XL Bully dogs: letter to Victims and Community Safety Minister

Letter from the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission on 21 December 2023, regarding XL Bully type dogs.

To: Siobhian Brown MSP, Minister for Victims and Community Safety
From: Professor Cathy Dwyer, Chair, Scottish Animal Welfare Commission

Measures in Scotland regarding XL Bully type dogs

The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC) is keeping under review the potential implications for dog welfare in Scotland following the decision of the UK government  in respect of England and Wales to add American Bully XL type (XL Bully) dogs to the types of dogs specified under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (as amended).

We understand that Scottish Ministers have informed the UK Minister for Biosecurity, Marine and Rural Affairs that the current system for dog control in place in Scotland is “a proportionate approach using these important powers where needed and focusing on those owners who have allowed their dogs including XL Bully type dogs to be out of control.”[1] SAWC welcomes the approach of Scottish Ministers in considering all relevant evidence and would be pleased to discuss the animal welfare implications further with you. In particular, SAWC is concerned by the apparently cavalier and simplistic manner in which the policy is being introduced south of the border with little apparent concern for dog welfare. In the view of SAWC, if Scottish Ministers were minded in the future to adopt a policy similar to that of the UK government, the following issues would need to be addressed:

Efficacy of XL Bully ban

  • the ban and breed-specific legislation are ineffective in reducing bite incidents and dog control more widely. On the one hand, we are still seeing Pit Bull type dogs 32 years after the Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced. On the other, evidence suggests that these bans have not reduced the likelihood of dog bites requiring attendance at A&E, and that bites from banned breeds/types form only a small proportion of dog bite injuries[2],[3]
  • research funded by Defra suggests that human behaviour is a key influencing factor in dog bites and addressing responsible dog ownership issues is an appropriate response to mitigating dog attacks[4].
  • Defra has released guidance for enforcers, owners and breeders on applying the XL Bully breed type conformation standard[5]. This standard is broad and could apply to a wide range of dog breeds or types,
  • there is currently limited guidance on the implementation of the ban, and uncertainty around the implications for both owners and the rescue sector.
  • the number of dogs expected to be impacted is under-estimated. Defra is working on a figure of 10,000 XL Bully dogs (range 5000 – 15,000). Research from Dogs Trust estimates the UK population to be 98,524 with a 95% confidence interval between 86,653 and 117,164. (There are caveats to this figure – see below[6]).
  • a dog will be assessed as being of a type “known as the XL Bully” if it has a substantial number of the characteristics set out in the conformation standard. The only binary characteristic in the standard is the height. There is no further clarification on what is meant by a dog needing to meet a ‘substantial’ number of the remaining characteristics. This creates challenges in the interpretation of the standard between authorised officials, which will impact both owners and the rescue sector. There is already evidence of poor ability to recognise other banned dog breeds and types[7], and this lack of clarity on definition will exacerbate the problem of certainty for owners and consistency in decisions relating to the identification of alleged XL Bully dogs.
  • puppies born to parents that are not XL Bullies could grow up to be typed due to the subjective nature of the characteristics with no consideration given to known parentage. Individual puppies in a litter could be typed whereas others will not, suggesting that owners/breeders will struggle to remain within the law, and leading to a potential increase in dog euthanasia.

Police Scotland resources

  • for the purposes of enforcement of Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, Dog Legislation Officers are responsible for identifying XL Bully breed types.
  • in England and Wales, Dog Legislation Officers are specified police officers. This is not a position currently within Police Scotland. DLOs would need to be appointed and trained and a budget allocated to pay for the kennelling of seized dogs pending the outcome of the court process.
  • the capacity of the police and available kennel space to manage suspected XL Bully dogs is likely to be limited, which may also lead to premature euthanasia of suspected dogs.
  • there is currently no certification available if a dog has been assessed and is deemed not to be of type. This means a dog could later be typed as an American XL Bully by another Dog Legislation Officer.

Veterinary Surgeon Capacity

  • there is a short transition period for owners to be able to exempt their dogs. From 1 February 2024 it will be illegal in England and Wales to own an XL Bully that has not been registered on the Index of Exempt Dogs – the register of banned dogs that may be lawfully kept subject to the owner complying with requirements for neutering, microchipping and muzzling.
  • this is also a challenge with regard to veterinary capacity in both the private and charity sectors to assist with neutering and euthanasia. It is already evident that obtaining veterinary care is stretched in some areas, without this additional impact.
  • there is no ability to delay neutering from the set timescales, even if it is in a dog’s welfare interests to do so.
  • the impact on the health and wellbeing of veterinary and charity staff when faced with euthanising healthy dogs. There are already anecdotal reports of veterinary professionals struggling to cope emotionally with requests to euthanise whole litters of puppies. A similar or more severe emotional impact is expected on owners of such dogs.

Animal Welfare charity impact

  • Defra has announced a subsidy of £200 towards the cost of euthanasia for an XL Bully dog. This financial contribution is unlikely to cover the cost of euthanasia and cremation, which may lead owners to abandon their dogs instead. Re-homing charities and shelters are already at capacity with dogs acquired during the pandemic and subsequently relinquished. Many of these, regardless of breed or type, are poorly bred and poorly socialised and require the investment of considerable time and resources before they can be offered for re-homing.
  • cruelty cases in Scotland are presently taking around 12 months to clear the court process, longer in the case of an appeal. Seized dogs would therefore be liable to spend a year or more in kennels awaiting the outcome of legal proceedings. This is a major welfare issue in itself. We understand from the Scottish SPCA that their kennels are at 98% capacity and they may not be in a position to care for seized dogs, even assuming that Police Scotland and the Crown Office had the ability to pay for their upkeep. Local authorities would be responsible for any XL Bully dogs which are found abandoned on the street with implications for their already over-stretched resources.
  • the only third-party insurance available for owners of banned breeds/types is through membership of Dogs Trust, which is contingent on the insurance underwriters continuing to offer this.

Cross-border impact of UK policy

SAWC acknowledges that the UK Government’s policy in relation to England and Wales will have implications for Scotland, namely:

  • cross-border issues arising from the ban on ownership in England and Wales and the potential for population levels of American XL Bully dogs in Scotland to rise as they are moved across the border to avoid living under the restrictions of a banned breed.
  • the impact on the rescue sector in Scotland, particularly on capacity in an already stretched sector. Welfare charities with a national presence have already been asked if dogs will be moved to bases in Scotland to avoid the ban.

SAWC appreciates the pressure that Scottish Government is under to introduce a ban and urges careful consideration in the event that Scottish Ministers are minded to change from their present position. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss in greater detail.


[2] Klassen, Buckley & Esmail (1996) Does the Dangerous Dogs Act protect against dog bites: a prospective study of mammalian bites in the Accident and Emergency department. Injury, 27, 89-91.

[3] Creedon & Ó Súilleabháin (2017) Dog bite injuries to humans and the use of breed specific legislation: a comparison of bites from legislated and non-legislated dog breeds. Irish Veterinary Journal, 70, 23.

[4] Nurse, Guest & Miles (2021) AW140: Investigation of measures to reduce dog attacks and promote responsible ownership amongst dog owners with dog control issues in the UK. Research Report, Middlesex University, London. Middlesex University London research report: Investigation of measures to reduce dog attacks and promote responsible ownership amongst dog owners with dog control issues in the UK

[6] Estimation of the Bully XL type population used the following parameters:

Adverts: The number of adverts for sale on Pets4Homes, including 'XL' and 'bully' within their advert title or description, for a given month (prior to 15th September) and the litter size within the advert. N.B. XL Bully crosses have not been excluded from the population estimate. 

Unique proportion: The proportion of all adverts in the database which represent unique individual adverts (that is, the inverse of the proportion which are duplicates. Whilst many duplicates have been removed already, some will still exist due to re-listing etc).

Advertised proportion: The proportion of the total population of dogs that adverts in our database represent (extracted from Dogs Trust public surveys).

Longevity: How long, in years, a Bully XL type dog lives on average.

Other than Adverts, which is fixed, all other parameters are represented by a range of likely values. Our algorithm was then run on every single combination of these values to generate a distribution of possible population estimates, from which we present the median and the 95% highest density interval. The presented values are the median and 95% highest density interval of the resulting distribution.

[7] Webster & Farnworth (2019) Ability of the public to recognise dogs considered to be dangerous under the Dangerous Dogs Act in the United Kingdom. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science,  22, 240-254.

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