Whether you already have a dog or are considering adding a pooch to your family, there are laws that you need to be aware of to ensure your dog is properly cared for.
There are more than 20 pieces of legislation relating to dog ownership in the UK. Knowing what these are will help you understand your responsibilities and ensure that your dog’s welfare is taken care of.
To help you get to grips with the various laws and regulations, we’ve listed them in this handy guide, which is a simple explanation of the different pieces of legislation and not legal advice. Please note that these laws only apply to England and Wales, as legislation may differ in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Your dog’s wellbeing: Animal welfare laws
Looking after your dog is important, after all, we all want our pets to be happy and healthy. This is why there are laws in place to ensure the welfare of dogs and other domestic animals.
Every pet owner has a legal duty to provide for their pet’s welfare. As outlined in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, pets have a right to:
- Be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease
- Be housed with or apart from other animals
- Live in a suitable environment
- Eat a suitable diet
- Exhibit normal behaviour patterns
Failing to ensure the wellbeing of your dog and to look after your pets can mean you’re at risk of prosecution. This can mean up to 51 weeks in prison and a fine of up to £20,000. People can also be banned from having pets.
Ear cropping or docking
In England and Wales, it’s illegal to crop a dog’s ears. This covers whole or partial docking.
Ear docking is painful and damages the way that a dog can communicate both with people and with other animals.
If someone is found to have docked a dog’s ears, they can face up to six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
Tail docking is also against the law, although there are some exceptions.
A dog’s tail can be removed for medical reasons, such as damage or cancer when there isn’t another treatment option.
If a dog is going to become a working dog, their tail can be docked if they are a puppy less than five days old. However, this exemption only refers to specific breeds, with defined breeds being different in England and Wales.
If it is found that a dog has had their tail docked illegally, the owner can face up to two years in prison and an unlimited fine.
Electric shock collars
Collars that give dogs electric shocks – including anti-bark collars, those operated by remote and collars linked to electric fences – are banned in Wales. These collars are painful for dogs and can make them afraid.
Using electric shock collars in Wales can lead to a prison sentence of up to 51 weeks, as well as a fine of up to £20,000.
Causing unnecessary suffering to a dog or any other animal is a criminal offence and can mean you face up to six months in prison and a fine of £20,000, as well as being banned from keeping animals in the future.
Ensuring your dog can be identified is required by law. Dogs have to have a microchip and a collar with a tag when out in public.
Microchipping your dog
All dogs need to have a working microchip with the owner’s details registered on an authorised database. Owners also have to keep their details up to date in the database.
The law covers dogs and puppies over eight weeks of age, which means that puppies have to be microchipped before going to their new home.
Puppies should be microchipped with the breeder being registered as the owner. If a breeder fails to have puppies microchipped and to register their details before they are eight weeks old, they are breaking the law. The correct paperwork should then be passed onto the new owner when the puppy goes home and the owner must update the details in the database.
If you rehome a dog, you should also pass on the microchip registration paperwork so the details on the database can be updated to reflect the new owner’s contact details.
If you don’t get your dog microchipped and registered on an approved database, whether you are a breeder or owner, you can be fined up to £500 and face prosecution. You can face the same punishment if you don’t keep your details up to date in the database.
Identity tags and collars
All dogs are also required to wear a collar with identifying information on it when out in public, even if they have a microchip.
This has to include your name and address, which can be on the collar itself or inscribed on an identity tag. It is also a good idea to put your phone number on the collar to make it easier to contact you if your dog gets lost. It’s recommended that you don’t put your dog’s name on their collar as this can make it easier for thieves.
If your dog doesn’t have a collar with your information on it, you can be fined up to £2,000.
Dogs at home
Controlling your dogs at home, as well as on someone else’s property, is important. It’s illegal to allow a dog to be “dangerously out of control” both on private property and in public.
This means that you need to ensure that your dog isn’t a risk to people entering your home, such as postal workers, delivery drivers and others who visit your home. If a person feels that your dog may hurt them, they can be classed as “dangerously out of control” even if they haven’t bitten or caused a physical injury to someone.
There is an exemption in place if your dog bites someone who is on your property illegally, such as someone committing a burglary.
If a dog attacks someone, whether in their owner’s home (including the front and back gardens) or on private property, such as a pub or shop, the owner can be prosecuted.
All dogs bark now and then, whether it’s because someone has knocked on the door, they’re scared by noise, such as fireworks, or they’re playing. However, barking a lot over a long period of time can be classed as a noise nuisance.
Typically, barking a lot over a long period of time is a sign of distress. This can be caused by separation anxiety, being left alone for too long, being nervous or wanting attention. If your dog barks a lot continuously, you should try and determine the cause and deal with it to ensure your dog is happy.
If you fail to stop your dog from barking for long periods, it can be classed as a “statutory nuisance”. In this instance, the environmental health department from your local authority can ask you to stop your dog from barking. Failure to comply can mean they take your dog away from you.
Dogs in public
There are often specific laws or restrictions within your local area, so it is a good idea to check your local authority’s website to ensure you’re not breaking any of these.
If you take your dog to certain parks or outdoor spaces, these may also have set rules in place that you will need to follow, such as dogs needing to be kept on leads or not being allowed in certain areas.
It’s also important to keep control of your dog in public spaces. They shouldn’t be able to injure someone or make someone afraid that they could be injured.
If your dog hurts a person, you could face up to three years in prison for injury, 14 years in prison for death, an unlimited fine and be banned from owning pets. Dogs who cause injury could also be destroyed.
If no injury is caused but your dog is deemed to have been “dangerously out of control”, you can still face six months in prison, be banned from owning pets, face a fine of up to £5,000 and have your dog destroyed.
Picking up after your dog
People failing to pick up after their dogs is often the number one complaint to councils. Dog fouling is not only unpleasant, but dog poo can also cause illnesses in people, wild animals and livestock. It can also spread illnesses to other dogs, such as parvovirus.
This is why it is so important to pick up after your dog and to dispose of dog poo bags correctly. This means that if you can’t find a bin while out with your dog, you have to take the poo bags home to dispose of in your bin.
The only exemption from dog fouling rules is for owners of assistance dogs who have a disability which means they can’t pick up after their dog, such as a Guide Dog being walked by a registered blind person.
If you fail to pick up after your dog and dispose of poo bags correctly, you can be issued a fixed penalty notice of £100. If you’re prosecuted for not complying, you can be fined £1,000.
Dogs on leads
There’s no overarching law about keeping dogs on leads in public spaces, however, there are regulations that require you to keep your dog on a lead in certain areas, such as parks, beaches, children’s play areas, sports pitches and roads.
You should check whether your local authority has any Public Spaces Protection Orders in place that require your dog to be walked on a lead in certain areas. Failure to follow these orders can result in fines or fixed penalty notices.
Dogs around livestock
If you walk your dog in an area where there is livestock, you must ensure they don’t “worry” the livestock. This means your dog should be kept on a lead and be prevented from attacking or chasing livestock, as well as being out of control in a field of sheep.
Worrying livestock can cause stress that results in miscarriages, even if your dog doesn’t attack the animals.
Even if your dog is usually fine off-lead with other animals, new sounds or smells can excite them, so it is important to put them on their lead even if you only think there is livestock nearby.
Not only can you be fined up to £1,000 if your dog worries livestock but farmers can also shoot dogs they believe are worrying their livestock.
Dogs and cars
The Highway Code states that you must restrain your dog and other animals when you’re driving. This is so they are safe from injury if you stop suddenly, cannot hurt you and don’t distract you from the road.
While breaking the Highway Code doesn’t mean you’ll get punished, if you are involved in an accident and your dog is found to have not been restrained correctly, the police can charge you with driving without due care and attention. This can result in a fine of up to £5,000 and up to nine points on your licence. It could also invalidate your car insurance.
Walking your dog near roads
Your local authority may have rules in place that mean you have to keep your dog on a lead when they are being walked near designated roads. These roads should be marked with signs.
While there is no blanket rule on walking dogs near roads, it is a good idea to keep them on their lead to stop them from running into traffic, getting injured and causing accidents.
Dogs injured on a road
If your dog is injured by a vehicle on the road, the person driving the vehicle needs to give their name and address to you. If no owner can be found at the time, such as if a dog has escaped from a garden or gotten off their lead, the driver needs to report the accident to the police within 24 hours.
If your dog injures someone on the road
If your dog causes an accident on a road that causes an injury, illness or death, you can face claims being made against you that require you to pay liability. This can be expensive, so third-party insurance that covers legal fees and compensation can be a good idea.