Banned Dogs In Australia -
The Illegal & Restricted Breeds
Every dog has the potential to be happy, healthy and well-behaved. It’s what our entire philosophy is about from our canine care articles to our YouTube channel. And yet, it’s sad to say that there are banned dogs in Australia. Today we’ll discuss those illegal dog breeds in detail. We’ll cover each of the breeds, why they are banned and the penalties for owning them.
We don’t agree with banning dog breeds because it’s the product of humans that create dangerous dogs. But keep reading to find out what you need to know about this controversial issue.
Why Are Dog Breeds Banned in Australia? (or anywhere!)
When wolves started to be moulded by humans into domesticated pets, we created a system. A system that we use to optimise almost everything in the natural world for our benefit. We bred dogs to help us toil the fields. We bred dogs to help us travel across icy plains. We bred them to be cute and friendly, to become part of the family. Unfortunately, this also led to breeding dogs for more nefarious purposes.
Certain breeds were bred to be fighting dogs for sport. Dog fighting is also known as blood sports in veterinary circles. It’s said to have started as early as the Roman Empire.
“When the Romans invaded Britain in 43 A.D., both sides brought fighting dogs to the battlefield for the seven years of warfare that followed. The Romans may have won the war, but the British dazzled the victors with the ferocity of their dogs, which were far more battle-ready than their Roman counterparts.” - Monica Villavicencio, NPR. (1)
From here, the most aggressive dogs were bred to become more aggressive, settling into distinct breeds. These breeds were then associated with dangerous behaviour for life. Along the centuries, they gained traits that made them more attractive as fighting dogs. Examples include muscular bodies, large teeth and fast actions.
But what does this have to do with banning dogs in Australia?
All countries were affected by dog fighting and it still happens today. It’s long been part of the abuse of animals and is a multi-million dollar sport. There are prize pools of up to $700,000 for certain dog fighting championships in Australia. (2)
The five breeds that we’ll discuss later in the article are the prime candidates for dog fighting. These breeds garnered their reputations and origins in the Roman Empire and have been mired by violence, abuse and misunderstanding ever since.
The laws to protect animals from abuse and ban these dog breeds only came into effect in the 1990's. These breeds are federally banned but each state has a different legislature regarding them too.
The reason they are banned is to prevent their further abuse by humans.
What is a Restricted Dog Breed?
According to Australian law, it is illegal to import any of the dog breeds that we’ll mention in the next section. However, if you already own one, it is permitted under certain strict guidelines.
The guidelines differ from state to state but the overarching definition of restricted dog breeds in Australia is:
Pure or cross-bred:
Restricted breed dogs have not attacked a person or animal or displayed signs of aggression. However, they are considered a higher risk to community safety than other breeds of dogs. (3)
- Obligatory desexing - spaying/neutering to prevent the breeding of the dog
- Obligatory microchipping
- Formal identification with a red and yellow collar - this is obligatory in some states to be able to identify a restricted breed as registered, checked, desexed, microchipped and formally sanctioned by the local council.
- Warning signs must be clearly showcased to let others know that a restricted dog breed is on the premises.
- Housing must be secure both indoors and outdoors to prevent escape. Your dog must not be off a lead during walks at any time, under any circumstance.
- The dog must be muzzled and leashed when outside their premises.
- The council must be notified within 24 hours if:
- The dog goes missing
- The dog changes ownership
- The owner’s address changes
- The place where the dog is kept changes
- The municipality of the dog changes as they may be subject to different regulations in different states
- Prohibition of selling, giving away or trading the dog except if the owner dies or if the owner gives the dog to the council pound or local animal shelters.
5 Dog Breeds Banned In Australia
So, what dogs are banned in Australia and why? Below is a little character profile of each dog breed. It’s important to note that crossbred breeds are also prohibited under the Animal Welfare Act. So any mixes of these breeds also need to be declared as restricted dog breeds.
AKA American Pitbull Terriers are quite famous as seemingly dangerous dogs. But it didn’t start out that way! Originally bred in the US, Pitbulls were farm dogs, helping their owners toil the land because of their stocky stature and strength. Eventually, they were also seen as good “nanny” dogs because they were so friendly and gentle with children. (4)
Yes really! Pitbulls are naturally sweet, loving, gentle dogs with warm dispositions. Their strength made them apt for fighting but it is humans that make them into ferocious killers. That’s not their nature at all.
The strength of Pitbulls makes them good competitors for weight pulling and agility. Their intelligence makes them very obedient dogs too.It’s incredibly sad that these wonderful traits of the lovely Pitbull Terrier are so often turned against them to become vicious fighters.
2. Perro de Presa Canario
AKA Presa Canarios were working dogs too. Their strong stature and independent minds made them prime candidates for herding cattle. They tend to be suspicious with strangers but overall, very doting and calm with family members. They can come across as aloof to other humans outside of the family circle.
They are naturally wary of other dogs but this is likely a symptom of being bred as fighting dogs for so many years. They are protective of their families and are often used as guard dogs.
However, like all dogs, they have the capacity to be calm and playful at home in comfortable, safe surroundings. (5)
AKA Presa Canarios were working dogs too. Their strong stature and independent minds made them prime candidates for herding cattle. They tend to be suspicious with strangers but overall, very doting and calm with family members. They can come across as aloof to other humans outside of the family circleThey are naturally wary of other dogs but this is likely a symptom of being bred as fighting dogs for so many years. They are protective of their families and are often us as guard dogs.However, like all dogs, they have the capacity to be calm and playful at home in comfortable, safe surroundings. (5)3. Japanese Tosa
AKA Tosa Inus are gentle but protective dogs by nature. They need a firm hand to obedience train them correctly as they can be aggressive and wilful without proper guidance. If they are socialised properly, they will still likely be a little cold and aloof with strangers but joyful and warm at home.
They are quite good with children and other pets if socialised well from puppyhood. They are very strong and vocal dogs which is why many find them good guard dogs.
Note: when I say good guard dog I mean they provide a good warning system. Not that they will attack strangers. A well adjusted Tosa is quite welcoming or at worst apathetic to strangers. But they have a commanding, deep bark and large stature that deters intruders. Their even temperament means that they are generally calm at home. They just have a natural will to protect and serve their owners. (6)
4. Dogo Argentinos
Dogo Argentinos, with their characteristic bright white coats and black/pink noses, are adorable, loving pets. It’s such a shame that their breed has been tarnished by abuse in the dog fighting industry.
With a stocky build, the Dogo Argentino was bred as a pack-hunting dog. (7) They are loyal, obedient and extremely affectionate dogs to everyone’s great surprise!
They are very athletic with a muscular build. They tend to be quite tall and fast on their feet.
Powerful, alert, graceful and playful. Dogo Argentinos love kids and other pets alike.
When bred to be fighting dogs, they are extremely menacing and dangerous. When raised to be happy and healthy, they are wonderful family dogs.
5. Fila Brasileiros
These mighty Brazilian dogs were bred as game hunters and working dogs before the dog fighting world co-opted them.
This breed is similar to the Tosa and Presa Canario in that they need a firm hand when being raised correctly. They need an authoritative pet parent that will shape them into a model canine citizen. (8)
With that guidance, they become great companions. Probably not ideal for children or other small pets. However, they can be devoted, protective, warm members of the household.
Honourable Mentions - Illegal Dog Breeds in Australia
The five breeds above are the main breeds that are banned/restricted in Australia. However, there are a couple of breeds that are also worth mentioning, as they do have some restrictions around them too.
Cane Corso Australia laws are somewhat difficult to decipher. They are not technically illegal though they are deemed to be dangerous dogs. The reason they are no longer banned legally is that there are so few of them. They are restricted from being imported into Australia and there are roughly 20 of them left in the whole country.
The truth is (you’ll see the pattern here) they are super lovey-dovey, warm dogs. Highly trainable and obedient, they can be moulded into model citizens or ferocious killers. Therein lies the problem.
Strong and mighty protectors of their families, they are cool and calm on the outside, soft and playful on the inside. (9)
Australia has a strict ban on the importation of breeds that are crossed with wild wolves. (10)
The reason is that they are not recognised as fully domesticated animals.
Staffordshire Terriers are completely legal in Australia. You’ll know Staffys as the playful, bubbly dogs that most Pitbulls and Dogo Argentinos and Can Corsos never get to become.
Related: The Staffy Breed Profile.
That said, they look very similar to some of the breeds on the banned list. So you may be asked by local council officials to prove the heritage of your dog if they suspect that they are a cross with a restricted breed.
What Are The Consequences of Keeping a Restricted Dog Breed in Australia?
Keeping a restricted dog breed is not an offence in itself. If you fail to register them with the local council and don't follow the strict laws they set for you, you may face fines or jail time. The punishment varies depending on the Australian state of residence, so do consult your local council for the most updated information.
If your dog kills someone, you as the owner can face up to 10 years in prison. If your dog injures or endangers someone’s health, you could face up to 5 years in prison.
If you have been sold a restricted dog breed without your knowledge, you can report the breeder to the local council as an offence. Your purchase of the dog is also eligible for compensation under consumer rights laws in your state.
Final Thoughts: Is it Bad To Ban Dog Breeds?
The “dangerous dog” debate has continued ever since dog banning became a popular practice worldwide in the 1990's and early 2000's. Of course, there are some very high profile cases of these types of breeds maiming or killing children and adults that have made the issue more pressing.
However, as the advancement of veterinary science continues, the more vets are rallying against dog breed bans in Australia and elsewhere.
"The truth about breed-specific legislation is that it doesn't work, you don't decrease the number. In fact, you send the breeding of that particular breed of dog underground," - RSPCA Victoria president Hugh Wirth ABC News. (11)
As we discussed earlier, dog fighting is still happening in Australia with devastating effects on the dog-owning community. These dogs don't get the chance to be warm, loving family pets because they are forced underground, doomed to abuse.
On the other hand, many argue that banning these dog breeds allows for greater classification of the breeds and eventual reduction in numbers. There is great debate around that but, for example, Cane Corso are pretty rare in Australia and that is because of years being on the restricted dog breed list. So much so, they aren’t a perceived threat anymore.
You can probably tell this writer’s opinion. I see the good in every dog having reformed a formerly dangerous dog myself. My German Shepherd, Max, was a battered, bruised, aggressive dog after years of neglect. After much rehabilitation, he became a calm, joyful dog that barely raised an eyebrow to strangers. Yes, he was quite aloof to those he didn’t deem part of his “pack” but his calm and gentle nature made him a wonderful member of the family.
It’s not a breed’s fault that humans abuse them. That’s the humble opinion of this writer and the Gentle Dog Trainers team. But we relish debate so let us know what you think in the comments!
- Villavicencio, M. July 19, 2007. “A History of Dogfighting”. NPR. Retrieved April 01, 2023. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12108421&t=1647519328477
- Coe, C. September 17, 2019. “$700,000 prize pools, 150 illegal syndicates and secret underground networks: Inside Australia's brutal dog fighting rings undeterred by attempts to bring them to justice”. Daily Mail. Retrieved April 01, 2023. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7458947/Inside-Australias-brutal-dog-fighting-rings-undeterred-attempts-bring-justice.html
- “About restricted breed dogs”. Animal Welfare Victoria. Retrieved April 01, 2023. https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/livestock-and-animals/animal-welfare-victoria/dogs/restricted-breed-dogs/about-restricted-breed-dogs
- “American Pit Bull Terrier”. DogTime. Retrieved April 01, 2023. https://dogtime.com/dog-breeds/american-pit-bull-terrier#/slide/1
- “Perro de Presa Canario”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved April 01, 2023. https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/perro-de-presa-canario/
- “The Purebred Tosa”. Dog Breed Info. Retrieved April 01, 2023. https://www.dogbreedinfo.com/tosa.htm
- “Dogo Argentino”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved April 01, 2023. https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/dogo-argentino/
- Brown, J. March 17, 2022. “Fila Brasileiro (Brazilian Mastiff): Dog Breed Characteristics and Care”. The Spruce Pets. Retrieved April 01, 2023. https://www.thesprucepets.com/fila-brasileiro-dog-breed-profile-5084446
- “Cane Corso”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved April 01, 2023. https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/cane-corso/
- “Prohibited dog and cat breeds in Australia”. Petraveller. Retrieved April 01, 2023. https://www.petraveller.com.au/blog/prohibited-dog-and-cat-breeds-in-australia
- Hall, A. August 14, 2022. “Vets call to end 'dangerous' dog breed bans”. ABC News Australia. Retrieved April 01, 2023. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-14/vet-group-calls-for-end-to-dog-breed-banning/4198896