attacked by an XL Bully as she walked home from buying sweets with her sister on September 11 in Birmingham

Ana Paun, 11, was attacked by an XL Bully as she walked home from buying sweets with her sister on September 11 in Birmingham

Jack Lis, 10, suffered fatal head and neck injuries after he was attacked by an XL Bully in Caerphilly in 2021; his mother has since campaigned for the breed to be banned

Jack Lis, 10, suffered fatal head and neck injuries after he was attacked by an XL Bully in Caerphilly in 2021; his mother has since campaigned for the breed to be banned

A mother cradles her 20-month-old that was attacked by an XL Bully in London earlier this month

A mother cradles her 20-month-old that was attacked by an XL Bully in London earlier this month

The government says it is taking 'quick and decisive action' on XL Bully dogs to protect the public

The government says it is taking ‘quick and decisive action’ on XL Bully dogs to protect the public 

Outraged owners took to the streets of London following the news that the breed was set to be banned - but left their animals at home

Outraged owners took to the streets of London following the news that the breed was set to be banned – but left their animals at home

How the government has defined an XL Bully 

As a ‘mongrel’ crossbreed not recognised by the Kennel Club, XL Bully dogs are difficult to define.

But under guidelines published today by Defra, the following will be used to assess animals that could be XL Bullies:

General impression

Large dog with a muscular body and blocky head, suggesting great strength and power for its size. Powerfully built individual.

Height

  • Adult male from 20in (51 cm) at the withers
  • Adult female from 19in (48cm) at the withers

Head

  • Heavy, large and broad
  • Length from tip of the nose to a well-defined stop (indentation between muzzle and the head) is equal to around a third of the length from the stop to the back of the head
  • Muzzle blocky or slightly squared to fall away below the eyes
  • Topline of muzzle straight
  • Prominent cheek muscles with strong, well-defined jaws and lips semi-close
  • Often has prominent face wrinkles
  • Large nose with well opened nostrils

Teeth

Neck

  • Heavy, muscular, slightly arched, tapering from the shoulders to the base of the skull
  • Medium in length

Forequarters

  • Shoulder blades are long, well-muscled and well laid back
  • Upper arm length is about equal to the length of the shoulder blades and joined at a 35-45 degree angle to the ground
  • Front legs straight, strong and very muscular with dog standing high on the area between feet and ankles
  • Elbows set close to the body
  • Distance from the withers to elbows about the same as the distance from the elbow to the bottom of the feet

Body

  • Heavily-muscled – large, blocky body giving impression of power
  • Broad chest with well sprung ribs
  • Chest may be wider than deep
  • Topline level and straight
  • Loin short and firm
  • Generally appears square shaped from shoulder to the buttocks compared with the withers to the ground

Hindquarters

  • Strong, muscular and broad; thighs well-developed with thick muscles
  • From behind, pasterns are typically straight and parallel to each other
  • Muscular development, angulation and width in balance with forequarters

Feet

  • Rounded, medium in size and in proportion to body
  • Compact and well arched

Tail

  • Medium length and low set
  • Tapers to a point to end at about the level of the hocks
  • Generally assumes a straight or pump handle shape when relaxed

Coat

Glossy, smooth, close, single 

Legal experts, while welcoming the ban, have also expressed concerns over whether the legislation will do enough to protect the public. 

Civil litigation and criminal defence lawyer Rhianna Tsiattalou, of Stokoe Partnership Solicitors, said on Tuesday: ‘If the data available to the government and experts is that these dogs are, in fact, inherently dangerous, then Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act will not go far enough to protect the public.

‘With XL bullies not being an officially recognised breed by the Royal Kennel Club, a ban on these dogs could inadvertently lead to other dog breeds being included under the same category and consequently banned in the UK. 

‘While legislation can be black and white, the cross-bred nature of these dogs means that even if this ban comes into force, it would be a challenge to enforce it in every case.’

Dog trading website Puppies.co.uk says it is ‘phasing out’ XL Bully-related listings. 

Bosses at the website have warned that people may simply seek out another similar breed of dog when the ban comes into effect with a similar image; the dogs are adored by celebrities as a status symbol because of their stocky build.

A spokesperson for Puppies.co.uk said: ‘People who were buying the XL bully will likely just move to the next dangerous dog breed and the cycle will restart again until that one gets banned.

‘We are calling for the government to consider further laws enforcing responsible ownership and responsible breeding of all dog breeds to be a priority to solve the problem of dangerous dogs once and for all.’

The ban comes following a series of high profile attacks on people committed by dogs believed to be XL Bullies.

Ian Price, 52, from Stonnall in Staffordshire, died after he was savaged by two XL Bully dogs in September. 

A 30-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter following the attack and released on conditional bail; Staffordshire Police says the investigation is ongoing. 

Rishi Sunak announced the ban on the mongrel crossbreed a day after Mr Price’s death – describing them as a ‘danger to our communities’ when he promised to instigate the ban.

 

Days before Mr Price was killed, 11-year-old Ana Paun was mauled by another dog of the same breed as she walked home with her sister after buying sweets in Birmingham.

She said the dog had come at her ‘out of nowhere’ before locking its powerful jaws around her arm. She recalled: ‘I was screaming and screaming – I was petrified.’ 

In 2021, 10-year-old Jack Lis died from severe head and neck injuries after he was attacked by an XL Bully in Caerphilly; his mother, Emma Whitfield, has campaigned for the dogs to be banned.

In March 2021, 17-month-old Bella-Rae Birch was mauled to death by her family’s XL Bully in St Helen’s.

A number of other attacks said to involve XL Bully-type dogs have occurred since the ban was announced in mid-September.

The latest victim was Ian Langley, 54, a father who died after an attack while walking his puppy in Sunderland on October 3.

And a toddler was attacked by an XL Bully in south-east London the day before – almost losing his leg after the animal sunk its teeth into his leg.

Campaign group BullyWatch claims that XL Bully-type dogs are responsible for the relative majority of dog attacks in the UK – it says 43 percent of all dog attacks in 2023 have been linked with the mongrel breed.

Further, the group claims that the mongrel breed is linked to 11 confirmed fatal attacks since 2021 – and could be responsible for a further three.

XL Bully owners who insist their animals are not dangerous even took to the streets in protest – but left their pets at home.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said: ‘We are taking quick and decisive action to protect the public from tragic dog attacks and today I have added the XL Bully type to the list of dogs prohibited under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

‘It will soon become a criminal offence to breed, sell, advertise, rehome or abandon an XL Bully type dog, and they must also be kept on a lead and muzzled in public. 

‘In due course it will also be illegal to own one of these dogs without an exemption.

‘We will continue to work closely with the police, canine and veterinary experts, and animal welfare groups, as we take forward these important measures.’

Injuries and deaths after attacks by XL Bully type dogs

Jonathan Halstead, 35

Jonathan Halstead, 35

Jonathan Halstead, 35 – January 29, 2020

Jonathan died after a severe neck injury and bites after being attacked in his home in Oldham, Greater Manchester by his pet Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bronson.

It is believed the dog attacked him when his its owner suffered an epileptic fit.

Jack Lis, 10

Jack Lis, 10

Jack Lis, 10 – November 8, 2021

Schoolboy Jack Lis, 10, suffered catastrophic injuries in the mauling by an American XL Bully dog called Beast while visiting a friend’s home in Penyrheol in Caerphilly, Wales on November 8, 2021.

Neighbours and Welsh Ambulance Service paramedics desperately tried to save him but he died at the scene. Armed police destroyed the dog on site.

Adam Watts, 55

Adam Watts, 55

Adam Watts, 55 – December 22, 2021 

Adam Watts, 55, was attacked at the Juniper Kennels and Cattery in Kirkton of Auchterhouse, near Dundee, and was pronounced dead at the scene on December 22, 2021. 

MARCH 21, 2022: Undated family handout photo issued by Merseyside Police of Bella-Rae Birch

MARCH 21, 2022: Undated family handout photo issued by Merseyside Police of Bella-Rae Birch

Bella-Rae Birch, 17 months – March 21, 2022

Toddler Bella-Rae Birch was attacked by her family’s pet American Bully XL dog when she was just 17 months old.

The vicious dog snatched the child out of her mother’s arms while they were at their home in Blackbrook, St Helens, Merseyside, on March 21 last year.

Keven Jones, 62

Keven Jones, 62

Keven Jones, 62 – May 28, 2022

Keven Jones died after he was attacked by an American Bully XL dog in Wrexham, Wales on May 28 last year.

Ambulance workers attempted to save him but they were unable to stop his left leg from bleeding.

Mr Jones was then pronounced dead at his son’s house following the attack. 

Joanne Robinson, 43

Joanne Robinson, 43

Joanne Robinson, 43 – July 15, 2022

Mother-of-two Joanne Robinson, 43, was killed by her American Bully XL dog, Rocco, after it ‘turned mad in the extreme heat’ in July last year.

She died at the scene of the attack at home in Rotherham, South Yorkshire while her partner, Jamie Stead, was left with injuries to his hands, stomach and face as he tried to pull the animal off her.

Joanne’s mother Dot, of Wath-upon-Dearne, South Yorkshire, revealed at the time that Rocco had previously fought with their other dog Lola – and she had warned her daughter to ‘get rid of one of them’.

Ian 'Wiggy' Symes, 34

Ian ‘Wiggy’ Symes, 34

Ian Symes, 34 – August 2022 

Ian ‘Wiggy’ Symes, 34, who is understood to have been walking a Bully XL dog himself at a recreation ground in Fareham, Hampshire, died at the scene following a horrific dog attack in August 2022.

His devastated family said he was out dog walking and ‘doing something he loved’ when he died at the field in Fareham, Hampshire.

Ann Dunn, 65

Ann Dunn, 65

Ann Dunn, 65 – October 3, 2022

Ann Dunn, 65, was found collapsed with ‘catastrophic injuries’ at her Liverpool home she shared with seven dogs on October 3 last year.

She was mauled to death by dogs including an American Bully XL – and had been sent to hospital a year before her death because she had been bitten by a dog. 

Shirley Patrick, 83

Shirley Patrick, 83

Shirley Patrick, 83 – December 3, 2022

Widowed grandmother Shirley Patrick, 83, died after being viciously mauled by an XL Bully in her own home.

The retired nurse died in hospital 17 days after suffering ‘life-threatening injuries’ during the ‘hellish’ and ‘violent’ dog attack in Caerphilly, South Wales on December 3 last year.

Jonathan Hogg, 37

Jonathan Hogg, 37

Jonathan Hogg, 37 – May 18, 2023

Jonathan Hogg, 37, was mauled to death by an American XL Bully dog after it turned on him while he was looking after it for a friend.

He entered the dogs’ pen when it went for him, leaving bite wounds on his arm, leg and head, an inquest heard.

He was rushed to hospital but died of his injuries after the mauling in Leigh, Greater Manchester, on May 18 this year.

Ian Price, 52

Ian Price, 52

Ian Price, 52 – September 14, 2023

On Thursday, September 14, ‘pillar of the community’ Ian Price, 52, was attacked and killed by two ‘devil’ XL Bully dogs after they jumped out of his neighbour’s window in Stonnall, Staffordshire.

Mr Price, from Stonnall, Staffordshire, was attacked and killed by the two dogs which jumped out of a neighbour’s window yards from a primary school. He reportedly died defending his elderly mother from the animals.

The dogs bit him and ripped the clothes from his body leaving him dying in a pool of blood in his boxer shorts in the horror attack just feet from his home.

Ian Langley, 54

Ian Langley, 54

Ian Langley, 54 – October 3, 2023

Ian Langley, 54, was set upon on the estate in Sunderland on October 3 this year by an enormous XL Bully dog which grabbed him by the neck as he bent down to pick up his Patterdale terrier pup.

The attack left Mr Langley needing CPR for around 15 minutes as emergency services fought to staunch heavy bleeding from his wounds. However he tragically succumbed to his injuries. His dog survived.

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