Dog Laws

A recent poll on the blog indicated that a lot of us are totally unaware of the dog laws where we live. As they say, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." It can be both dangerous and costly to stay in the dark. And dog laws are often changed without much notice. In just one year (2007), 43 new dog laws were passed – 42 at the state level and one at the federal level.

Although each state and municipality has individual quirks, below are some of the common types of laws concerning our canine friends.

Breed Specific Legislation

Some states and many cities have or are considering breed specific legislation. These types of laws don't take into account the fact that canine aggression is usually more dependent on breeding practices, training, and socialization (or the lack thereof) than on breed.

The Pit Bull is the breed most often assumed to be vicious simply by virtue of breed. Other dogs commonly included in breed specific legislation include Rottweilers and Dogos Argentino, Cane Corsos, and Presa Canarios. Breed specific legislation may ban the affected breeds entirely or may require that specific precautions be taken. Examples include pens with enclosed tops, specific types of leashes, or off-premise muzzle requirements.

Girl walking dog on leash
Some states require dogs to be under someone's control at all times, no matter who is walking the dog.

Vicious Dog Laws

Vicious dog laws are similar to breed specific laws in that they force owners to take specific precautions to protect the general public from certain dogs. However, instead of identifying these dogs by breed, vicious dog laws take into account that any dog can become vicious as a result of training or abuse.

Most states define vicious dogs based on past behavior. For example, if the dog has killed another dog or has bitten a person without provocation, the dog might be said to be vicious. The problem, of course, is that someone has to have been injured before the dog is declared dangerous.

The other issue with vicious dog laws is that the definitions of terms like "vicious" and "dangerous" may be fairly vague, allowing a certain amount of wiggle room on both sides. This gives the attorneys something to bill for when there is a lawsuit.

For example, if my Australian Shepherd has nipped at the heels of the child next door, then one day bites the child in the face, my neighbor's lawyer might say that the dog should have been classified as dangerous because of the previous nipping behavior. My attorney, on the other hand, might argue that nipping is a normal behavior for herding dogs and does not indicate any propensity toward biting children.

Once a particular dog meets the criteria to be categorized as "vicious", the laws typically then go on to specify the types of precautions the owner must take. Extra liability insurance may be required to assure that dog bite victims receive adequate compensation. As with breed specific legislation, there may also be leash and muzzle requirements when the dog is off of your property and special caging requirements for time spent on your property.

Leash Laws

Even if your dog is not vicious and not subject to breed specific legislation, there may still be leash laws that apply to you. The major point of a leash law is that your dog must be under your control whenever he is off of your property.

Depending on how the law is worded in your area, you may be allowed to have a well-trained dog off leash as long as the dog responds immediately and without question to your commands. In other jurisdictions, a leash may be required at all times regardless of the dog's training.

In some areas, the person who is with the dog must be capable of controlling the dog irrespective of whether or not a leash is in use. Therefore, you might want to re-think sending your five-year old out to walk your exuberant Labrador Retriever.

Animal Control Officers

Depending on jurisdiction, animal control officers (sometimes called dog wardens) may have very broad or very specific authority. In some areas they have the power to remove at-risk animals and arrest negligent or abusive owners. In other areas, they may work with local police to accomplish the same tasks.

Animal control officers may also be charged with housing strays, destroying vicious, injured, or very ill animals, administering the dog license program, and issuing citations for various infractions of the law.

These tickets can end up being very expensive for the dog owner. For example, if your dog escapes from your property and is found running loose, you may be cited because the dog is off of your property, yet not under your immediate control. The fine for this misdemeanor is often north of $100 for the first offense.

Dogs found running loose are also subject to being shot, usually with a tranquilizing dart. Animal control officials in some areas are equipped with a shotgun-style device that allows them to sedate your dog from a distance if the officer feels your dog may present a hazard. In extreme cases, a loose dog may be shot with a real bullet to prevent injury to people or livestock.

Protecting Your Dog

All of the above laws are aimed at protecting people from dangerous dogs. Other laws are meant to protect dogs from us. Organizations such as the ASPCA, the American Kennel Club, and the Humane Society of the United States have lobbied for laws requiring every pet to be spayed or neutered, restricting how dogs can be tethered outside, and questioning the necessity of vaccinating for rabies every three years.

For More Information

To learn more about laws regarding dangerous and vicious dogs, check out Dog Bite Law, which includes a comprehensive collection of articles on all sorts of legal topics for dog owners, dog bite victims, parents, journalists, lawmakers, students, lawyers, and canine professionals, written and compiled by attorney Kenneth Phillips.

Michigan State University's College of Law offers a searchable list of laws for each state in the Union.

Hug Pug has a list, classified by topic, of laws pertaining to apartment-dwelling dogs, traveling with your dog, barking dogs, and providing for your dog in your estate.


Leave a comment on this article here!


I like some of the laws but the ones like being cited for your dog running loose,isn't that a little much?And the law for all pets to be spayed/neutered,what if you breed dogs? Some of them are just plain weird.The people who make these laws should REALLY think about what they are doing before there putting the laws into action!
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