Your Dog and the Law

Most countries have extensive laws and regulations covering dogs. Some are embodied in federal law (in the US) or in parliamentary law (in the UK), but the vast majority fall within the jurisdiction of individual state, provincial, local, and municipal authorities. In the US dog laws often differ dramatically from location to location, or from situation to situation. When acquiring a dog for the first time, or when moving with your dog to a new area, make a point of finding out what laws affect you by calling the town, city, or county clerk and inquiring which department handles animal-control laws. State laws can be investigated at a public library.

In almost every locality it is a legal requirement for your dog to carry identification in the form of a collar tag, tattoo, or microchip. Some authorities require a specific form of identification; others allow the owner to choose. Municipalities are normally responsible for collecting dog license fees. The amount of the fee may vary depending on whether or not the dog has been neutered. In the UK a collar tag with the owner's name and address is obligatory, except for working dogs, but there is no longer a statutory dog license fee.

Most cities require dogs to be kept on a leash except in designated “dog runs.” Dogs may be banned altogether from entering some city parks and public buildings. Owners are usually obliged by law to clean up after their dogs. Strays are impounded and, if not reclaimed within a specific number of days, may be adopted or humanely destroyed. “Seeing Eye” or other service dogs are normally exempt from most animal-control laws, and their owners may be given reduced license fees, or the fees waived altogether.

Restrictions are likely to be fewer in rural areas. Dogs are allowed to run loose; if restrictions do exist, working dogs may be exempted. However, you may be liable if your dog injures farm animals or damages property. In the UK a farmer can shoot any dog worrying sheep or cattle, and there are strict penalties against allowing dogs to hunt game animals on private land.

In the US and many other countries, the law requires all dogs to be vaccinated against rabies. Many insist on the dog carrying microchip certification. In countries where rabies is not endemic, such as the UK, vaccination is not obligatory but dogs imported from abroad are subject to strict quarantine controls.

Dangerous Dogs

You may be at fault for owning a dangerous dog that have a reputation for biting. Sometimes specific breeds may only be kept subject to particular conditions being fulfilled, such as the dog being muzzled in public, neutered, and not being given away or sold. In the UK Pit Bull Terrier-types and three other breeds fall into this category. Local laws may deem that attacks on domestic animals as well as people constitute a danger, and they may or may not require that a bite actually occurs before action against the dog can be initiated. A conviction will usually result in the dog being humanely destroyed. You are likely to be liable if your dog causes a street accident through your failure to control it.

Canine Protection

You will find yourself liable for prosecution if you cause unnecessary suffering to a dog or dogs in your charge — this includes neglect, starvation, lack of freedom to exercise, cruelty, and beating. Most authorities have a body of regulations concerning the ownership, operation, and inspection of breeding kennels, boarding facilities, training schools, and grooming establishments. If you intend to set up as a business, you must establish for yourself what laws and conditions pertain in your locality.

Is there limit to the number of dogs I can keep?
This is likely to be determined by municipality law, so check with your relevant department. In some places keeping more than three dogs constitutes a “kennel,” making you, the owner, liable to the laws, fees, and inspections regulating the ownership of kennels, even if you are not operating a business location. The welfare of the animals is an important consideration—animal protection societies such as the ASPCA and the RSPCA (in the UK) will take legal action against you if they think your dogs are being kept in crowded, insanitary conditions, or are being neglected in any way.

My German Shepherd, Jake, got involved in a fight with a Boxer. Both were injured. Will I have to pay the Boxer's vet bill?
Do not admit liability, but do seek legal advice if you think action is likely to be taken. Often both parties are equally to blame in such incidents, but if you let Jake off the leash in a public place, knowing him to be aggressive, you may well be liable to prosecution. In the US injury by your dog is normally covered under your home insurance policy (in the UK owners often take out third-party insurance). However, many insurance companies are increasingly reluctant to cover certain breeds of dog against injury.

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1 Comment

  1. My dog, a German Shorthaired Pointer/Chocolate Lab/ Mix,
    (we just refer to him as a "brown dog")
    unfortunately dug a hole under our fence, got onto the neighbors' property and chased and killed their new goat.
    We had never had any problems of this sort before, living here 5 years and they keep chickens, dogs and small children which "Brown Dog" has never shown any interest in.
    I don't think he had ever seen or heard a goat, before.
    We paid what they said, for the goat and made apologies.
    They still are taking us to court and want "Brown Dog" labelled a "vicious" animal and put down.
    "Brown Dog" is protective of the property on which he lives and likes to chase deer, racoons, opossum, skunk, feral cats and squirrels. Sometimes, he catches them.
    In the house, he is docile and subservient. We have other dogs, cats and an Autistic son. "Brown Dog" has never so much as raised a hackle to any of them. One cat actually sleeps ON him. During thunderstorms, earthquakes and loud noises he wants under the covers. Not very vicious.
    I don't want my autistic son to lose his dog because it was being a dog.
    "Brown Dog" is just very dumb, not mean. He's 10, but you'd think he was a puppy
    We keep him on a tether, now, by the house. He can't run the yard, anymore.
    Any advice on what else we should do?? Court in 2 weeks.

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