As a dog owner in the United States, it is your responsibility to be aware of (and abide by) any laws that pertain to your dog. Unfortunately, not all dog owners are aware of many of the existing pet laws and they frequently break the law without even knowing it!
It's easy to find out about the rules and regulations in your area if you're not familiar with them. Contacting your local city hall or town office will give you all the information that you need. You can also contact the animal control officer that patrols your area – they are an expert on pet laws!
Just remember that pet laws differ from state to state and city to city. If you're a dog owner, it's important that you become familiar with the laws in your local area. And, don't forget that homeowner's association may enforce their own rules. If you have to follow the rules set by an association, be sure to check and see if they are more strict than the laws of the town you live in.
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8 Laws All Dog Owners Should Be Aware Of
The vaccinations that a dog owner is required to give their dog by law may be mandated by the state or the city in which the dog owner lives. Relatively few regulations exist covering other vaccinations, however, almost every state or city has a requirement for the rabies vaccine.
For example, here's an article about vaccination laws in the state of Texas:
“The state of Texas requires that dogs and cats be vaccinated against rabies by 4 months of age.”
This requirement is in place for the safety of the human population, since rabies is almost always fatal in humans. The frequency with which the rabies vaccination must be given varies from state to state and city to city. There are also some areas which allow for owners to vaccinate their own dogs while others mandate that only licensed veterinary professionals may administer the vaccine.
Additionally, some states are beginning to implement exemptions to the rabies vaccination when a veterinarian deems the vaccination may pose a medical risk to the dog. Failure to provide mandated vaccinations may carry a range of penalties including fines, confiscation of the dog, or even jail time. These penalties are determined by the city or state of residence.
2. Pet Waste
A vast majority of cities in the United States now have local ordinances in place that make it mandatory for dog owners to pick up and sanitarily dispose of their dog’s waste when dropped anywhere except for the dog owner’s property.
These laws exist not only to keep cities sanitary, but they are also designed to prevent the spread of disease between dogs and between dogs and the human population. A good example of that are environment laws in Seattle:
- SMC 9.25.082 – (A) Allowing the accumulation of feces (civil infraction, $109.00 fine); (B) Not removing feces from another’s property (civil infraction, $54.00 fine); (C) Not having equipment to remove feces (civil infraction $54.00 fine).
- SMC 9.25.081 – (G) Keeping an animal in unsanitary conditions (criminal – animal cruelty, maximum $1,000 fine).
- SMC 18.12.080 – (C) In Parks: Failure to carry equipment for removing feces OR failure to place feces in appropriate receptacle. (civil infraction, maximum $54 fine).
Some cities have exemptions to pet waste pickup ordinances for owners of service dogs, however, these exemptions are not common and are often criticized. The penalty for failure to pick up after your dog varies from city to city, however, it almost always results in a fine.
3. Dog Licenses
In almost every city in the United States dog owners are required to purchase a license for their pet annually (although some locations offer lifetime licenses.) Additionally, the tag, which comes with a valid license, must be kept on the dog’s collar at all times. These tags are a means of tracking a dog back to their owner in the event that the dog gets lost and is picked up by animal control officers.
City governments or counties are responsible for issuing dog licenses. The fee for these licenses varies from location to location and can be influenced by a number of different factors. Service dogs, for example, may receive free licenses. Neutered pets, pets owned by the elderly, and low-income dog owners may receive reduced fee licenses.
Failure to license a dog means that two things may happen. Firstly, a dog owner caught without a license for their dog is charged a fine of an amount determined by the city or county.
Secondly, a dog that is found by animal control and does not have a license, may be euthanized much sooner than a dog with a license. In this situation, the animal control officers must make a concerted effort to contact and find the family of a licensed dog and keep the dog alive during a specified holding period.
Here's an article from Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture on licensing your dog:
“All dogs three months or older must be licensed by Jan. 1 of each year. Violators can be cited with a maximum fine of $300 per violation plus court costs.”
4. Leash Laws
Leash laws are established by the city and are designed to maintain the safety of citizens and animals themselves. While the specifics of leash laws may vary, almost every law maintains that dogs that are not on their owner’s property or in a designated “off-leash” area, must be kept on a leash and under control at all times.
There are some variations of leash laws that state that dogs must be leashed only during certain times of the day. Other variations may allow for dog owners to have their dogs off-leash if they are completely controlled.
Failure to keep a dog leashed in an area where leash laws are in effect will almost always result in ticketing and a fine. Fines are established by the local governments that set out the laws. Here's an example of related laws from the city of Austin, TX.
If you need tips and advice for teaching your dog how to walk on a leash, check out our video guide on the subject below.
FULL WRITTEN GUIDE: How To Train A Dog To Walk On A Leash
5. Dog-Bite Statutes
Dog-bite statutes are strict liability statutes that place the liability for an injury caused by a dog on the dog’s owner. The owner is liable regardless of whether or not he/she had reason to believe that their dog would cause such injuries.
A dog bite statute only applies if the injured individual did not provoke the dog and if they were peacefully acting in a space where they were permitted to be. Dog bite statutes do not solely refer to biting incidents, they may also stipulate other types of injury as well.
If a dog bite statute specifically stipulates dog bites but another type of injury takes place, the “One Bite” rule may come into play instead. We'll talk more about that in a minute. States that do not have dog bite statutes use the “One Bite” rule for dogs instead.
States that have strict liability dog bite statutes include: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Additionally, in a select few states, there are dog bite statutes in play that only enforce strict liability in certain circumstances. For example, when the dog is off leash or at large the owner would be liable for any biting issues. These states include the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
6. The “One Bite” Rule for Dogs
This is a common-law rule that is used to determine the liability of a dog’s owner in the case of an injury incident caused by the animal. The injury in question does NOT have to be a dog bite, it may be any other injury caused by the dog as well.
The “One Bite” rule states that if a dog’s owner knew or had reason to believe that their dog may cause such injury, they are liable for the injuries caused by their dog.
This rule is superseded by any dog bite statute in place. The “One Bite” rule can be argued against, however, if the bite victim is shown to have provoked the dog OR if they risked being bitten by the dog knowingly or voluntarily.
States that currently have a one-bite rule include Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.
7. Barking Dogs
Depending on where you live, either state laws or local ordinances cover the issue of barking dogs being a nuisance. In some instances, a specific law exists targeting barking dogs, but where that law is not in play, noise ordinances have similar reach.
The specific details of what constitutes “nuisance” noise from barking dogs vary from locale to locale. In general, however, dogs that bark within certain hours of the night or early morning or dogs that create an unreasonable level of noise are considered to be “nuisance” dogs.
In this case, these dog owners can expect to be held responsible. Punishment can range from warnings to fines to being forced to give up the nuisance dogs to animal control.
8. Too Many Dogs…
When it comes to how many dogs a dog owner can legally have, the law varies. Primarily, those individuals who live in rural areas have no limitations on the number of dogs they can keep so long as the dogs are cared for and not a nuisance.
Living in the city, however, is a completely different story.
Cities tend to establish citywide ordinances that regulate how many dogs are permitted in a single home. This number is generally between two and four dogs per household and households with more than this number are required to obtain special licensing and pay additional fees.
Not every city has a limit on the number of dogs that can be owned, however, that does not mean that dog owners are off the hook. In many instances, housing organizations establish rules where the city does not.
Even where housing organizations do not establish these rules, however, neighbors and communities can file nuisance complaints if they feel a homeowner has too many dogs. This usually happens when the pets cause noise, odor, or unsanitary conditions.
Other Dog Laws
Although the dog laws listed above touch on some of the most pressing issues concerning dog ownership, there are many other laws that dog owners should become familiar with.
The best place to find out about these laws and how they apply to you is to visit your city or county website and search for animal services or animal control. If you are still unable to find the information you are looking for, give the local animal control a call and ask for some direction.