Dog Laws 101— An Introduction to Common Dog Laws and Ordinances

dog lawsBy Stefani Fortney  I see it often. A dog owner who was unaware of the laws about pets in their community takes to social media to voice their concerns and complaints about why their precious dog has gotten into trouble with local police, sheriff, or animal control. Most times, it’s hard for me to understand why a person who has a dog wouldn’t go to the trouble of finding out what local laws govern their ownership, care, and responsibilities for their dog and its interaction with the community. Most communities have laws that outline what is expected from your dog and you. I’m going to touch on a few of the most common dog laws and why they’re important to follow to not be a nuisance or danger to your community.

The most common dog laws:

1. Leash Laws

I’ve heard every excuse you could imagine when it comes to dog owners not having a leash on their dog…

“My dog is trained.”

“Don’t worry! My dog is friendly!”

“I couldn’t find his leash.”

“This is the only exercise my dog gets. My dog needs to run off some energy.”

Let me be very forward. It doesn’t matter what the reason (excuse) is. Most cities, parks, hiking trails, etc. have laws that require that your dog is on a leash. Those laws aren’t in place just to annoy or inconvenience dog owners. They exist for a reason—to keep your dog and other people safe. Most dogs aren’t trained with the precision needed to be completely under control off-leash in every situation. Even if your dog is friendly, there may be people or other dogs in the area who aren’t okay with being approached by an unknown dog. My boy, Mani—an 80-pound American Pit Bull Terrier who has major insecurity issues—gets upset when approached by strange dogs. I walk him on a leash not only because it’s the law, but because it gives me control of how he approaches (or doesn’t approach) people and animals when we’re out in the world. My other boy, Bonzo—an 115-pound pit bull mix—loves everyone. I still walk him on a leash because he could easily overwhelm people and other dogs. It’s a matter of safety, liability, courtesy and obeying the law. Put a leash on your dog.

2. Confinement Laws

More than once, I’ve heard folks complain about how they have issued a warning or citation for their dog being loose on their property. They can’t understand why it is that their dog can’t freely hang out in the front yard with them, or roam their yard without being in a fence, a run, on a tie-out, or on a leash. “It’s my yard. My dog should be able to be loose on my property without me getting hassled by anyone.”

The problem with that train of thought is that most cities have laws on the books that require dogs to be leashed or confined (fenced, penned, or tied out), even when on the owner’s property. Once again, you have to keep other people in mind. While your dog may be a sleepy old hound who would never dream of chasing a grandma down the block, that doesn’t apply to every dog in every yard. Laws exist for the good of communities. What would happen if your dog suddenly saw that devil squirrel he’s always wanted to kill? Let’s say that he chases mister squirrel into the street, causing a car to swerve to avoid hitting him. That car then crashes into your neighbor, who was planting petunias by the curb. The chain of events could easily have been prevented by following existing confinement laws by keeping your dog within a fence.

3. Noise/Nuisance Laws

I think we all have experience with a neighbor whose dog barks at all hours. Day and night, they must sing the song of their people. The problem with this is that it causes problems for the whole neighborhood. Most cities, of course, have laws that require dog owners to keep their dogs quiet at certain hours. Other common laws state that owners can be cited if their dog(s) bark for certain durations of time.

As responsible dog owners, we need to realize that just because we can tune out the barking of our dogs after awhile, we shouldn’t expect others to do the same. If you have a dog who barks and barks for seemingly no reason, it’s time for you do some detective work. Watch your dog. Figure out the trigger for his vocalization. Most dogs will bark from boredom, loneliness, boundary guarding, or because they see prey (like birds or squirrels). Find ways to enrich your dog’s time outside with toys, interaction, and companionship. Bring your dog inside, too. Don’t expect a dog who is constantly outdoors to keep good manners. Dogs need to be a part of your family.

There are other, equally important, laws that you should look into in your community. Here’s a quick list of some more things to find out about your local dog laws:

  • Dog licensing requirements (Tag your dog)
  • Dog waste laws (Pick up poop)
  • Limits on number of pets allowed
  • Types/breeds of pets that may be restricted in your community

Remember—it’s the responsibility of owners to be familiar and comply with all local dog laws!



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