Dog owners may be forced to take out third-party liability insurance on their pets under plans to crack down on dog attacks.
The measure is just one proposal unveiled by the government as part of its drive to protect the public from dangerous dogs.
Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, owner of certain breeds are already required to have insurance against their dog injuring third parties. However, this may be extended so that all dog owners have third-party insurance.
Such a move would ensure victims of dog attacks are financially recompensed. There were an estimated eight million pet dogs, in over six million households, in the UK in 2009.
Other measures on the table include introducing compulsory microchipping for dogs so their owners can be more easily traced.
The Dangerous Dogs Act currently bans four breeds - the pit bull terrier, the Japanese tosa, the dogo Argentinos and the fila brasileiros - and it is illegal to breed or keep one of these unless a court places it on the Exempted Dog Index.
It is also an offence for a dog to be out of control in a public place. However, the government is considering extending this law to include private property - a move that would protect people whose work takes them onto private property, such as postal workers and telephone engineers.
A reported 6,000 postal workers are attacked each year by dangerous dogs, and this number is increasing, according to The Communication Workers Union.
Amendments to the law come amid growing concern over public safety issues relating to dangerous and the rise of so-called ‘status’ dogs – that is, animals used by individuals to intimidate and harass members of the public.
There are also been a rise in reported incidents of illegal dog fighting. Media focus on cases where children have been attacked and even killed by dogs has also prompted calls for tougher laws.
The Dangerous Dogs Act was first introduced in 1991 in light of a spate dog attacks.
The home secretary Alan Johnson says: “Britain is a nation of animal lovers, but people have a fundamental right to feel safe on the streets and in their homes.
“The vast majority of dog owners are responsible, but there is no doubt that some people breed and keep dogs for the soul purpose of intimidating others, in a sense using dogs as a weapon. It is this sort of behaviour that we will not tolerate.”