Common Dog Laws

Most jurisdictions have laws affecting dog owners and ownership. Some of these laws make perfect sense, while others are ineffective and potentially damaging to responsible dog owners and their dogs. Be sure you know your local laws and keep track of proposed laws. If you don't like them, let your voice be heard. Vote. Here are a few of the more common types of laws affecting dog owners.

Chew on This

Officials who are charged with enforcing breed-specific bans are rarely knowledgeable enough about dogs to properly identify breeds. In one study, law enforcement officers and city council members contemplating a ban on “pit bulls” were shown photos of dogs and asked to pick out the Pit Bull Terriers. Among the dogs picked were a Boxer, a Pug, a Bulldog, a Labrador Retriever X Boxer cross, and a terrier mix.

Breed Bans

Laws banning certain breeds or mixes containing certain breeds have sprung up in recent years. Breed bans are usually passed in the wake of several attacks, or a single especially awful attack, by a dog or dogs of a particular breed. Concern and fear about vicious dogs are legitimate, to be sure. Unfortunately, breed bans don't address the real issue and they create problems of their own.

The real problem behind the bites and full-out attacks that prompt legislation banning specific breeds is not the breeds but the irresponsible owners of individual dogs. Some breeds, granted, are more likely than others to be big, strong, protective, or even aggressive. In the hands of responsible owners who socialize, train, and control them, most members of those breeds are less of a threat to their neighbors than the ill-tempered little “pet” dog that was never socialized or trained and bites the neighbor's child.

A more effective approach is to hold owners responsible for the behavior of their dogs and to pass laws that put strict controls on ownership of aggressive dogs regardless of size or breed. Enforcement of laws already in place, including leash and confinement laws as well as license laws, would also help.

Leash Laws

Nearly every jurisdiction in the country has a leash law of some sort. A leash law is one that prohibits dog owners from letting their dogs run loose. In other words, dogs must be confined or leashed.

Why? Shouldn't dogs be able to follow their hearts and noses and live a life of carefree canine abandon? In a word—no! There may have been a time when dogs could run loose and live happy, carefree lives, although I doubt it. We should remember that most dogs lived short lives in the “good old days” and often died young of distemper, rabies, other diseases, infection, injury, and other causes. If they harassed livestock or threatened people, they were shot. Unwanted litters were drowned or otherwise dispatched. We've come a long way in humane care of animals (although there's plenty of room for improvement in today's society).

Leash laws are also meant to protect public health and safety. They prevent dogs from forming packs that can attack livestock, pets, and even people. Leash laws help prevent the spread of some diseases and parasites. Loose dogs in modern society can even present a traffic hazard if drivers try to avoid hitting them on busy streets. Above all, leash laws are in part a way to keep dogs safe.


Many areas require dog owners to purchase licenses for their dogs. Revenue from dog licenses often goes to help support local animal shelters, although it usually amounts to only a small portion of the annual funding. A license attached to your dog's collar is one way of increasing the chances that you'll get him back if he gets lost. Licenses are also one way to promote rabies vaccinations, since proof of vaccination is nearly always required for a license.

Number Limits

Many communities place a limit on the number of pets a person can own. But again, such laws don't address the real problem—irresponsible owners. The laws are meant to prevent nuisances, but they don't. One little dog allowed to run loose, potty in the neighbors' yards, leap on the neighbors' kids, threaten or chase people, and otherwise wreak havoc is a nuisance. One dog left in the backyard to bark all night is a nuisance. On the other hand, a responsible person can manage quite a few dogs without letting them be a problem for neighbors at all—and a responsible person knows his or her own limits.

Pet limits are also difficult to enforce, and they encourage otherwise responsible dog owners to break the law. Laws limiting pet ownership solely on the basis of numbers have been challenged successfully in several communities around the country.

More on: Pets

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Dog © 2003 by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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