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.

How your dog could get you in trouble with the law

What are the legal rights of pet owners and those who are fed up with other people’s nuisance pets?

March 2022 Learn more
Why won’t my employer give me a day off to grieve for my dog?

When a student from Glasgow took a day off work to mourn the death of her 14-year-old dog, she lost her job.

August 2019 Learn more
When a dog bites another dog

What can you do if your pet is attacked by someone else’s dog, and what can you expect if your dog harms another?

April 2018 Learn more

Read more from the DAS Law blog

General advice , Protecting your business 5 things you need to know about missing the self-assessment tax return deadline

With 31 January deadline fast approaching, time is ticking for the UK’s 5.4m tax payers to submit their Self-Assessment tax returns.

January 2024
General advice , Motorcycling What to do if the council won’t fix the potholes on your road

Corey Evans, Associate at DAS Law clarifies the legal position around damage caused by potholes and the possible repercussions for those who seek to resolve them themselves.

January 2024
General advice , Employment disputes Be on your best behaviour at your work Christmas party

Charlotte Ellis. Legal Adviser at DAS Law, looks at the rules surrounding the office Christmas party.

December 2023
General advice , Property disputes How far you can legally go to stop someone from playing a trick on you this Halloween

Halloween is generally a ‘spooktacular’ time for all but a few bad apples can spoil the fun. So what can you do if someone chooses to play a trick and damages your property?

October 2023
General advice Facial recognition cameras – what your rights are

Where does the law stand on the use of facial recognition software? Elisa Ribeiro, legal adviser at DAS Law, tells you what you need to know.

May 2023
General advice , Motorcycling Motoring offences: drivers need to keep up to speed on the rules of the road

Breaking any speed limit (including temporary speed limits) is an offence, and it is the driver’s responsibility to be aware of the law.

April 2023
Road traffic accidents , General advice Highway Code updates for autonomous vehicles

As the emphasis on electric vehicles (EVs) increases and the technology behind automated vehicles evolves, the Highway Code has been updated to include key guidance on the new types of vehicles on our roads.

September 2022
General advice Let’s get this royal street party started!

Many people across the UK will be celebrating the Queen's Jubilee with a fun-filled street party, but what do you need to consider in preparation for the big day?

May 2022
General advice , Property disputes Everybody needs good neighbours. But what can be done if someone refuses to be neighbourly?

What happens when a neighbour’s plant is growing across onto your property? And what can be done if a neighbour’s tree is blocking the light into your garden?

May 2021
General advice , Covid-19 NHS Covid-19 Test and Trace App: What happens to our personal data?

Legal adviser Chloe Williams explains how much we know about how the app works and what happens to the personal information we share.

November 2020
General advice , Covid-19 University tuition fees and accommodation costs in a Covid-19 world

Universities have switched to online lectures and some campuses are imposing strict social distancing measures – what rights do students have?

September 2020
Road traffic accidents , General advice What the new rules have to say if you are planning to ride your own e-scooter

E-scooters may have become commonplace on our streets over the last few years but technically they are illegal…that is until now, sort of. But what do owners and riders need to know?

July 2020
General advice , Motorcycling What you should know about cycling laws

Where does the law stand on helmets, safety cameras and cycling offences? Chloe Williams, Legal Adviser from DAS Law, has the answers.

June 2020