Royal Mail have warned dog owners to make their letterboxes ‘no-go zones’ for their pets following a High Court ruling in the postal company’s favour.

Here's what you need to know.

What does the High Court ruling state?

The High Court ruling states that dog owners could spend up to five years in prison under the Dangerous Dog Act, if they fail to take preventative measures to stop their dogs from attacking postal workers' hands through the letterbox.

In 2014, Royal Mail successfully lobbied for changes to the Dangerous Dog Act to protect their workers from attacks in customer’s gardens, but it did not cover the use of letterboxes.

What sparked the High Court ruling?

The Royal Mail brought a case to the High Court when one of their postal workers lost the tip of his finger after a dog bit him as he delivered mail through a letter box.

The dog was alone at the property at the time, and its owners said it had not injured anyone before.

What else does the court ruling clarify?

The court also ruled that its decision doesn't just apply to postal workers, but also anyone else lawfully visiting the premises, such as delivery workers or someone distributing leaflets.

When the judge made the ruling, he explained that if your dog injures a person as their fingers are briefly exposed when posting something through a letter box - an action that takes mere seconds - it is clear the owner has allowed the dog to freely roam the house and did not take any preventative measures to ensure the safe use of their letterbox.

He ruled that the owner of the property would be criminally liable for any injuries caused in such an instance.

How can I avoid potential prosecution?

The case that led to this new ruling involved a dog that had not injured anyone previously, so even if your dog doesn’t have a history of attacking people, or you don't deem them a threat, it’s still worth taking this ruling seriously.

One way dog owners can protect themselves from potential prosecution and protect postal workers from injury is by installing a letter box cage. Not only do these guard any letterbox users from harm, but they also catch your post, saving you from scraping it all up from the floor.

Another option is to use a portable dog gate to guard your front door from the inside when you are not in the property.

Alternatively, you can close your hallway doors and keep your dog in a separate room, away from the front door entirely.

If you know it is not practical for you to keep your dog away from a postman or postwoman delivering your mail, it is worth fitting a secure mailbox on the exterior of your property.

What happens in the event of a conviction?

If you are convicted, the court must order your dog to be put down. This can only be avoided if the owner can adequately prove it no longer poses a threat to the public.

The court also has power to disqualify you from owning dogs in the future and order you to pay an unlimited amount of compensation to the victim.

Dr Shaun Davis, Royal Mail Group Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing & Sustainability said: “We know that the majority of dog owners are responsible and will do all they can to ensure their pet doesn’t harm anyone.

“However, even the most lovable dog can be a danger to postal staff. Dogs are territorial by nature and if they feel they need to protect their family, they can become unpredictable.”