Legal Responsibilities of Dog Owners

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Legal Responsibilities of Dog Owners

To dog lovers, their pet is a member of the family. But to the law, a dog can sometimes be considered a deadly weapon. While the worst-case scenarios involve dog owners who cause injuries and deaths by siccing their canines on people or training their animals for dog fights or guard duty, even the best-behaved dogs can get nasty under duress. That’s why owners who love their pups for their good nature rather than their killer instincts still need to bone up, so to speak, on rules that protect the public.

License to Own

Most major cities, such as Boston and New York City, require annual dog license renewals with a fee. While these laws are a hassle to dog owners, getting the city’s ID tags can help them find their pet if it’s lost or picked up by animal control.

For those who resent the annual payment they must make to keep their dog up to date, spaying or neutering their pet may cut them a break. In NYC for example, owners pay $8.50 for “fixed” dogs rather than $34 for one that’s intact, assumedly since this practice can cut down on the next generation of wayward pups that the city must contend with. 

National Laws

Most US government canine laws affect breeders, kennels, sellers, and service dogs rather than the average dog owner.

State Laws and Local Ordinances

State laws are generally much more detailed and can restrict the number of animals you can house or the breeds you can have. In Ohio, people convicted of a felony can’t be dog owners.

Liability laws often state that dog owners are responsible for any damages that their pets cause. Other common legal mandates are collaring and vaccination of pets.

Leash Laws

Leash laws often concern public places such as parks, beaches, and similar locations. Some apply specifically to female dogs in heat. Time of day matters, too: Using a leash after dark can prevent strangers from being frightened by dogs who run up to them in the dark. Dogs and people both use visual cues to size each other up, which gets more difficult in the dark.

For the multitude of leash laws by state, click here.


Nuisance Barking

Although dogs bark to communicate with you, those that bark nonstop are subject to regulation, as well! In many places, if your dog barks too much, your neighbors can file a noise complaint against you, which can result in fines. Your location’s legislation will outline the frequency, time of day, and duration of barks that apply. Desperate owners who find toys and treats don’t quell their dog’s vocalizations often resort to medication to mellow them out.

Other Dog Legislation

Rhode Island state law § 4-13.1-5 says that owners must not “train, torment, badger, [or] bait” dogs so that they can be used for fighting or to attack humans or other animals.

Beyond private dog owners, protections also extend to dogs that help keep the public safe. Alabama state law § 13A-11-260 cautions against interfering with police animals, including aiming a laser pointer at or taunting or tormenting them.

Dog owners who want to keep everything above-board by checking into their local rules can relax and enjoy their loyal friends. The Animal Legal Defense Fund allows you to check dog laws by state here.

Finally, in the event that you are on the receiving end of a dog attack because of a negligent home owner, a skilled and experienced dog bite lawyer can help you recover compensation for your injuries and damages.

Casey Shomo
Casey Shomo is a practicing personal injury attorney in West Palm Beach, Florida.
  • Antonio Sandra

    First day here and all i see are great articles. Legal responsibilities must be taken to avoid the ever-changing government policies. I advice all dog owners to obey these laws most especially the state law so they are safe all years round. Thanks Ops!

  • Charlie Keating

    I have personally experienced why it is vital to understand local ordinances regarding owning a dog. I had an exceptionally unfriendly neighbor who had her office at the rear of her house in our suburban neighborhood. She frequently left the window open and I could later see why this particular house could never keep tenants. First, she called the police because I was vacuuming with my patio door open at two in the afternoon. The police stopped over and let me know that she had complained but told me I was within my rights to vacuum during daytime hours. I feel like after this she went looking for ways to start trouble. The kids playing in the yard, etc. Nothing worked. She herself had two dogs, who barked just as much as every other dog in the neighborhood. My dog, in particular, liked to bark at the kid’s rabbit in the hutch but she had a short attention span and would only bark intermittently at best. So, she videotaped her barking for five minutes; literally five minutes. Unbeknownst to me, the local ordinance was that a dog could not disturb a neighbor for any period of time, not even one minute, after the first warning. I showed up in court for the ticket, the judge had her play the five-minute video and although the judge actually chewed this lady out for being ridiculous she said she still had to fine me AND make me remove my ‘nuisance’ dog from the property because she had to act within the law! Who would have thought a dog barking in a neighborhood for five minutes could result in fines and removal? Definitely learn about all local ordinances concerning your dogs! Needless to say, I live on forty acres in the country now!

  • Jon Linkon

    I know that dogs officially have to have licenses in many places but I should have the right to own a dog and not license it as long as the dog stays on my private property.