Dogs and the Law

clean-up-after-your-dog-signAt the end of November we were very fortunate to have Dr. Anne McBride, animal behaviourist, come and see us to give an enjoyable and insightful talk on ‘Dog Ownership and the Law’.

Animals can be amazing companions. They have physiological benefits to owners. Stroking an animal can reduce your blood pressure and assist in recovery from heart attacks. Animals can stop you feeling lonely and improve satisfaction in life.

But we don’t actually have the right to own animals – the ownership of an animal is a privilege. However, there is a harmony of responsible ownership which defines much of animal law.

Responsibilities and law are not always the same thing. When we talk about responsible animal ownership it doesn’t always relate to things covered by legislation. Responsibilities include providing for the animal’s physical and psychological welfare; for example, a dog should always be given appropriate exercise, socialization and care, and adequate training.

Before getting a dog, make sure you have time for him, particularly if you work full-time. Dogs need attention, companionship, love, and lots of training play and exercise – or they may become unhappy and unmanageable. These animals depend on us.

As owners, we are responsible for our dog. A good start is to ensure a puppy is well trained and socialized, and that this is continued into adulthood. A minimum standard of obedience is to come when called, walking to heel, sit, down, wait and leave. By law, we should have control of our dog at all times in public places and be aware of other people’s attitudes and personal space. And of course we are responsible for cleaning up after our dog – it’s hygienic, good aesthetics and good manners. You can be fined £1000 for not picking up your dog’s poo!

To help with expenses, it is a good idea to take out insurance that will cover you for costs of damage caused by your dog to another person or property. For example, a dog may knock someone over, or cause a cycle accident. Veterinary bills can also be very expensive, so insurance can help with this. It is an offence to allow your animal any unnecessary suffering, so vet care is essential. Be sure to visit your vet for vaccinations, worming, flea treatments, grooming, and checking their teeth, ears and nails on a regular basis for any potential problems. Do call us or pop into the clinic for advice.

You must also remember, as crazy as it sounds, that not everyone likes animals! You will completely love your new puppy, but other people may not. With dogs in particular, a number of people are scared. Your dog needs to be safe and well behaved around other people and animals.

A detailed body of law exists for dogs and their owners. This is because dogs are the species most commonly kept that encroach on society – they make noise, they do poos, and they have sharp teeth. The keeper is liable if:

  • The dog causes damage
  • He knows the dog is ill and risks the disease being passed on to other dogs
  • The dog causes a traffic accident
  • He lets the dog out on a motorway
  • The dog harms or kills livestock
  • He sends the dog onto someone else’s land in pursuit of game

Did you know it is illegal for your dog not to wear a collar with your surname and address? If he goes missing, he can be treated as a stray and the owner is guilty of offence. Stray dogs are kept for 7 days and the owner has no rights. Within 7 days the owner can be prosecuted. After 7 days the owner no longer has any rights and the dog may be put to sleep.

By law, if you are walking multiple dogs, you must have a license to walk more than 4-8 dogs at any one time. Check with your local council about the rules and get hold of a license, free of charge.

Noisy dogs can be a statutory nuisance. Make sure your dog is not alone all day as he may get bored, bark loudly or become destructive. We actually often don’t know if our dog is noisy, e.g. excessive barking, as it commonly happens when we are not at home. It’s a good idea to ask your neighbour to let you know if your dog is excessively noisy.

Hunting with more than two dogs is illegal – hunting refers to wild mammals, not just foxes, but rabbits, squirrels and deer etc. too. It’s illegal to have three dogs on other people’s land or land you don’t have permission to hunt on. Hunting can include chasing, not necessarily killing. If you have a Terrier, be sure to keep an eye on him going below ground in search of moles, hedgehogs, etc.! If a dog is found worrying livestock he could be shot without warning by a farmer, and the owner could face prosecution.

The law is based on what is considered by society as reasonable behavior. It is there to benefit everyone. For animal owners it helps to define their responsibilities: to the animal kept, to other animals, to people, and to property. More information can be found on the Dog Law website.

Among pets, dogs are unmatched in their devotion, loyalty and friendship to humankind. Dogs are great, but owning one is a privilege as well as a responsibility – be sure you are able to provide him with a happy, healthy lifestyle.

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Ian Stroud

Veterinary Surgeon at Vet4life
Ian Stroud is a highly experienced small animal veterinary surgeon with over 15 years working in practice. He has particular interests in several areas including minimally-invasive surgery, orthopaedics and oncology (cancer treatment). He currently practices in Teddington, Shepperton and Surbiton where he is the director of Vet4life.
Ian Stroud

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