Dog ownership laws

Laws around dog ownership can be difficult to deal with. Dogs are classed as property under the law, despite the emotional attachment owners have towards their four-legged friends. DAS Law’s Bethan Mack explains.

25th October 2019

When there is a dispute between two people who think that they should own a particular dog, the courts can be asked to decide, on the basis that the animals are legally classed as items.

A claim like this could be for:

  • Legal ownership
  • The return of the animal
  • Damages for the wrongful keeping of the animal

The court may consider many different elements such as who bought the animal and who the person who actually provides for the animal on a day to day basis is.

It is also a possibility that the court could decide that the dog is owned jointly and if an agreement on who should have it cannot be found, could order that the dog to be sold and the money shared. Another option would be for the court to decide on shared ownership, so that each person could have the dog for half a year each.

In the case of a divorce, the ownership of a dog is decided at the same time as all other matrimonial items. Interestingly however, the court does not however possess the legal power to order that someone gives access to a dog.

Finding and losing dogs

If you lose your dog then you should immediately inform the local authority and keep in contact with them. The latter is crucial because the council may give the dog to someone else if a week has passed and you have not attempted to get it back – however, the legal ownership does not transfer to the new owner, and you may still be able to claim your dog back if you come forward at a later date.

If you find a dog without an owner, i.e. a stray dog, then it is your duty to return the dog to its owner or report it to the local authority. If you keep the dog, as it may be considered theft.

In the event that no owner is found, then you may be permitted to keep the dog, but there is the possibility that the original owner could still claim it back.

Dog identification and tracking

The Control of Dogs Order 1992 makes it a legal requirement for dogs that are in a public place to wear a collar and tag with the name and address of the owner inscribed on it. Failure to do this would not only mean it harder to retrieve your dog if it went missing, but you would also be committing an offence and could be fined up to £5,000.

And since April 2016, it is also a legal requirement for all dogs to be microchipped by the time they are eight weeks old. This can be done by a vet, animal charity or local authority, and may be offered as a free service. You could be fined up to £500 if your dog is found not to be microchipped.

Local authority responsibilities

Local authorities have a duty to collect and register all dogs that are found or handed in. Complaints about stray dogs will be responded to as promptly as possible, normally within two days. The local authority appoints an officer to have day to day responsibilities over the dog.

If they can identify the owner, a notice will be served on the owner to claim the dog. The local authority may charge the owner all expenses incurred e.g. kennel costs, any treatment received.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

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