Welfare of dogs: code of practice

Best practice guidance to help those responsible for dogs meet the duty of care under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006


1. Owning and caring for a dog can be very rewarding, but it is also a big responsibility and a long term financial and caring commitment. Any potential owner should consider the size and breed of dog they are thinking about buying in relation to how much time will need to be spent looking after and exercising it; thus ensuring that they purchase a dog that is right for their circumstances.

2. Section 24(1) of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 states that:

A person commits an offence if the person does not take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which the person is responsible are met to the extent required by good practice.

Thus, animal owners and keepers have a legal duty of care for the animals for which they are responsible.

3. The duty of care placed on an animal owner or keeper is based on the 'Five Freedoms' originally recommended by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, but now generally accepted to cover any animal for which a person is responsible:

  • its need for a suitable environment
  • its need for a suitable diet
  • its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
  • its need to be protected from suffering, injury and disease

4. These needs are explained in more detail in this Code, however, your dog may have other needs that should also be met to ensure its welfare. If you are unsure what these might be, seek advice from a veterinary surgeon, a pet care specialist or a professional organisation such as the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA), the Dogs Trust or one of the other dog welfare organisations. Some of the main organisations are listed in Appendix 2.

5. People are therefore responsible for an animal if they own or manage it. An owner has ongoing responsibility for their animal even if another person is in charge of it. A parent or guardian of a child under 16 years old is responsible for any animal that is owned or cared for by the child. This ensures that an adult can normally be identified as a person responsible for an animal. If an owner leaves an animal in the charge of another person, it is the owner's duty to ensure that the person is competent and has the necessary authority to act in an emergency, as ultimately the owner bears responsibility even if someone else is temporarily caring for the animal.

6. Responsibility for an animal includes having an understanding of the specific health and welfare needs of the animal and having the appropriate knowledge and skills to care for the animal. Those responsible for animals will also have to be aware of and comply with the legislation and Codes, and to know when to seek qualified advice and help.

7. Every animal is different and as you get to know your dog, you will recognise its normal behavioural patterns. Observing your dog enables you to judge whether it is relaxed, healthy and comfortable. It is important that you are able to recognise any changes in behaviour, as these might show that your dog is distressed, ill, or is not having its needs met in some other way.

8. You control your dog's lifestyle, such as the amount of time it spends indoors and the exercise it receives. It is your responsibility to make sure that its needs are met, whatever the circumstances.

9. If you are worried about your dog, or you would like further advice about how to look after it and any future health care programme, vets, other appropriate professionals and animal welfare organisations are the best sources of advice.

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