Irresponsible Dog Owner Law

An “irresponsible dog owner law” is intended to identify and penalized chronically irresponsible dog owners. The penalties for such include losing their dogs and paying a substantial fine.

This type of law is in accord with the general legal presumption that dogs are friendly to mankind. “Harming a human being is regarded as contrary to a dog’s nature.” Drake v. Dean (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 915, 921. “[Because][t]he great majority of dogs are harmless… the possession of characteristics dangerous to mankind… is properly regarded as abnormal to them.” Restatement 2nd of Torts, section 509, comments d and f.

Because a normal dog is naturally friendly, responsibility for a dog’s viciousness usually can be found elsewhere, particularly at the doorstep of the dog’s owner. Dog owners need to fully understand that their actions usually are the cause of a dog being dangerous. No matter what breed of dog is involved, the dog can present a substantial danger to one’s family, friends and community if the dog is mistreated, not cared for properly, not socialized, chained, injured or ill. The responsibility for all of these conditions must be bourne by the dog owner, harborer or keeper (except for temporary keeper). A breach of one’s duty toward a dog can result in tragic and even fatal consequences befalling a friend, family member or neighbor.

Because this type of law is aimed at repeat human offenders of animal control laws, it is in keeping with principles such as “punish the deed, not the breed,” and “put responsibility on the other end of the leash where it belongs.”

A number of jurisdictions already have enacted some form of irresponsible dog owner law. For example, the city of Omaha, Nebraska, has the following “reckless dog owner” ordinance:

Omaha, Nebraska, Code of Ordinances, section 6-1:

Reckless owner: An owner who has been convicted of one or more violations of this chapter on three separate occasions in a 24-month period or who has not complied with the requirements for ownership of a dangerous or potentially dangerous animal.

The following is a model irresponsible dog owner law by Attorney Kenneth Phillips, the author of Dog Bite Law. The city, county or state that enacts the Dangerous Dog Owner Law can revise the definition in section (b)(2) to include other unwanted conduct. The definition can make specific reference to the Dangerous Dog Law if both are enacted. This law can be enacted with the Model Dangerous Dog Law.

Model Irresponsible Dog Owner Law

by Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, Author of Dog Bite Law (


a. This statute / ordinance and its sections shall be referred to as the Irresponsible Dog Owner Law.

b. An “irresponsible dog owner” is a person who —

1. Owns, keeps or harbors one or more dogs, and,

2. Has violated, three or more times, one or more ordinances or statutes that prohibit a dog from running at large, trespassing, creating a nuisance by defecating, being off leash, being unmuzzled, or being in a dog park in violation of a rule of that dog park, or prohibit cruelty to animals, or chaining or tethering a dog.

c. An irresponsible dog owner shall be penalized in one or all of the following ways:

1. He shall be fined $500.00 upon the first conviction hereunder, $1,000.00 upon the second conviction hereunder, and $2,500.00 upon the third conviction hereunder.

2. He shall be ordered to surrender all of his dogs to animal control authorities and to refrain from owning, keeping or harboring those dogs or any dog or dogs for a period of three years.

d. An animal control officer, city or county prosecutor, or private person may petition the court for a declaration that a person is an irresponsible dog owner and that he be penalized as provided herein.

e. Upon petitioning the court, the accused shall be given notice as in civil cases that if he does not appear before the court and show cause why he should not be declared an irresponsible dog owner, then he shall be declared an irresponsible dog owner and shall be penalized as provided herein.

f. At the court hearing to determine whether the accused is an irresponsible dog owner, the court may admit into evidence all relevant evidence, including but not limited to prior convictions, incident reports and affidavits of witnesses. A jury shall not be available. The court may find, upon a preponderance of the evidence, that the accused is an irresponsible dog owner and, upon such finding, shall imposed the penalty or penalties provided in section (2) hereof.

g. Dogs surrendered or impounded pursuant to this ordinance shall be adopted-out if possible, or else shall be euthanized.

h. Disposal of a dog or dogs by any method specified herein does not relieve the irresponsible dog owner of liability for violations and any accrued charges.

i. The court may not grant probation to an irresponsible dog owner except in extraordinary circumstances, and under the condition that the next violation under section (b)(2) or any other animal control law shall result in imposition of the full penalties prescribed by section (c) hereof.

j. A violation of an order made under section (c)(2) hereof shall be punishable as a contempt of court in addition to any other penalties under this or any other law.

k. The provisions hereof shall be in addition to any other civil, criminal or administrative laws, regulations or causes of action against the owner of the dog or any other person, firm, corporation or governmental entity or employee.