The government on Tuesday confirmed the breed has been added to the list prohibited under the Dangerous Dogs Act following a string of “concerning” attacks in the UK over the past few months.
Under the new rules, which come into force on 31 December, it will be illegal to breed, sell, advertise, exchange, gift, rehome, abandon or allow American XL bully dogs to stray in England and Wales. From this date, these dogs must also be kept on a lead and muzzled in public.
The laws then state it will be illegal to own an XL bully from 1 February, 2024. Owners will face a criminal record and an unlimited fine after that date unless their dog is on an exemption list and they comply with strict requirements, such as microchipping and neutering their pets.
XL bullies that are older than 12 months on 31 January 2024 must be neutered by the end of June, while dogs that are less than a year old on that date must be neutered by the end of 2024.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has advised owners to start preparing ahead of all deadlines. Recommendations include stopping mating the breed and training the dogs to wear a muzzle and walk on a lead.
Environment secretary Therese Coffey said ministers had taken “quick and decisive action to protect the public from tragic dog attacks”.
She added: “We will continue to work closely with the police, canine and veterinary experts, and animal welfare groups, as we take forward these important measures.”
Prime minister Rishi Sunak had pledged last month that the breed would be added to the Dangerous Dogs Act list by the end of the year, calling it a “danger to our communities”.
As recently as Saturday night, a 29-year-old woman was seriously injured in a suspected American XL bully attack in North Tyneside. And last week, a Leicestershire Police officer was taken to hospital after being bitten in an XL bully attack.
Earlier this month, a woman was injured after she was attacked by her own XL bully in Norfolk. And a toddler was savaged by what was described as a “large XL bully” outside a London hotel.
Among those who have lost their lives is Ian Price, a 52-year-old man from Staffordshire, who died in hospital last month after being attacked by two American XL bullies.
In fact, at least six out of 10 fatal dog attacks in the UK last year involved an XL bully. According to Bully Watch, a group set up by a group of dog owners to monitor the breed, XLs were responsible for 45 per cent of dog attacks on humans and other dogs this year.
In November last year, Jack Lis, 10, was killed by an American XL bully while at a friend’s house in south Wales, with the owners of the dog, Amy Salter and Brandon Hayden, jailed as a result of the attack. The 10-year-old’s mother Emma Whitfield has since been calling for a change in the law.
Mr Sunak had promised to instigate a ban but said work needed to be done to define the breed.
An official definition of the breed has now been published by the government, with features of the breed including a “heavy, large and broad” head and a “blocky or slightly squared” muzzle. It is also described as being “heavily muscled” with a “large, blocky body giving the impression of great power for size”, and a glossy, smooth and close coat.
American XL bullies are closely related to the pit bull terrier and have been cross-bred with other breeds such as English and American bulldogs.
XLs were recognised as a breed by the US United Kennel Club in 2013, but they are not recognised by the main dog associations in the UK.
XL refers to their size, and there are four categories: pocket, standard, classic and XL, the last of which tend to be around 33-50cm in height and weigh in at 20-60kg.
The breed will become the fifth type of dog prohibited under the Dangerous Dogs Act in the UK, alongside the pit bull terrier, Japanese tosa, dogo argentino and fila brasileiro.
It is against the law to own, breed or sell dogs on the list drawn up by Defra.
But it is also against the law to have any dog that is dangerously out of control – a crime that can be punished by prison sentences and unlimited fines.
Owners of XL bullies have staged protests against the ban, including a march through central London in September to which demonstrators did not bring their dogs.