Some dog breeds are banned from being imported into Australia. However, there's no law banning ownership of such breeds when they're already in Australia. These breeds are restricted, though, meaning pet owners face strict rules where these dogs still exist in Australia. Individual dogs can also be declared dangerous if shown to be aggressive.
Australia's Banned Dog List
Five pure dog breeds are banned from being imported into Australia:
- American pit bull terrier (or just Pit Bull Terrier),
- Dogo Argentino (or Argentinean mastiff)
- Fila Brasileiro (which is also referred to as the Brazilian guard dog, Brazilian mastiff, or Cão de Fila)
- Japanese Tosa (which also goes by the names of Tosa Inu, Tosa fighting dog, and Japanese fighting dog)
- Perro de Presa Canario (or simple Presa Canario)
The ban also includes crossbreeds that contain these restricted breeds.
Are Pit Bulls Illegal in Australia?
You may have heard pit bulls are illegal in Australia. However, pit bulls were already in Australia before the import ban was introduced more than 15 years ago, so it's not illegal to own one. However, given it's a restricted breed dog, owners face strict rules.
Can You Have a Dingo as a Pet?
If you're wondering whether you could welcome a dingo into your family (or whether a neighbour is really allowed to keep the dingo they have), legislation varies across Australia. New South Wales and Western Australia are the only states where people can keep a dingo without a permit. In Victoria and the Northern Territory, a permit is needed. However, in Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania, it's illegal to have a pet dingo.
Can You Own Your Own Pet Wolf?
Wolves can be beautiful animals and many people wonder if they're allowed to keep them as pets. But the short answer is, Australia does not allow wolves or dog-wolf crosses into the country.
The ban on wolves extends to breeds like the:
- Czechoslovakian wolfdog (also called the Czechoslovakian Vlcak)
- Saarloos wolfdog or wolfhound
- Lupo Italiano (Italian wolfdog)
- Kunming wolfdog (or just Kunming dog)
There are no general restrictions on other dog breeds that are banned in some other countries (such as Tibetan mastiffs, the American bully, Dobermans, and Kangal dogs).
Banned Dogs, Restricted Dogs and Dangerous Dogs
Banned dogs are those dog breeds that are illegal to import into Australia. But Australian dog ownership laws don't prevent banned dogs from being owned if they're already in Australia - so, as with the pit bull example, it's not illegal to own a banned dog in Australia. However, of the breeds on the banned dog list, only two - the American pit bull terrier and Perro de Presa Canario - are known to be in Australia today.
Having said that, owners of dogs from banned breeds are required to comply with more stringent rules than the average dog owner. As a result, such dogs are often referred to as restricted dogs. Sometimes, you might even hear a dog from a restricted breed referred to as a regulated dog.
Most states and territories impose limitations on the ownership of restricted breeds. For example, the animals must be muzzled in public, desexed and kept in an enclosure.
A dangerous dog is different. Individual dogs may be declared dangerous if they've seriously injured or killed a person or animal. In some states, dogs can also be declared dangerous if the local council believes there is a risk a person could be seriously injured or killed by the dog in question. (In some states, such a dog is referred to as a menacing dog rather than a dangerous dog.)
While the terms 'banned dogs' and 'restricted dogs' refer to entire breeds, and crosses including those breeds, the term 'dangerous dogs' refers to individual dogs.
The Most Dangerous Breeds
The most dangerous dogs in Australia are purebred or mixed-breed Staffordshire terriers. In 2019, the breeds killed at least four people within six months. The American Staffordshire terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier also topped the list for the most dog attacks in New South Wales - Australia's most populous state - during 2019 and 2020.
There is no national registry of dog attacks by breed, although the RSPCA has previously called for a national database of dogs declared dangerous.
Other dogs reported to be most often involved in attacks are the German shepherd, Australian cattle dog, Rottweiler, and Labrador retriever. This is supported by dog attack incidents reported by all NSW councils from July to September, 2020.
The American pit bull terrier dog and its crossbreeds have made headlines in Australia for turning on their owners. However, the RSPCA notes any dog of any size, breed, or mix of breeds can be dangerous.
Who Decides What's Dangerous?
States and territories are responsible for managing dangerous dogs, and each has its own dangerous dog legislation. Local governments are in charge of administering the legislation, and local councils and courts have powers to declare a dog dangerous if it meets the criteria set out in the relevant state or territory's laws. Some states, such as Victoria, declare a dog automatically dangerous if it is, or has been, kept as a guard dog at non-residential premises or trained to attack (whether that's people or objects).
What Breeds Are Restricted in Tasmania?
Restricted breeds in Tasmania are the same as those restricted nationally: American pit bull terrier, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, Perro de Presa Canario and Japanese tosa. Staffordshire terriers, mastiffs, and bullmastiffs are not prescribed breeds in Tasmania, but they can be mistaken for restricted breeds because the animals can look similar.
To bring a dog from a restricted dog breed from the mainland into Tasmania, you must give your local council a week's notice.
Why Dogs Are Banned Dogs or Declared Dangerous
Australia has restricted certain breeds and declared some dogs dangerous because they have been deemed aggressive and/or been specifically bred for fighting. An import ban on breeds, including the Dogo Argentino and pit bull, aims to protect the public and other animals.
Notably, while there is an import ban on certain breeds, the ban does not extend to ownership. Therefore, you can own a pit bull if the dog was already here before the ban was enforced. However, restricted breed owners face strict rules. This includes a ban on breeding restricted dogs in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia.
Chow Chow breeds are banned in some parts of the world, but not in Australia.
Does Banning Certain Breeds Improve Public Safety?
Australian animal experts do not believe banning specific breeds improves public safety, and they argue against breed-specific legislation.
The RSPCA says any dog of any size, breed, or mix of breeds can be dangerous. It believes a dog should be judged on its behaviour rather than deemed dangerous based on its breed or looks. The Australian Veterinary Association agrees, saying breed-specific laws have failed to reduce the frequency of dog bites here and overseas.
This is important because it means owners shouldn't assume, just because their dog is not a restricted breed, that it won't be dangerous or that it will never become a dangerous or aggressive dog. The RSPCA considers any dog or breed may be dangerous. Therefore, owners must accept full responsibility for their animals by ensuring they are properly trained and socialised to prevent them from becoming dangerous.
Impacts of Banned, Restricted, and Dangerous Dog Laws
Owners of restricted and declared dangerous dogs must comply with rules to ensure the public is kept safe from attacks, or they will face prosecution. And, if you want to own a dog from a restricted breed, you'll have to apply to your local council.
If the council declares your dog a restricted breed, or you are given a notice of intention to declare that a dog be restricted, you can accept the declaration or challenge it in court.
As the owner of a restricted breed, you would have to obey many rules, which may vary slightly across Australia. They generally include registering, microchipping, desexing, and identifying your dog.
You would also have to make sure your dog is under the control of someone who is at least 18 years old, and you'd have to keep it on a leash and muzzle it when in public. You'd also have to display a special warning sign at the entrance of the premises where the dog lives and put a special collar on your dog. And you'd have to keep it in an enclosure.
If your restricted dog were to go missing, you'd have to tell your local council as soon as possible. And when your dog eventually dies, you'll also have to inform your local council ASAP.
Australia's Banned and Dangerous Dogs
Australia has an import ban on the Japanese Tosa, Fila Brasileiro, Dogo Argentino, Perro De Presa Canario, and American pit bull terrier. Only two of these restricted animals are said to be in Australia, and owners must follow strict rules or face punishment. Dogs can also be declared dangerous by authorities if they injure a person or animal. Experts stress that any dog can become aggressive and the role of a dog owner is critical when it comes to animal behaviour.