XL Bully Ban in England and Wales: What you need to know

by PDSA | 1 November 2023

On Tuesday 31 October 2023, the UK Government banned the XL Bully breed in England and Wales, following a series of serious and, in some cases, fatal attacks.

In response to an increase in incidents and fatalities involving XL Bully dogs, with two major attacks in September and October 2023, the UK Government has now added this breed to the list of dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

There are now five dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which include Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro and XL Bully.

In order to help XL Bully owners adapt to the new laws, these changes will come into force in three stages. In England and Wales, the announcement for the first stage occurred on 31 October 2023, and the second and third stages will take effect on 31 December 2023, and 1 February 2024, respectively.

Since the announcement of the ban, there have been many questions from owners. Here are our most-asked questions following the XL Bully ban announcement.


What is an XL Bully?

One of the most pressing questions is how to know if a dog would be classified as an XL Bully ‘type’. The UK Government has put together official guidance to help define what an XL Bully dog is, which involves checking the dog’s physical characteristics to determine if they fit the type.

Some of the characteristics mentioned include but are not limited to:

  • A large dog with a muscular body and blocky head.
  • Height of males from 20in (51cm) and height of females from 19in (48cm).
  • Heavily muscled body with a broad, deep chest with well-sprung ribs.

For the full list of characteristics, read the UK Government's official guidance here.

If you are unsure if you have an XL Bully dog, the Government recommends to err on the side of caution and comply with the new legislation. Should you require further assistance in determining whether your dog will be impacted by this ban, we recommend contacting your local police force Dog Legislation Officer (DLO)


What will the XL Bully ban mean for owners?

On 31 October 2023, the UK Government announced that XL Bully dogs are now banned in England and Wales under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. There are three different stages to help owners comply with the law.

Stage 1: 31 October 2023

Following the ban announcement, applications for exemption certificates for XL Bully owners will begin. Owners have until 31 January 2024 to apply for a Certificate of Exemption to be registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs.

We recommend that you start to muzzle and lead train your XL Bully dog now so that they will be more comfortable with it by the time it comes into law on 31 December. Breeding of XL Bully dogs should now stop, and you should look into arranging your dog to be neutered and microchipped if not already done.

Stage 2: 31 December 2023

From 31 December 2023, it will be illegal in England and Wales to:

  • Sell an XL Bully dog
  • Abandon an XL Bully dog
  • Give away an XL Bully dog
  • Breed an XL Bully dog
  • Have an XL Bully dog in public without being on a lead and wearing a muzzle
  • Own an XL Bully dog that has not been microchipped (this is already a legal requirement for all dogs)

Therefore, you must ensure that your XL Bully dog is microchipped by this time.

Stage 3: 1 February 2024

From 1 February 2024, it will be illegal to own an XL Bully dog in England and Wales – unless you have a Certificate of Exemption for your dog and you follow the rules, which include:

  • Microchipping your dog.
  • Muzzling your dog and keeping them on a lead in public.
  • Neutering your dog.
  • Taking out third-party insurance against your dog injuring other people – this can be provided through Dogs Trust Membership.
  • Be over 16 years old.

Neutering will be compulsory for XL Bully dogs by 30 June 2024 for dogs over 1 year old on 31 January 2024, or by 31 December 2024 for dogs under 1 year old on 31 January 2024. All owners of XL Bully dogs will have to follow these specific guidelines.

If you decide not to keep your XL Bully, the government has announced the option to take your dog to a registered vet to be euthanised. There will be a compensation scheme towards the cost of euthanasia if you choose this option.  You and your vet must fill in a compensation form to make a claim.

Find out more information on Defra’s website. 

If you are found in possession of an XL Bully dog without a Certification of Exemption, the law may subject you to a criminal record and an unlimited fine, and authorities could also seize your dog.


How can I train my dog to wear a muzzle?

Muzzle training is essential for XL Bully owners as it’ll be against the law to have an XL Bully dog in public without a muzzle from 31 December 2023. Training your dog to wear a muzzle with positive reinforcement is crucial, as it helps them associate it with a positive experience.

It’s tempting to try to skip training and just put the muzzle on your pet – but this will most likely scare them and make it an uncomfortable experience. Follow our quick guide to help you positively train your XL Bully to wear a muzzle in public.

Step 1: Introduce the muzzle

Start by introducing the muzzle to your pet by placing it on the floor with treats around it. Make sure to give them their meals next to the muzzle for a few days. This will give your pet some positive association with the muzzle.

Step 2:  Nose in the muzzle

Once your pet is comfortable with the sight of the muzzle, start encouraging them to put their nose into it by giving them treats through the gaps. Gradually move the treats further into the muzzle until your dog is happy to take one from the end. Be sure to repeat this until your dog is comfortable.

Step 3: Hold the straps

At this stage, start holding the muzzle straps behind your dog’s ears and give them a treat. Make sure that you do not fasten the muzzle at first and repeat until your dog is comfortable. Do not tell off your dog for shaking the muzzle off. Instead, remain patient with them and just try again later.

Step 4: Leave the muzzle on

When your dog is happy with wearing the muzzle, start fastening the muzzle and give your dog a treat. As soon as they finish their treat, take off the muzzle. Repeat this and increase the time that your pet wears the muzzle. Try to get them walking around the garden with the muzzle on. However, make sure to remove it if they are uncomfortable or stressed at any point.

Step 5: Keep practicing

Keep making it a positive experience for your pet with regular treats and rewards. Make sure that you keep practicing with the muzzle but never rush your pet and do not leave them alone with their muzzle on. For more information on muzzle training, read our expert guide here.


How do I apply for a Certificate of Exemption?

In order to apply for a Certificate of Exemption, owners will need to comply with certain requirements, which include:

  • Neutering your dog.
  • Microchipping your dog.
  • Keeping your dog on a lead in public.
  • Keeping your dog muzzled in public.
  • Keeping your dog in a secure place where they can’t escape.
  • Take out third-party insurance against your dog injuring other people.
  • Be over 16 years old.

Owners in England and Wales will have until 31 January 2024 to apply for a Certificate of Exemption, which has a £92.40 application fee.

If you have applied for a Certificate of Exemption but have yet to receive it, don’t worry, as it can take a few days to process applications. Therefore, you may not receive your Certificate of Exemption by 1 February 2024. If someone asks to see proof of your Certificate of Exemption, you can show the evidence that you have applied and this should be enough according to Government guidelines.

If you’ve missed the deadline for applying for a Certificate of Exemption, here’s the Government’s advice on what to do.


What should I do if I am unable to adhere to the restrictions?

The UK Government is breaking up the law into different stages in England and Wales. From 31 December 2023 XL Bully dogs must be microchipped, kept on a lead and muzzled in public. During this time, you must also apply for a Certificate of Exemption for your dog as you have until 31 January 2024 to do so.

Neutering will be compulsory for XL Bully dogs by 30 June 2024 for dogs over 1 year old on 31 January 2024, or by 31 December 2024 for dogs under 1 year old on 31 January 2024. All owners of XL Bully dogs will have to follow these specific guidelines.

Sadly, if you cannot adhere to these requirements by then, you’ll be convicted of a crime. This can lead to an unlimited fine, a prison sentence and/or having your dog seized and potentially euthanised.


What happens to unowned XL Bully dogs?

From 31 December 2023, it will be illegal to abandon an XL Bully dog or allow them to stray in England in Wales. If you find a stray or abandoned dog, you should contact your local council, as they are responsible under the law for providing a stray dog service.


Should I report XL Bully dogs?

XL Bully breeds are banned – so you can report an XL Bully to the police if you see the dog without a muzzle or lead in public after 31 December 2023. If you are concerned that a dog is dangerous or has aggressive behaviour, regardless of the breed, then you should report the dog to the police or local authority.

If you are concerned about the cruelty or neglect of any pet, you should report it to the RSPCA in England and Wales, SSPCA in Scotland, and USPCA in Northern Ireland.


How do I stay safe around dogs?

The recent string of attacks is very distressing to many but it’s important to remember that the vast majority of dogs in the UK are not dangerous. However, it’s always best to be cautious, calm, and quiet when interacting with dogs.

Any dog can become aggressive if they are afraid or feel there is no other way out of the situation. The warning signs that a dog may attack include (but are not limited to):

  • Growling
  • Snarling
  • Snapping
  • Baring Teeth
  • Lunging

Never approach an unknown dog without checking with their owner first and always ask the owner before stroking. If you do see a dog that is outside alone, call the council or report the dog online rather than approaching them.

We also recommend that you never run or shout around an unfamiliar dog. For further advice on dealing with a dog attack, read more here.

What to do if you’re worried about a dog’s behaviour

Understanding how to respond when you're concerned about a dog's behaviour can be challenging, and not all situations are the same. It’s always vital to make sure that the safety of the people involved is the main priority.

If you find yourself in this situation, here are some steps to help keep you and others safe:

  • Step 1: Keep calm and get away from the situation – avoid eye contact and distance yourself from the dog quietly, slowly and calmly.
  • Step 2: Create a physical barrier such as a door, car or whatever you have to hand.
  • Step 3: If the owner is nearby, ask them to calmly put their dog on a lead if they haven’t already.
  • Step 4: Try not to panic as loud noises or running could startle the dog and make them feel threatened. If a dog runs towards you, ignore the dog and remain still, standing side-on to appear less threatening. If you end up on the ground, curl in a ball and protect your head.

For further information on this, read our guide here.


PDSA’s statement on the XL Bully ban

PDSA’s position on the Dangerous Dogs Act remains unchanged – breed specific legislation is ineffective because it has not resulted in a reduction of dog bites or human deaths.

Whilst we agree urgent action is needed to protect the public from dangerous dogs, we're disappointed the Government are pushing ahead with breed specific legislation. We'd like to see the Government focus on much needed extensive reform of the Dangerous Dogs Act, as we do not believe that adding ‘XL Bully’ dogs to the list of banned breeds will be an effective way of protecting the public.

To find out more about PDSA’s stance on banning dog breeds, read our official statement on the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991).


What is PDSA doing to help XL Bully owners?

Our primary objective at PDSA is to provide the utmost support to XL Bully owners as they navigate the newly announced regulations. As a charity, our resources are limited, but we remain here to support all owners however we can and continue to treat XL Bully dogs in our care as normal.

To check if you are eligible for PDSA’s services, please follow the instructions online: www.pdsa.org.uk/eligibilty

Share this article on:  PDSA | 1 November 2023


Pet care tips, news, supporter stories and vet Q&As