Owners of dangerous dogs which attack people in public will face stiffer penalties, including up to 18 months in prison, as the Government seeks to clamp down on irresponsible animal owners.
The new guidelines - for judges dealing with people convicted of being owners of dangerously out of control dogs which harm others in a public place - mean tougher sentences that the Government hopes will see more offenders jailed or given community orders and fewer discharged.
Courts will also be encouraged to ban irresponsible owners who put the public at risk from keeping dogs, order dangerous dogs to be put down and arrange compensation for victims under the rules brought in by the Sentencing Council.
Anyone using an animal as a weapon to attack someone would still be sentenced for assault, but the new guidelines cover both dogs which were dangerously out of control and the possession of banned dogs.
Under the guidelines, owners, or anyone in charge of a dangerously out of control dog, would face up to 18 months in jail, with the sentence rising to the legal maximum of two years in exceptional cases.
The most serious cases could include incidents where a dangerously out of control dog has caused serious injury during a sustained attack, injured a child, or where the owner has failed to respond to previous warnings or concerns.
Any deliberate goading of the dog by its owner would also be seen as an aggravating factor by judges. But the owner could walk free from court with a discharge if the injuries caused were only minor, attempts had been made to regain control of the dog and safety steps had been taken by the owner.
In cases where no injury is caused, owners could still face up to six months in jail if they allow their dogs to be dangerously out of control in a public place, especially if children or other vulnerable people such as the elderly or disabled people were around at the time. But the starting point for the most serious of offences would be a community order, while a lesser offence could attract a fine.
The council also issued guidelines for judges sentencing those involved in the possession of prohibited dogs, including the pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro. The maximum sentence, it said, should be six months in custody. However, all but the most serious of cases would attract fines or be discharged.
Training a dog to fight or possessing paraphernalia for dog fighting will also be seen as an aggravating factor attracting a tougher sentence following concerns from London Mayor Boris Johnson and the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers.