The Dog Owner Suitability Test, hereto referred to as D.O.T is a proposal by Ryan O’Meara designed to achieve the following objectives:

* To place a far greater emphasis on the prevention of dog attacks, dog neglect and environmental nuisance
* To improve the general level of canine awareness amongst all UK dog owners
* To bring about radical change in the standards of those involved in the supply of dogs to the public
* To ensure greater comprehension amongst all UK dog owners of the various laws affecting domestic dogs
* To provide a workable alternative to the failed aspects of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act
* To place full legal accountability upon dog owners for the actions and welfare of their dogs
* To repeal breed specific legislation which has failed to save human lives and is practically impossible to implement fairly

10 Point Plan for Achieving Stated Goals:

1) Lobby government to create and fund an executive agency of DEFRA which would deal with administrating the dog owner suitability test. For the purposes of this proposal we shall give this agency the working title of ‘Dog Owner Licencing Agency’. The responsibility of this agency would be as follows:

* Dog and owner licensing database.
* Issuing certification and processing applications to the Dog Ownership Suitability Test which would be run and administered in a style similar to the driving licence theory exam of the British Citizenship Test
* Provide access to the central dog and owner licensing database to enable those involved in the supply of or control of dogs to verify if an individual has a valid dog ownership licence
* Set the national fee for sitting the D.O.T

2) Develop a Canine Ownership Code. A curriculum similar to the highway code which will be the foundation of the D.O.T. The Canine Ownership Code will consist of questions based entirely on non subjective issues. Matters of fact will be tested which would include:

* Questions relating to dog laws
* Questions relating to canine health care issues as approved by British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons most up to date guidance (to be regularly reviewed and updated)
* Questions relating to canine behaviour. Questions must be a matter of broadly acknowledged fact and would not be subjective in nature.

Example of an acceptable canine behaviour question.

“A dog displaying an arched back, licking lips with a tail tucked between the legs is most likely to be: A) Showing signs of fear or nervousness. B) Showing signs of playful confidence. C) Showing signs of territorial aggression”

Example of an unacceptable canine behaviour question.

“What would be the correct way to train a dog who is fearful or nervous of people?”

* Questions relating to particular dog breeds, their origins and lifestyle requirements
* Questions relating to responsible management of dogs in relation to society and the environment
* Questions relating to options and resources available to owners who may encounter problems with their dog at some point in the future such as: What to do if a dog becomes ill or injured. What to do if a dog has started to show signs of aggression (in terms of contacting professional advisors, not generic behaviour advice). What to do if a dog goes missing. What to do if lifestyle circumstances change significantly.

3) Introduce a Supplier Level Dog Ownership Licence which would be required for any person, group or organisation if they intend to transfer ownership of a dog in exchange for money. The Supplier Level Dog Ownership Licence would be subject to an ‘advanced’ version of the D.O.T and would include questions relating to the responsible supply of dogs to the public. It would be a legal requirement that no dog be sold, given away or transfered by any one person, business or group to any person who is not able to prove they have passed the D.O.T and holds a valid dog ownership licence. The punishment for a person, group or organisation found guilty of supplying a dog to a person who does not have a valid ownership licence will be an instant revocation of their Supplier Level Dog Ownership Licence plus a significant fine and a ban from being permitted to sell or transfer ownership of any dog under penalty of a further fine. Repeated offences of selling or transfering dogs from a person not in possession of a valid Supplier Level Dog Ownership Licence would entitle a court to hand down a custodial term to the offender. This part of the proposal is absolutely crucial in forcing up standards for the responsible supply of dogs.

4) To repeal the breed specific legislation section of the dangerous dogs act and replace them with meaures as proposed by the National Dog Warden’s Association, a group who were not consulted or involved in the drafting of the current dangerous dogs act despite the fact they are the organisation who have the most practical experience dealing with dog control and who are most acutely aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the dangerous dogs laws and other legislation affecting dogs impact on the environment.

5) Unless it is absolutely neccessary in a case of an immediate threat to public safety, dogs that have been involved in a suspected attack should not be destroyed until they have been independently assessed by a competent dog behaviour expert. It is not possible to learn or establish the cause, motive or stimulus for a dog attack if the animal is summarily destroyed before an assessment is carried out. This does not mean the animal should not be destroyed at a later date but all serious dog attacks where a dog is to be euthanised should be accompanied by a behaviour report and case account which is made publicly available in order to assist the public with learning about the circumstances that can lead up to a dog attack.

6) All dogs to be covered by compulsory 3rd party insurance.

7) To increase maximum prison sentence and limits of fines available to hand down in cases of serious animal abuse or neglect.

8 ) To require all dog owners to sign and agree to a Responsible Dog Ownership Charter upon passing the D.O.T. The charter will be an agreement from the dog owner that they will provide the minimum level of care for their dog as detailed by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and that they will endeavor to care for any dog(s) in their ownership for the lifetime of the dog. In the event that a dog may need to be re-homed, euthanised or treated for accident or illness the charter would require the dog owner to minimum level of appropriate action under their duty of care to the dog.

9) To make it an offence for a person who has been convicted of selling or transferring a dog to a person, group or organisation not in possession of a valid ownership licence to advertise for sale or transfer any dog in the UK.

10) To make it an offence for any UK based publication, website or business to knowingly accept advertising – paid or otherwise – from a person not in possession of a valid Supplier Level Dog Ownership Licence. It will be possible to check on the validity of a person’s Supplier Level Dog Ownership Licence via the Dog Owner Licencing Agency.

Implementation / Phasing in Period:

Following consultation with members of the public and a high level overseas animal control executive, it is proposed that the Dog Owner Licencing structure be refined as follows:

1) A yearly licencing fee will be added to the proposal. It is hereto referred to as the ‘UK Dog Licence’. The yearly licencing fee is proposed at a cost of no more than £10 per dog per year. The ‘UK Dog Licence’ will see the dog’s details recorded on the national database of dog ownership records and the revenues raised will 100% go toward animal control services (dog wardens and state supplied animal welfare/recovery operations).

2) The dog licence will be applicable to all UK resident dog owners and is to be paid within 12 months of the scheme becoming law. However, for existing dog owners who already have dogs at the time this scheme is adopted as law, they may be given the option not to sit the dog ownership suitability test until such a time that they intend to acquire a new dog provided they register the already in their possession dogs and pay the annual licencing fee (UK Dog Licence).

3) For existing dog owners who have possession of a dog at the time this scheme is adopted as law, who put themselves forward to sit the Dog Ownership Suitability Test (at a one-off fee proposed to be no higher than £40/£50) they may be exempted from paying the UK Dog Licence for a period of 3 years. Although their dogs must be registered within 12 months of the scheme becoming law (whether they choose to sit the Dog Ownership Test or not), should existing owners opt to sit the test within 12 months of the scheme becoming law they would not have to pay the UK Dog Licence fee for at least 3 years.

In summary this adds two significant changes to the original proposal:

The UK Dog Licence is a device that will enable the UK to provide animal control services on a par with other nations who are enjoying far superior services in this area of animal welfare. Asking dog owners to pay directly for animal control services rather than placing the entire burden of cost on the tax payer (which includes a significant portion of non dog owners) is a fair and productive route to take. It will allow dog wardens and state supplied animal control service providers to have access to more resources, increased facilities and the additional revenues will bring the UK up to speed with other territories who have adopted similar schemes to great effect. At present, dog wardens are placed under enormous pressure to tackle the problems of lost or straying dogs, dangerous dogs, irresponsible dog owners as well as implementing the clean neighbourhoods act. Their funding is entirely provided from the state and it is continually a source of great concern when budgets are either reduced, frozen or not properly allocated. The UK Dog Licence will enable dog owners to bear the cost of what is a dog owner responsibility. Having a national register of dogs and owners will greatly increase the efficiency of reuniting lost, straying or stolen dogs and the additional funding will enable animal control services in the UK to become self-sufficient.

In addition, one of the main concerns of the Dog Ownership Suitability Test proposal has come from existing dog owners who are reluctant about being required to sit the test. This newly crafted phasing in period will give existing owners a choice as to whether to voluntarily sit the test at a one off fee proposed to be no higher than £40/£50 – and not have to pay the UK Dog Ownership Licence for a period of 3 years – or they may choose not sit the test and instead opt to simply register their dogs within 12 months of the scheme becoming law and thereafter until such a time as they wish to acquire a new dog, which would be subject to the owner being possession of a valid Dog Ownership Suitability Test certificate and registration under The UK Dog Licence.

Further concessions can be made. Some examples follow:

1) For dogs who are micro chipped, tattooed or bearing other permanent identification, details of which are added to the national dog register – an owner may be exempt from the UK Dog Licence fee for a period of two years.

2) For dogs owned by someone who has passed a Kennel Club good citizen scheme module (or similar recognised responsible dog ownership course), exemption from the UK Dog Licence for a period of two years is applicable.

Legally Defining Rescue/Animal Shelter Services

At present there is no legal definition in the UK of what a ‘dog rescue’ or ‘animal shelter’ is.

For the purpose of the Dog Ownership Suitability Test proposal a definition must be written. This is because a dog rescue / animal shelter caring for dogs has special exemption in terms of how they ‘acquire’ dogs from members of the public as and when the DOT scheme is implemented as law. An individual person (for the benefit of this proposal ‘a dog trader’) may not be allowed to call themselves a ‘dog rescue’ or ‘animal shelter caring for dogs’ unless they submit to an inspection of their premises and supply records for inspection to officials from the Dog Owner Licencing Agency who will determine whether an individual establishment is a ‘dog rescue’ or ‘animal shelter caring for dogs’ or whether said establishment falls short of the definition.

This proposal seeks therefore that, along with consultation with professionals from within the animal welfare sector, a legal definition must be given to recognise what is and what is not a ‘dog rescue’ or ‘animal shelter caring for dogs’.

In order to encourage all rescues and animal shelters to submit to inspection and ‘rating’ by an official from the Dog Owner Licencing Agency it is proposed that 10% of all revenues raised by the UK Dog Licence be made available to all rescues recognised by the Dog Owner Licencing Agency.

In practice this means a rescue owner will submit their facility for inspection and if deemed suitable to be recognised as a ‘dog rescue’ or ‘animal shelter caring for dogs’ under the definition as set out in law for the purpose of this scheme, the rescue will be eligible to receive regular funding from the annual revenues raised by the UK Dog Licence to assist them in their efforts to care for and rehome abandoned dogs. Those establishments which fall short of the definition of ‘dog rescue’ or ‘animal shelter caring for dogs’ may not apply for funding and may not accept dogs from members of the public under the special exemptions as given to ‘recognised dog rescues / animal shelters caring for dogs’ (which means they may still accept dogs but they will be required to licence them and must only accept dogs from those members of the public who are legally entitled to supply dogs. A ‘recognised dog rescue / animal shelter caring for dogs’ may accept dogs from any member of the public and will not be required to pay licence fee for those dogs whilst they are in their care). A rescue which falls short of the definition will always be provided with written information as to why they have not been granted legal status and will be given a written checklist of improvements/modifications which may need to be carried out in order to achieve this legal status, should they wish to be eligible for special exemptions and the opportunity to receive funding from the revenues of the UK Dog Licence.

Your Questions:

Will there be a resit fee for those who failed?

A resit, applied for and taken within 6 weeks of the initial failure would not be subject to a resit fee. A second failure would be subject to a fee. A third failure would trigger a home visit by an animal welfare officer as it may highlight people who are genuinely struggling with their animals. The aim being to enable animal welfare officers to spend some time discussing with the owner any areas of weakness and to discover what it is that is causing the failures. This would be an excellent scheme for enabling animal welfare officers to focus on delivering education to the people most in need of it. The aim would still be to help these people absorb the knowledge required to pass the test and to coach them through the process.

It is worth repeating: The aim is not to set people up to fail, it is simply a mechanism to establish that the information contained in canine ownership code is fully understood and helps to measure the compulsory education delivered is being absorbed. Persistent failures would simply result in animal welfare officers being alerted to members of society who may be most at risk of not fully understanding their obligations to their pets.

The test will not discriminate against anyone due to age, infirmity, learning disorders or any other impairment. That would be unlawful and will not be a factor. All provision will be given for every single citizen to be able to fairly take the test.

How would the test guard against issuing and therefore validating holders of the Supplier Level Dog Ownership Test licence who were not responsible dog breeders?

The scheme is fundamentally based on educating dog owners and would-be dog owners. Within the canine ownership code, which is the curriculum required to pass the dog ownership test, would be comprehensive information on the qualities to look for in a responsible dog breeder / supplier of dogs. It would set out to educate people as to what a puppy farm is, what questions to ask of a high quality dog breeder and how to recognise warning signs of a bad breeding practice.

With that in mind, arming the entire dog buying public with the education and knowledge as to how to carefully select and recognise a responsible supplier of dogs will cut through the gap in knowledge between some members of the dog buying public and their understanding (or lack of) recognising good dog breeding practice.

Suppliers of dogs will therefore only be able to act within the law if they supply only to holders of the Dog Ownership Test. As a result, the scheme works to empower the buyer to make informed, responsible choices. This will turn the dog supply process on its head. People will still be able to make their own choice on who or where they get their dogs from. If a Dog Ownership Test Holder opts to purchase a poorly bred dog from an irresponsible source, they will, at least, do it in the full knowledge as to the risks and their contribution to ongoing animal welfare problems.

Would owners have to have periodical ‘checks’ over the years?

A Dog Ownership Licence can be revoked in cases of offences being commited against the spirit of the canine ownership code. A local authority may issue and revoke a Dog Ownership Test. As such, in cases where a D.O.T has been revoked, the dog’s owner would be required to resit the test and subject themselves to periodical checks to ensure the same offences were not being committed.

In such an instance, the owner of the dog would not gain by having their animal rehomed. Upon revocation of the D.O.T the owner would be legally required to resit the Dog Ownership Test regardless or not of whether they still owned the dog. Failure to do so would result in ongoing fines until the test had been resat and passed. This dissinentivises any owner from giving their dog up as a result of being forced to resit.

In the long term, owners may opt to sit advanced or updated versions of the D.O.T in order to qualify for reduced premiums on pet insurance from participating pet insurers as well as other government-led incentives designed to encourage a more responsible dog owning society.

How would the DOT be recorded?

The DOT would be administered and recorded in the same way the DVLA records car ownership and details of driving licences. All centralised. The DOT licence would be similar to the photo card driving licence. It will contain a photograph and a unique licence number.

What happens if I lose my DOT licence accidently?

You can apply for a new one. There will be an admin charge.

If there was an issue with the dog would the owner be required to produce evidence of sitting the test?

Yes. The licence would relate to a national database which would tally up what dogs are owned by the licence holder. If the licence can’t be produced, name, address and other information would still allow an official to find out whether a licence was actually held. In some cases if an offense has occurred, a person may be asked to attend a local council office in order to produce their paperwork in the same way a driver may be asked to attend a police station to show their insurance documents and driving licence if they are pulled over for a driving offence.

If there is to be data recording via a database then how would this be achieved?

A new national dog owner and licencing database would be set up. New owners (people who do not own dogs at the time of DOT licence being introduced) would have to undergo the DOT before being allowed to acquire a dog. Existing owners (people who own a dog at the time of the DOT being introduced) would have a period of 18 months in which to apply for, sit and pass the test. 18 months from the date of the DOT being introduced as law, all UK dog owners would be expected to have a DOT licence. Enforcement schemes would be active from there on with fines being issued for dog owners who are not licence holders 18 months after the introduction of the DOT.

The data systems required to set up a dog and owner licencing database already exist and can easily be manipulated within the cost of the proposal. This is not new technology and can comfortably be managed on a local authority level.

Would there be an age limit on when you could take the test and consequently then on dog ownership and if yes then how would that be set?

No. Anyone can take the DOT. The DOT is not discrimatory, it seeks to quantify whether someone has the basic levels of knowledge to care for a dog. In many cases, children who pester their parents for a dog will be encouraged by their parents to study for, sit and pass the DOT as an initial demonstration of their committment to dog ownership.

Would non compliance be a civil or criminal matter?

Criminal. Failure to pay for a TV licence whilst continuing to own a TV is a criminal offence. So will ignoring the law on DOT.

Would somebody who was temporarily looking after a dog have to take a test?

No. Under all circumstances, the legal owner of the dog is legally responsible for the dog. Exceptions would be when the owner of the dog leaves the animal in the care of a kennel, registered pet sitter or other professionally recognised body with appropriate insurance. Too often dog owners are excused from their responsibilities because they leave their animals with unsuitable carers. Children asked to take large, untrained dogs for walks. Dogs left with ill prepared relatives etc. This is unacceptable. The dogs owner is the legal guardian of the animal and must make decisions on where to leave their dogs in the best interests of the dog and the safety of the public. This does not mean that people can not leave their dogs with anyone they so choose – whether DOT holders or not – it simply means that the dog’s owner will be legally responsible for any offence that happens in such circumstances.

How would the system cope with the volume of testing required. How could the system be accessed by people with disabilities, poor reading skills, lack of computer skills, multiple languages, living in rural areas with poor transport, elderly, lack of mental capacity?

It is illegal for any national scheme to discriminate against anyone in this way. The DOT will be in full compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act and all other applicable laws.


What do you think about the Dog Ownership Suitability Test proposal?

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