A post on Facebook suggests that several large dog breeds may be “under threat” from an incoming ban on XL Bully dogs in England and Wales.
The post, which has been shared hundreds of times, states that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Cane Corso, Bullmastiff and Presa Canario dog breeds fall within the “bully type breed” which it says will be threatened by the new legislation “targeting large breeds”.
The law change is being introduced following a number of attacks and fatalities which the government says are driven by the XL Bully, a variant or cross-breed of the American Bully breed type.
Official advice issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in November states that the ban, which comes into effect in England and Wales from 31 December, “only applies to XL Bully dogs”.
Other established breeds of dog such as those recognised by the UK Kennel Club are not within the scope of the ban, even if they share some physical characteristics with XL Bully type dogs. Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Bullmastiffs are both recognised by the Kennel Club, while Cane Corsos and Presa Canarios are not, but all four breeds are legal in the UK and will not be on the banned breeds list.
However some dog owners have expressed concerns over how the XL Bully ban will be applied in practice. Assessment of whether a dog is subject to the ban will be based on appearance and physical characteristics rather than stated breed as sold or DNA results. A coalition of charities including the RSPCA, Blue Cross and Dogs’ Trust has warned DEFRA’s definition of the dogs subject to the ban is “hugely subjective and open to interpretation”.
Dogs which may share some XL Bully characteristics but are plainly identifiable as another established breed won’t be affected, but other cross-breed dogs which appear to be XL Bullies may be.
The only breeds of dogs that are currently banned from ownership in the UK are the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro. It’s also against the law to sell, abandon, give away or breed a banned dog.
However any dog can be seized by police and euthanised if it is deemed to be dangerously out of control, and their owner could be prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act.
Honesty in public debate matters
You can help us take action – and get our regular free email
How will XL Bully dogs be identified?
If a dog meets the minimum height measurements, which are from 51 cm at the ‘withers’ (the tallest point on a dog’s body aside from the head and neck) on males and 48 cm for females, and if it has a number of other characteristics, the government says it “could” be considered an XL Bully.
If so, enforcement officers will make an assessment on whether a dog is in scope of the ban. This will be done by an assessment of its physical appearance, and whether it meets certain characteristics, rather than relying on its stated breed as sold or DNA results. This reflects the same approach by which Pit Bull Terriers are identified.
DEFRA states: “There are other established breeds such as those recognised by the UK Kennel Club that may meet some of the characteristics of the XL Bully breed type. These will not be covered by the ban.”
However it adds: “A suspected XL Bully breed type does not need to fit the physical description perfectly. If your dog meets the minimum height measurements and a substantial number of the characteristics in the official definition, it could be considered an XL Bully breed type.
“If you think your dog meets the minimum height measurements and has a substantial amount of the physical characteristics set out in the official definition, your dog may be in scope of the ban. This includes if it was not sold as an XL Bully.”
XL Bully dog characteristics listed by the government include being a large dog, powerfully built, and with a muscular body and “blocky” head.
The full list of characteristics which makes up the physical confirmation standard for the XL Bully breed has been developed by DEFRA in consultation with National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) dangerous dogs working group, local authorities and veterinary surgeons.
An NPCC spokesperson told Full Fact: “Dogs which are plainly identifiable as another recognised breed are not included in the designation of an XL bully type.
“Cross breed dogs which are not clearly identifiable as another recognised breed and which appear to be an XL bully type are likely to come within the scope of the designation/prohibition.
“DNA is not–and never has been–accepted by courts as a breed type identifier.”
Dog Legislation Officers are responsible for identifying XL Bully breed types. Further expert advice and guidance must be sought at an early stage from a Dog Legislation Officer if police or council officers suspect that a dog may be an XL Bully breed type. DEFRA states it is up to the owner or keeper to identify whether they think their dog may be in scope of the ban.
Bill Lambert, a health, welfare and breeder services executive at the Kennel Club, told us: “We understand that many dog owners may be confused or unsure of whether their dog is likely to be affected by the impending ban on the XL Bully, or want to ensure that it is formally recognised as not being a banned breed.
“As such, owners should continue to refer to not only the official definition of an XL Bully dog, which has been published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but also how to apply for a certificate of exemption, both of which are available on the government’s website.”
What happens if you own a dog which could be covered by the ban?
Owners of XL Bully type dogs are not obliged to have their dogs put to sleep under the law change.
The government has begun a transition period which runs until 31 January 2024. From 1 February 2024 it will be a criminal offence to own an XL Bully in England and Wales unless you have a certificate of exemption for your dog.
People who currently own this type of dog have a choice between keeping their dog or having them euthanised by a registered vet (in which case they can claim £200 compensation from the government).
Owners who wish to keep their XL Bully dog have to apply to an exemption scheme and be awarded a certificate of exemption. To receive this, owners must hold active public liability insurance for their dog, have had their dog microchipped and pay the application fee of £92.40.
XL Bully dogs must also be neutered by specific dates depending on their age. These are by 31 December 2024 if a dog is less than one year old by the end of January 2024, or if more than one year old by that date they must be neutered by 30 June 2024.
Once a certificate of exemption has been obtained, owners must still comply with certain requirements throughout the lifetime of the dog, including keeping it on a lead and muzzled in public and in a secure place at home where it cannot escape.
The government says that once the transition period has ended, owners who have not received a certificate could receive both a criminal record and an unlimited fine if they are found to be in possession of an XL Bully type breed.
The impending ban on XL Bully type dogs will also see breeding, selling, advertising, rehoming, abandoning or allowing them to stray made illegal.
The legislation banning XL Bully type dogs does not apply in Northern Ireland, and the Scottish government has said it will not introduce a ban at the same time as England and Wales.
We've previously checked a range of other claims about dogs on social media, including looking at whether ice cubes will make them overheat in hot weather and police advice around breaking car windows to rescue dogs.