Dog owners in the UK will have to adjust to new laws regarding XL Bully dogs in 2024. Following a rise in incidents involving these dogs, XL Bullies have been added to the banned list under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the XL Bully ban and walk you through what you need to know as an owner.
Is it illegal to own an XL Bully in the UK?
It is now illegal to sell, breed, or give away an XL Bully dog in England and Wales. Owners have until 31st January 2024 to get a Certificate Exemption for XL Bully dogs or take them to a vet to be humanely euthanised.
From 1st February 2024, it will be a criminal offence to own an XL Bully in England and Wales unless owners have a Certificate of Exemption for their dog.
What is an XL Bully?
An XL Bully, or American Bully XL, represents the largest category within American bully types. XL Bullies are not a registered breed with the UK Kennel Club. Instead, they are a type of dog created through selective breeding.
How do I know if my dog is an XL Bully?
As XL Bullies are crossbreeds, they don’t have established Kennel Club breed standards. Therefore, the government has formulated its own specifications of the breed for the ban.
The ban specifically targets XL bully dogs. Other breeds recognised by the UK Kennel Club that share some traits with XL Bullies are not part of the ban.
Identifying a suspected XL Bully breed type isn’t a strict checklist. It doesn’t have to fit the physical description perfectly. However, if your dog hits the minimum height measurements and shows a good chuck of the listed characteristics, it might be considered an XL Bully breed type. This includes dogs not initially sold as XL Bullies and even crossbreeds that lean more toward the XL Bully look than any other type.
Here are some characteristics to help you get a better understanding of what defines an XL Bully dog:
XL Bully dogs are large and powerfully built, with a muscular body and a blocky head that suggests great strength and power for their size. Their coat is glossy, smooth, close, and single.
For adult males, they should measure at least 20 inches (51cm) at the withers, and for adult females, it’s a minimum of 19 inches (48 cm) at the withers.
The head should be heavy, large, and broad. The length from the nose to the indentation between the muzzle and head (stop) is about a third of the length from the stop to the back of the head. The muzzle is blocky or slightly squared, falling away below the eyes. There should be a straight topline of the muzzle, prominent cheek muscles, and strong, well-defined jaws. Wrinkles on the face are often noticeable. The nose is large with well-opened nostrils. The teeth have a level or scissor bite.
The neck is medium in length; heavy, muscular, slightly arched, and tapers from the shoulders to the base of the skull.
Shoulder blades are long, well-muscles, and well-laid back. The upper arm length is about equal to the length of the shoulder blades, joined at a 35 to 45-degree angle to the ground. Front legs are straight, strong, and very muscular, with the dog standing high on the pasterns. Elbows are set close to the body, and the distance from the withers to the elbows is about the same as the distance from the elbow to the bottom of the feet.
Heavily muscled with a large, block body, giving the impression of great power for its size. Broad, deep chest with well-sprung ribs. The chest may be wider than deep. The topline is level and straight, loin is short and firm. Generally appears square-shaped from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttocks compared with the withers to the ground.
Strong, muscular, and broad with well-developed thighs. From behind, both pasterns are typically straight and parallel to each other. Muscular development, angulation, and width should be in balance with the forequarters.
Feet are rounded, medium-sized, and in proportion to the body, compact and well-arched.
The tail is medium length and set low, tapering to a point to the end at about the level of the hocks. It generally assumes a straight or pump handle shape when the dog is relaxed.
How to check if your dog is a Bully XL
To check if your dog might be an XL Bully, you have to look at their physical characteristics, like size and height. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on DNA test results, and aspects like breed name, genetics, and parentage are not taken into consideration, either.
There are other established breeds, acknowledged by the UK Kennel Club, that might share some traits with XL Bullies, but they aren’t included in the ban. The ban also doesn’t apply to dogs easily identifiable as another breed or not XL Bully dogs.
The ban may apply to crossbreeds if they look more like an XL Bully dog than any other type. Even if you initially thought your dog wasn’t an XL Bully when you got it, the focus is on the dog’s appearance and physical characteristics.
However, if, after checking the guidance and photos provided on the government website, you’re still unsure about whether your dog falls into the XL Bully category, it’s always a good idea to take a precautionary approach and consider applying for a Certificate of Exemption, even if your dog is currently a puppy that might grow up to be an XL Bully dog.
When should you apply for a Certificate of Exemption for an XL Bully dog?
You should apply for a Certificate of Exemption for an XL Bully dog if your dog:
Isn’t clearly identifiable as a breed of dog that is not an XL Bully;
Meets the minimum height measurements of the XL bully breed type;
Has a substantial number of characteristics listed in the guidance and seen in the photos.
Again, if you’re not sure, taking a precautionary approach and applying for a Certificate of Exemption is a good call.
How to get a Certificate of Exemption to keep an XL Bully dog
If you want to keep your XL Bully dog, you need to apply for a Certificate of Exemption by January 31st 2024.
To get a Certificate of Exemption you need to:
Get third-party public liability insurance;
Neuter your dog;
Pay a non-refundable fee of £92.40 for each dog you want to keep;
Submit your application for a Certificate of Exemption to keep your XL Bully dog
Requirements to keep an XL Bully Dog
To keep an XL Bully dog, they must be:
Kept on a lead and muzzled at all times when in public;
Kept in a secure place to prevent any escapes;
Responsibilities of an XL Bully owner
XL Bully owners and handlers also need to be:
Aged over 16 years;
Have third-party public liability insurance to cover any injuries their dog might cause to other people;
Have a valid Certificate of Exemption they can show to a police officer or council dog warden when requested.
Third Party Public Liability Insurance
XL Bully dog owners must have third-party public liability insurance for their dog starting no later than February 1st 2024.
A Dogs Trust Membership can provide this insurance, however, it needs to be renewed annually for the dog's life. If you opt for another insurance provider, you should ensure the policy covers injuries caused by the exempted dog and is suitable for a prohibited breed under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
You will need to provide the start date of your insurance policy when applying for a Certificate of Exemption.
Your XL Bully should be microchipped and registered on the database by the time it turns 8 weeks old.
If you’re not sure how to get your dog microchipped, your vet will guide you through the process and make sure everything is set up.
XL Bullies that are younger than 8 weeks at the time of application for a Certificate of Exemption, owners have until 31st March 22024 to give the microchip number to Defra, who will issue a new Certificate of Exemption.
If your vet says your dog can’t have a microchip for a while, you should send a copy of the vet’s certificate to Defra by March 31st 2024. Once your dog is ready for a microchip, you should get it done and share the microchip number with Defra within 28 days after the vet’s certificate expires.
Muzzles and Leads
Starting from December 31st 2023, XL Bully dogs must wear a muzzle and be on a lead when in public.
Several animal welfare organisations offer free online resources and learning materials to help owners in training their dogs to wear a muzzle.
If your dog isn’t already neutered, you should arrange for it either through castration for males or spaying for female XL Bully dogs.
The deadlines for neutering are:
December 31st 2024 if your dog is less than a year old on January 31st 2024;
June 30th 2024 if your dog is older than 1 year on January 31st 2024.
After neutering, you and your vet will fill in a confirmation of neutering form which the vet will usually return to Defra. However, if the vet can’t do it, you can return the form for them.
If your XL Bully has already been neutered, your current vet may need to verify this, especially if it was done by a different vet or at a different practice, or if you’re unsure about your dog’s neutering status. There might be a fee for this service, or you may be able to contact the previous vet to fill in the confirmation of neutering form.
What happens if I choose not to keep my XL Bully dog?
If you decide not to keep your XLBully, you should take it to a registered vet practice to be euthanised by January 31st 2024.
Owners can claim £200 as compensation towards the cost of this. To make a claim, both you and your vet will need to fill in a compensation form and apply for compensation by March 15th 2024.
The sale, purchase, rehoming, or transfer of ownership of an XL Bully dog is now illegal as of 31st December 2023. It is also illegal to abandon an XL Bully or allow it to stray.
Is it illegal to breed XL Bully dogs?
From December 31st 2023, breeding XL Bully dogs in England and Wales is a criminal offence. This includes breeding from an XL Bully dog or allowing them to be bred from any combination of other dogs.
There are some exemptions for litters conceived before the date the ban came into force. And there’s a 9-week transition period until the ban on selling comes into force, to allow for legally bred puppies to be sold after they are 8 weeks old.
Therefore, owners who bought an XL Bully puppy before December 31st 2023, that is less than 8 weeks old at that point, can legally collect the puppy when it turns 8 weeks old.
Will the XL Bully ban be stopped?
The campaign group “Don’t Ban Me - License Me” sought an injunction to pause the ban on XL Bully dogs, but it wasn’t granted.
However, a judicial review hearing has been granted which, if successful, could halt or modify the new rules.
The group advocates for better education and licensing for dogs rather than a complete ban.
Can my dog leave the exemption scheme?
The government has confirmed that there will be a process for exiting the exemption scheme, however, it is unlikely that the fee for the exemption will be refunded.
So, if you apply as a precaution and later find out your dog doesn’t need an exemption, you should be able to apply to leave the scheme and, once approved, you won’t have to stick to the restrictions.
That being said, we are still waiting on more details on this process from Defra.
Can I be evicted for owning an exempted XL Bully dog?
Understandably, many XL Bully owners and campaigners have expressed concerns that the ban may lead to a rise in evictions. However many landlords and housing providers have come forward to clarify that XL Bully dogs currently owned by tenants can stay, providing the owners comply with the requirements and can provide a valid Certificate of Exemption.
Landlords, including social housing landlords, have a duty of care to tenants and residents and they have to follow the Government guidance on banned dog breeds. Your tenancy agreement should include a pet policy that outlines the rules regarding pets in your rented property.
If you are concerned you may be unlawfully evicted due to owning an exempted XL Bully, it’s important to remember that eviction is a legal process and landlords must follow this process before they can evict you.
What are the offences and penalties under the XL Bully dog laws?
As of December 31st 2023, it is against the law to breed, sell, advertise, exchange, gift, rehome, abandon, or let an XL bully dog stray. It is also against the law to take not muzzle or keep an XL Bully on a lead in public spaces.
As of February 1st 205, it will be illegal to own an XL Bully without registering it on the Index of Exempted Dogs. Owners with an unregistered XL Bully risk getting a criminal record and facing an unlimited fine. Authorities will also have the authority to seize an unregistered XL Bully in addition to legal penalties.
Under the Dangerous Dogs Act, owners of dangerously out-of-control dogs, including XL Bullies could face up to 14 years in prison, disqualification from owning any dogs, or the dog being euthanised.
Possible defences under the XL Bully ban
If an individual is prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act, they may be able to provide a reason that might excuse or mitigate the alleged defense. Potential defenses could include the owner:
Claiming they were unaware of their dog being classified as an XL Bully;
Taking immediate action to comply with the new requirements;
Arguing they were under duress or acting or acting out of necessity, like keeping the dog under someone else’s threat or in an emergency (although these situations are likely to be very rare);
Claiming exceptional circumstances, like the dog straying despite reasonable precautions or situations where the dog was sold or given away without the owner’s consent.
The above factors might influence how individual cases are approached. However, it is wise to seek help from a solicitor in cases where you feel a defence may be valid.
The recent ban on XL Bully dogs has received both praise and backlash in equal measure. In light of the ban, owners should be proactive in following the new rules and ensuring they have a Certificate of Exemption by the deadline. It is advisable for owners who are unsure if their dog is an XL Bully or not to follow the rules and apply for Exemption in the first instance to avoid falling foul of the law.
If you do find yourself in trouble, you might have good reasons to explain why you did what you did. But to use these reasons, you’ll need good proof to back up what happened. If you’re unsure about anything relating to the new rules, it’s best to err on the side of caution and, should you need to, seek help from a solicitor who can help you understand your rights and responsibilities as a responsible dog owner.