XL Bully dogs: New rules on the way to restrict ownership in Northern Ireland

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New safety measures are being planned to restrict the ownership of XL Bully breed type dogs in Northern Ireland.

DAERA Minister Andrew Muir revealed that there are currently licensed 140 XL Bully breed type dogs in Northern Ireland – an increase from around 90 last October.

It is now illegal to own an American Bully XL dog in England and Wales, unless you have an exemption. From July 31, 2024, they will also be banned in Scotland.

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Minister Muir said safeguarding of the public is the primary concern behind his intention to introduce new rules in Northern Ireland.

An XL Bully. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty ImagesAn XL Bully. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
An XL Bully. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

In a statement to the Assembly, he outlined his plans to bring in a scheme requiring owners of XL Bully breed type dogs to appropriately record and account for their dog with the relevant authorities, ensure they are neutered and muzzled on a lead at all times in public places.

Breeding will also be prohibited alongside selling, giving away or abandoning.

“I know there are countless genuine Bully breed type enthusiasts who look after their dog with boundless love and dedication. Breeds of this size and nature require careful, experienced and dedicated training by owners who understand their characteristics and temperament.

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“The level of risk associated with XL Bully breed type dogs is however well known, with a concerning number of attacks resulting in serious and fatal injuries. Unfortunately, the development of these dogs has sometimes suffered at the hands of the wrong types of owners with dogs bred to have exaggerated features or to be overtly aggressive.

DAERA Minister Andrew Muir MLA.  Picture: Kelvin Boyes / Press EyeDAERA Minister Andrew Muir MLA.  Picture: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
DAERA Minister Andrew Muir MLA. Picture: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

“I want to reassure the people of Northern Ireland that I have not rushed into a decision. I have carefully considered all aspects and I have not taken this decision lightly. It became clear quickly that there was no perfect solution to this problem.

“I do not want to expose the public to an exacerbated level of risk. There are 140 XL Bully breed type dogs licensed right now, up from around 90 last October. Therefore, it is time to act, whilst numbers remain manageable and we can – in the main – track where these dogs are."

The new scheme will require owners to:

  • Appropriately record and account for their dog, with the relevant authorities.
  • Keep their dog on a lead at all times in a public place and ensure that the dog is muzzled.
  • Their XL Bully breed type dog must also be neutered and breeding from these dogs will be prohibited.

It will also no longer be permissible to:

  • Sell an XL Bully dog
  • Abandon an XL Bully dog or give away an XL Bully dog

However, if the owner of an XL Bully breed type dog does not wish to adhere to these measures and no longer wishes to keep their dog, provision will be made to surrender that dog and their dog will be euthanised.

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The Minister stressed however that: “No owner will be forced to give their dog up or made to hand over their dog. I am giving the owners of XL Bully breed type dogs the ability to be responsible and compassionate owners. I am offering them a pathway to enduring and lasting ownership of their valued dog.

"I am announcing these measures now so that people thinking of obtaining or breeding an XL Bully breed type dog in the near future know that their responsibilities and obligations will shortly change.

“I appreciate that there will be a thirst for more information. My Department will develop guidance and practical support to allow owners to understand the impending legislative changes, including how to identify an XL Bully breed type dog using the standard developed by the UK Government. My Department will provide further detail on these safeguards in due course and the dates when they come into effect.

Concluding, Minister Muir stated: “Longer term, I have a desire to explore the possibility of meaningful reform to our dog control laws, in close co-operation with key stakeholders in the sector.

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“I am acutely aware of the calls to deal with ‘the deed not the breed’ and criticism of Breed Specific Legislation but am left as Minister with the situation as it presents itself with the legislation as currently available in the context of public safety risk.”

The Minister announced his intention for DAERA to establish a working group containing representatives from the Department and key council staff, to design and implement an exemption scheme.

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