Dog owners whose pets harm others should be jailed for at least six months, according to strict new guidelines.
The Sentencing Council said the tougher punishments follow a rise in convictions for dangerous dog offences.
Its updated rules set a standard of six months in prison for anyone in charge of a dog which is dangerously out of control and injures a person or other animal.
Bite: News rules mean six months in prison for anyone in charge of a dog which is dangerously out of control and injures a person or other animal
The most serious cases, such as repeated attacks or where the victim is a child or elderly, should be punished more severely, with 18 months in jail.
However, courts were free to ‘use more severe sentences when appropriate,’ said the council, which sets advice for judges and magistrates.
The new rules also suggest that owners who let their dogs run dangerously out of control should face six months in jail even if no one is injured.
‘Let us hope that judges and magistrates across the country read and digest the new sentencing guidelines and use them as effectively as they are able, to put the owners of seriously dangerous dogs behind bars for a period long enough to be a serious deterrent’
Anne Arnold, a district judge and council member, said: ‘Most dog owners are responsible and take good care of their pets.
‘But we have seen more and more cases of owners who have put the public at risk or let their dogs cause injuries, sometimes very serious.’
There was a 39 per cent rise in the number of people sentenced for dangerous dog crimes in just a year, up from 855 in 2009 to 1,192 in 2010.
The number of dog bites reported at A&E departments has nearly doubled in a decade, reaching 6,097 in the year to April 2011.
The guidelines also urge the courts to use powers to put down dangerous animals, ban offenders from keeping dogs and to compensate victims.
Ministers are working on a consultation paper on the best way to control dangerous dogs, including an option to micro-chip all puppies.
The Dogs Trust and Blue Cross animal charities welcomed the tougher sentences.
However, the Blue Cross also called for new laws to target irresponsible owners to prevent attacks happening.
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