Should dogs be licensed?

Should there be a dog licensing (registration) scheme in the UK (or any other country)? Mark Piggott writing in The Times today January 17, 2023 recommends that dog licensing be brought back to the UK. It was abolished in 1987. The reason? The law had lost respect. Citizens weren’t following it in sufficient numbers as less than 50% of dog owners bothered to register.

Also, it didn’t contain the problems caused by irresponsible dog ownership. And apparently there was no evidence that the number of stray dogs was higher after abolition of the law compared to before it. Also, the amount charged at the time for a licence was 37.5p which didn’t make it cost effective because it cost more to run than they obtained in licence fees. And it was too hard to enforce apparently. Which presumably is why only half the dog owning population bothered to comply with it.

RELATED: 34 percent rise in dog attacks against humans causing injury in the UK (15 percent increase in dog numbers)

Dog licensing. Can it be effectively enforced?
Dog licensing. Can it be effectively enforced? Image: MikeB.

Northern Ireland

They did retain dog licensing in Northern Ireland, however. My research indicates that there are 270,000 dogs in Northern Ireland of which 141,000 are registered. The first figure might be inaccurate but the second figure is accurate as it comes from the dog licensing scheme in Northern Ireland.

If ratio is accurate, it appears that a similar percentage of dog owners in Northern Ireland register their dogs as happened before 1987 in the UK.

That would signal a failure but the government of Northern Ireland decided to retain it and therefore they consider it a success.

Some countries with licensing

Clearly, there is a lot of ambivalence about the success and failure of dog licensing. Three countries where they do have dog licensing are: Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands. Three very sensible countries although in the Antipodes they do seem to have a much tougher attitude towards companion animal ownership than in Europe for instance. In ACT, Australia there is obligatory dog and cat registration. It has just been introduced. I think ACT are the only jurisdiction in the world with cat registration.

The big problem as I see it is compliance and enforcement. We’ll have to watch and see if cat registration is successful. Cats can be hidden in the home.

Too many dog attacks

There is, though, some good reasons for having dog licensing as Mark Piggott argues. He says that in 2022 nine people including four children were mauled to death by dogs in England and Wales. This was the highest annual figure on record.

Annually about 9,000 people suffer serious injuries to dog attacks and sometimes they are life changing.

There are other issues such as noise and dog fouling. And the kind of people who adopt or acquire so-called dangerous dogs are thugs in the words of Mr Piggott. In fact, their dogs become a status symbol.

Substitutes to Dangerous Dogs Act

After the abolition of dog licensing in the UK except for Northern Ireland in 1987, the UK government introduced the 1990 Environmental Protection Act and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 as a substitute for introducing a fresh licensing act.

Dangerous Dogs Act – a failure

On my research, the general consensus in the UK about the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is that it doesn’t work. It might even be an out and out failure.

Firstly, it demonises certain dog breeds. I don’t think you can do that because you can’t brand an entire breed dangerous. It depends upon the individual dogs and how they were raised and socialised. And if you brand a dog dangerous you effectively consign that animal to the death penalty which could result in a good dog being killed unnecessarily.

And apparently, according to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the number of dog attacks resulting in hospitalisation skyrocketed since the introduction of that act.

The Dangerous Dogs Act has been debated because of its failures including 30 years of discrimination against dogs based on their appearance. That is another issue. How do you know a dog is of a certain breed just by their appearance? It means the police or RSPCA have an almost impossible task. Battersea state that the law is not fit for purpose and in urgent need of reform.

So, the replacement legislation for dog licensing is also failure apparently. The 1990 Environmental Protection Act does not set fixed penalty punishments. It simply requires local authority to appoint an officer to round up stray dogs to return them where possible to their owners. And it gave the authorities the power to enforce legislation that dog should wear a collar and tag. Apparently, there were attempts to amend it to include dog licensing but the supporters were narrowly defeated in the Commons.

Horrendous attack

Mark Piggott introduced the idea of dog licensing because of that recent horrific attack on a dog walker in which eight dogs that she was walking attacked and killed her.

AI computer’s list of pros and cons to dog licensing

Where does that leave us? Immediately below is a list of pros and cons for dog licensing is created by an artificial intelligence computer. I agree with the points made.

Pros of dog licensing include:

  • Increased public safety: Licensed dogs are more likely to be vaccinated against rabies and other diseases, which reduces the risk of outbreaks.
  • Easier to locate lost dogs: Licensed dogs are easier to identify and return to their owners if they become lost.
  • Revenue for local government: Licensing fees can generate revenue for local government, which can be used to fund animal control programs and other services.

Cons of dog licensing include:

  • Cost: Licensing fees can be costly, especially for low-income pet owners.
  • Bureaucracy: The process of obtaining a license can be time-consuming and bureaucratic, which can be a barrier to compliance.
  • Privacy concerns: Some pet owners may be concerned about providing personal information in order to obtain a license, which can raise privacy concerns.
  • Some people might see it as unnecessary and just another way to generate revenue.
  • Some people might not see the benefits of licensing their dog.


I think the better way forward is to try and take proactive measures. All the measures mentioned are reactive. They react to bad dog ownership, illegal breeding and importation of dogs which are badly socialised and so on. Although laws can act to improve human behavior to the point where is becomes second nature.

The ultimate course of action must be education and controls on dog breeding to ensure that they are socialised. This means that all purebred dogs are socialised to a friendly disposition.

Obviously, stray dogs allowed to breed are not socialised and therefore potentially dangerous. But the Environmental Protection Act is meant to deal with those.

There was a great surge of dog adoptions during Covid. Many of the dogs were imported illegally from continental Europe where they were bred in puppy mills. They were often unhealthy and poorly socialised. And then after adoption many were given up, relinquished to other people or rescue centres. This would have further damaged the dogs psychologically.

It is that kind of poor human behaviour which creates the problem in my view. A problem in the UK since the beginning of Covid and currently is that the UK government is too sloppy. They had lost their way and lost control and the sorts of issues presented by so-called dangerous dogs are very low priority matters to be dealt with. The same, in my view goes for the police. They de-prioritise dangerous dog issues and when they deal with them, they do so rather badly.

The problem with the idea of reintroducing dog licensing in that its history is littered with failure. How can it be different today? Would it be better enforced today? They could certainly charge more for a licence and make it financially viable but there will be an uproar from the more vulnerable people in society who would argue that they couldn’t afford it.

But then again, you could introduce a tapering scheme and offer grants to help support the more vulnerable in society. The failure of dog licensing was a government failure as I see it.


Perhaps the ultimate answer is to reintroduce dog licensing with a real commitment from government (impossible to envisage?) and a better machinery to enforce it properly with a higher charge, while in parallel set up training schemes to improve the quality of dog ownership and thereby minimise the number of dogs that could be described as dangerous to people. The importation of dogs from puppy mills has been serious negated by banning the selling of dogs at pets shops. Anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must now buy direct from a breeder or consider adopting from a rescue centre instead.

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