How to Protect Your XL Bully Under the New Ban in the UK · The Wildest

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How to Protect Your XL Bully Under the New Ban

How to keep your dog happy and healthy under the new legislation

by Orla Pentelow
Updated 12 January 2024
Grey XL Bully looking up at camera
SadieG / Shutterstock

Update – 12 January, 2024: The Scottish government has confirmed that it will be joining the UK government in banning the American XL Bully breed. 

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf confirmed during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, 11 January, that the decision would “in essence replicate” legislation in England and Wales banning the XL Bully breed following “concerning” reports of XL Bully dogs being brought to Scotland from south of the border.

The move follows new regulations that came into force in England and Wales on 1 January, 2024, which makes it compulsory for all XL Bullies to be kept on a lead and muzzled in public as well as making it illegal to breed, sell, advertise, give, exchange or abandon an XL Bully ‘type’.

From 1 February, 2024, it will be illegal to own an XL Bully in England and Wales without a certificate of exemption. It is not yet clear when the new legislation will come into effect in Scotland, though some reports suggest the ban will follow the UK government‘s timeline of the end of January.

Original story – 10 November, 2023

In a move slated to address the safety and welfare of both humans and canines, the UK government introduced a significant addition to the list of banned dog breeds in 2023. The XL Bully has now joined the four other dog breeds banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which include Pit Bull Terriers, Japanese Tosas, Dogo Argentinos and Fila Brasileiros.

But what exactly is an XL Bully, and why has it been included in the list of banned breeds? The XL Bully, a breed with roots in the American Bully and American Pit Bull Terrier, is known for its powerful build and stature. When trained and socialised properly, these pups can be one of the most loyal (and affectionate) breeds out there. However, due to their size and strength, if mishandled, they can also pose a risk to other dogs and members of the public. 

The government’s decision to include them in the list of banned breeds has raised a number of important questions about responsible pet ownership, breeding and training of these pups. Dogs under breed-specific legislation (BSL) have been the target of discriminatory policies for the past 30 years, with little to no change in the intended outcome of these laws. The legislation is confusing, vague and doesn’t speak to the issues at the centre of the argument such as responsible ownership.

Whilst the fight for fair dog welfare and laws continues, the number one priority is keeping your pup safe. The law is in place whether we want it to be or not, so preparing yourself and your dog is key. It might feel a little overwhelming at the moment, but there is still a lot you can do to protect your pup as the changes come into place in the UK.

What is the UK law if you own an XL Bully?

On 31 October 2023, the XL Bully type was added to the list of dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. To help prepare owners for the ban, the changes have come into effect in two stages. 

From 31 December 2023, it is now against the law to:

  • sell an XL Bully dog

  • abandon an XL Bully dog

  • give away an XL Bully dog

  • breed from an XL Bully dog

  • have an XL Bully in public without a lead and muzzle

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. (The Scottish Government hasn’t made a decision to ban the breed yet, but has said it is reviewing evidence).

Why is the law being implemented?

Due to a rise in highly publicised attacks by XL Bullies, some of which have been fatal, the government has added the breed to the list of dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Then Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey said that the ban was “to protect the public from tragic dog attacks”.

However, many campaigners and owners have serious concerns about several aspects of the law, such as the time period that owners have had before the regulations come into effect, the breed specification guidelines and the compensation scheme implemented for owners and rescue centres if they choose to euthanise an XL Bully. Plus, the addition of the XL Bully type to the banned breed list calls into question the value of the Dangerous Dogs Act in the first place. 

The current legislation has been in place for over three decades, with four named breeds already added in the 32 years since the act received Royal Assent in July 1991. However, attacks recorded by police forces in England and Wales have still seen a 34 percent increase over the past five years, and official NHS figures also reveal that the number of hospital admissions in which a patient had been bitten or struck by a dog nearly doubled between 2007-08 (4,699) and 2020-21 (8,819).

The Dog Control Coalition – which comprises Battersea, Blue Cross, British Veterinary Association, Dogs Trust, The Kennel Club, RSPCA, Scottish SPCA and Hope Rescue – joined forces in 2022 to call for an end to breed-specific legislation. Then President of the British Veterinary Association Justine Shotton said at the time, “A complete overhaul of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act is urgently needed. Blanket targeting of specific breeds rather than tackling the root causes of why dogs act in an aggressive way gives a false and dangerous impression that dogs not on the banned list are ‘safe’ – this fails to properly protect the public or safeguard dog welfare.”

The Dog Control Coalition has also voiced concerns about the implications of The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra)’s definition of an American Bully XL type and has long campaigned against the banning of specific breeds, calling the Dangerous Dogs Act “flawed, outdated and ineffective”.

In response to the addition of XL Bullies to the banned breed list, a spokesperson for the coalition said, “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.”

There are also concerns about the compensation scheme paid out for euthanising a dog, with lack of support for the exemption application fees.

What can you do to protect your XL Bully?

The government has now confirmed that there will be an exemption scheme; if you want to keep your dog after the ban comes into place, you must apply for a Certificate of Exemption and meet certain requirements.

You and your dog must follow strict rules to comply with the exemption scheme, ensuring that your XL Bully is: 

  • microchipped 

  • neutered

  • kept on a lead in a public place

  • muzzled in a public place, including in cars

  • kept in a secure place so they cannot escape

  • covered by third-party public liability insurance

You will have until 31 January 2024 to apply for this exemption, and applications will be subject to a £92.40 application fee, to cover administration costs.  Applications opened on 14 November 2023, and applicants will need to have paid the fee and have third-party public liability insurance already in place in order to start the process (you will also need your dog’s microchip number to start the application).

Dogs (and pets in general) are part of the family, and no pet parent would ever purposefully put their pup in harm’s way, so it’s now more important than ever to acquaint yourself with the new regulations.

“We’re trying to educate people on the importance of being proactive now and making sure that they are doing all the necessary things to prepare for the changes,” says Adam Spivey, dog trainer and founder of Southend Dog Training

Whilst pet parents have until 31 January 2024 to apply for an exemption certificate, so there is no harm in actioning the adherence conditions in the meantime: we spoke to two experienced trainers to help us collate a list of some of the things you can do to help protect your dog.

Prepare your dog

If there are any behavioural kinks that need to be ironed out, no matter how small, now is the time to start working on training. 

“When the law is in effect, there will be more eyes on these dogs than ever before,” says Adam. “We want to make sure the dog walks nicely on a lead, that the dog’s comfortable wearing a muzzle, that they’re comfortable around people and that they can walk past other dogs.” 

Additionally, should the worst happen, and your dog ever needs to be temperament tested or taken away for a period of time, you should try to make sure that this doesn’t cause any harm to the dog. 

“We want to make sure the dog’s comfortable getting in a crate both inside the house and outside the house because again, should the worst happen, they could be put into the back of a van,” adds Adam. “We want to make sure that the dog is comfortable being handled by other people and is particularly comfortable being checked all over: paws, underbelly ears, teeth, mouth. We want to make sure that if your dog was ever subject to a test, it can pass.”

“It sucks that we have these limitations, but your dog can still live their best life,” adds Adam. “It’s not restricted as such. People think that your dog needs to be off lead, running around to have the time of their life. It doesn’t. Your dog can still go on walks. Your dog can still sniff. Your dog can go on ‘sniffaris’, as I like to call them. Your dog can go on hikes. You can still have fun with your dog. We want to be the rock for our dog: we want the dog to learn that no matter what’s going on, Mum’s fine, Dad’s fine, parent’s fine.”

“What I would not advise is waiting until the deadline to put a muzzle on your dog and start walking on lead,” says Gayle Lucy, a dog behaviourist, trainer and founder of K9 Coach UK. “Tensions are going to run high with the general public immediately after the ban comes into place, and it would be better to be able to walk out with a calm content dog that can cope with the new measures, instead of leaving and avoiding it until absolutely necessary and rushing or having incomplete training.”

Check their XL Bully ‘type’

The law speaks of the XL Bully ‘type’ under the new legislation, which could include crossbreed dogs or even dogs that have a similar build. However, there is an element of common sense at play here. Familiarising yourself with the government description of an XL Bully type will help to put your mind at ease or prepare yourself and your dog. If you’re concerned that your dog could potentially fit into the type description, or be mistaken for an XL Bully, taking heed of these protective measures could help you if you’re ever stopped under the new measures. 

“As we’ve seen with the Pit Bulls on the banned breeds list, if you have a Staffy cross that looks like a Pit Bull, it could be classed as a Pit Bull type dog,” says Adam. “Nobody’s mistaking a Rottweiler for an XL Bully or mistaking a Great Dane for an XL Bully. It’s mainly if your dog could be mistaken for an XL Bully (or looks like an XL Bully) and fits into the description, not the other way around.”

Get your XL Bully neutered and microchipped, if they aren’t already

From 31 December 2023 all breeding of XL Bully types is now illegal, so to avoid any accidents (and fines), all dogs that fall under the specification must be neutered. Once your dog has been neutered, your vet will need to fill out a form to confirm the procedure to Defra. Check in with your vet to discuss when the best time for neutering might be for you and your dog, as the government has added further deadlines for neutering:

  • If your dog is less than one year old on 31 January 2024, it must be neutered by 31 December 2024.

  • If your dog is older than one year old on 31 January 2024, it must be neutered by 30 June 2024.

Whilst microchipping your dog might seem a bit Big Brother for some, it’s the law in the UK for a reason, and there are actually a number of benefits to having your dog microchipped, including being able to identify them and their pup parents, as well as protecting against theft. Plus, you’ll need to have your XL Bully microchipped in order to receive your pup’s Certificate of Exemption. Speak to your vet (are they on speed dial yet?) to discuss when you can book in for the £15–25 procedure. 

Reinforce lead training 

XL Bully types will need to be kept on a lead at all times when in public, so don’t take any chances and let them run off in a park, or you could be putting their life at risk. If your pup isn’t already a master at walking on the lead, now’s the time to start training and reinforcing that skill. 

“The number one most important training for XL Bully types right now is a loose lead heel: when your dog walks comfortably by your side, at the same pace as you, calmly,” says Gayle. “Because they will be confined to a lead, they deserve to understand how to feel safe and comfortable on one, which is what loose lead heel offers in any environment.”

“The most important thing you can do is give directional guidance and show your dog where they should walk,” adds Gayle. “Your dog needs to clearly understand the position they are supposed to be in as they need simple, clear information that they can understand in any environment. All you need is a collar and lead: keep a fixed-length lead (not a bungee or flexi lead) and hold your hand against your body. If your hand moves out from your body, it means your dog has pulled on the lead and moved out of position. 

“Make sure you are training on your normal walks – not just in deliberate training sessions or in the garden. Walking calmly to heel should be a normal part of life, not a directed exercise like a party trick. Timing, repetition and reinforcement are key to building a strong habit of walking alongside you. It should take only a matter of weeks to train completely.”

Start muzzle training now 

Firstly, let’s get your pup looking fly AF in their new muzzle by making sure it fits. Your dog should be able to eat, drink, take treats and pant comfortably in their muzzle. Not only will they be super-grateful that they’re comfortable, but it’ll also prevent any injuries or rubbing in the future. Measure the length and depth of your dog’s muzzle to work out the right size (any excuse to get up close for a snuggle, right?), making sure to measure 1.5cm down from the eyes. Clara Hewson of The Muzzle Movement has some helpful videos and accompanying tips on her social media to help you get the current measurements, plus most companies that sell muzzles have measuring instructions on their websites.

Most dogs don’t like surprises (unless it comes in the form of a delicious treat), so once you have the muzzle, start slowly introducing it to your pup. Start slowly. Like anything new in the home, dogs are bound to be curious (or fearful, depending on your pup). Start by introducing the muzzle to your dog, and using a positive marker and reward when they sniff the muzzle.

“Use a food marker to mark the moment your dog does something that’s either making an effort towards or getting training right,” says Gayle. “For example, if you hold the muzzle out for your dog to see, you can make the marker and give your dog some food. This will start to build a positive association and encourage the dog to come closer to the muzzle. You can build up to resting it on their face, and doing up and undoing the straps, marking your dog’s willingness and acceptance and giving pieces of food as you go.”

Once your pup is comfortable wearing the muzzle for short bursts, start introducing wearing it for longer periods of time, and marking and rewarding through the muzzle so they associate wearing the muzzle with something positive (ie food, of course).

Secure your home and speak to your housing provider or landlord 

No pup parent wants their dogs to escape from home – sometimes it can’t be helped (stray squirrels can be really enticing) – but under new legislation, dog parents could face an unlimited fine and up to 14 years in prison if their pup makes a Houdini-style escape, not to mention it could put your dog’s life at risk. If you haven’t already, make sure doors and gates don’t have dog-shaped gaps they can shimmy through and perhaps invest in reinforcing your garden fence, if it’s not up to scratch. Keep doors and gates securely locked, and reinforce (potentially life-saving) boundary training if you haven’t already done so, to avoid your dog accidentally escaping and getting caught by a council dog warden. 

Giving up your pup might be the last thing on your mind, but it's worth noting that under the new legislation, XL Bully types won’t be able to be rehomed, rescued or given away. Many councils and housing associations don’t allow dogs that have been named under the Dangerous Dogs Act to stay in their homes, even if pup parents can prove they are not a danger to the public.

The same goes for rental properties, too. Whilst landlords can no longer issue blanket bans on pets under the Model Tenancy Agreement (recommended by the Government), they can also reject tenants’ applications with dog breeds named under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. If you’re planning on moving at some point in the future, you’ll also need to check in with your new council or landlord to make sure you can bring your pup with you.

So check in with your landlord, housing association or council to find out their plans as soon as possible. We know it’s confusing, it’s scary and there’s a lot to consider, but opening these lines of communication will help you understand your position and prepare for the ban, as opposed to being caught unaware after the fact.

Get third-party public liability insurance cover

Under the conditions of registering your dog on the Index of Exempted Dogs (which is run by Defra), you’ll need to take out third-party liability insurance for your dog. Third-party liability insurance protects you if your dog injures another person and is provided by Dogs Trust through its membership scheme (£25 per year).

How to get help with the new regulations

With the rise in the cost of living across most sectors in recent months, the admin fees and additional vet fees for neutering and microchipping will leave a big dent in the pockets of some. Plus, the rules can be confusing and overwhelming with pet parents undoubtedly having a number of questions. Fortunately, several animal charities and trainers across the UK are offering free support and training where they can.

Several local charities and community organisations have started to offer financial support where possible, too: Almost Home Dog Rescue, an animal charity and rescue organisation in North Wales, have secured a grant to help them offer financial support for neutering to parents of XL Bullies; and Oak Tree Animals’ Charity in Carlisle have opened up their emails to offer advice and guidance regarding the exemption process, muzzle training and limited financial neutering support to owners in need. 

Several trainers and behaviourists have been coming together to offer help and support at this time. “I urge people to contact their local trainers that are offering services, even if it means you have to travel to one that is offering services in your price range,” says Adam. “Because the quickest way of getting these problems resolved is to work alongside a professional that’s experienced with bully breeds in general and that will get you to where you want to be.”

A good first step is to speak to your vet about your needs and financial situation. They will also be better informed on the local charities and organisations in your area that may be able to help with financial support. Across the UK both the Blue Cross and People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) provide low-cost and free treatments and medications for people living within a postcode catchment area of one of their pet hospitals, and who receive at least one of their qualifying state benefits. Head to their websites to check your eligibility. 

Orla Pentelow

Orla Pentelow is a freelance journalist and copywriter based in London. When not at her desk she’s out and about with her rescue dog, Luna, who works primarily as chief distractor.

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