Basic Dog Laws

Basic requirements

1. License your dog

Dog owners are required to license their dogs with the city or, in unincorporated areas, the county.

2. Vaccinate for rabies

This is a requirement in most states, and you may need to supply proof of vaccination to license your dog.

3. Obey leash laws

Using a leash is safer for you and your dog anyway; unleashed dogs can get lost, hit by a car, or bite a person or other animal.

4. Scoop your dog’s poop

Many cities require owners to scoop their dog’s poop immediately. As anyone who’s stepped in dog poop knows, it’s the right thing to do anyway.

To find out your city’s laws, check the official web site for your city or call them; to find state statues, check out Nolo Press’s online resource.

Landlords and pets

As much as you may be tempted, it’s a bad idea to sign a lease that forbids you to have a dog–even if the landlord or manager verbally assures you that it’s okay–or sneak a dog in. You may wind up facing eviction, scrambling to find new housing that allows pets, or–most heartbreaking of all–taking your dog to the shelter in desperation. Moving is the number-one reason people abandon their pets, and about half of those animals are euthanized. Read our advice on points to consider before signing a lease.

Dog bites

You are legally responsible for keeping your dog from hurting people or damaging property. If you don’t, you may have to pay a fine or even do jail time–not to mention shell out for someone’s medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, or lost livestock. The country’s leading dog bite lawyer shares his tips on what to do if your dog bites or is bitten by another dog.

Dog barking

Most cities have ordinances against dogs going on barkathons, or at least general noise ordinances that include barky dogs. If your dog barks long and loud and someone complains repeatedly, you may wind up having to pay a fine or even get rid of your dog. You could also be sued for money by an angry neighbor in small claims court. Find out how to handle a neighbor’s incessantly barking dog.

Dangerous dog laws

Some cities and states have ‘dangerous dog’ laws that require owners to take extra steps to protect the public from their dog. So what’s a dangerous dog? In some areas, a judge or public health official must declare a dog dangerous after a public hearing. In other areas dogs of certain breeds, such as Pit Bulls and Rottweillers, are automatically considered dangerous–even if they’ve never shown a single sign of aggression.

At the very least, the owner of a ‘dangerous dog’ will be required to keep the dog confined carefully and perhaps muzzle him in public; at most, the dog can be seized and euthanized.


Animal Legal and Historical Web Center

Every Dog’s Legal Guide

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