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What you need to know about dog control law
IntroductionDog law focuses on improving dog control and increasing public safety around dogs. At the same time, the right and ability of people to enjoy owning dogs is protected.
While no law can stop all dog attacks, the law encourages responsible dog ownership and provides councils with more dog control enforcement powers and tools.
The key dog control tools are registration of all dogs over three months old, microchipping all newly registered and nuisance dogs and the National Dog Database. Together they help councils to enforce owner responsibilities, keep track of problem dogs and enable an owner and their lost or stolen dog to be reunited.
Safety around dogs is a combination of good law, good enforcement, compliance by dog owners and community support.
RegistrationThe Dog Control Act 1996 requires all dogs over 3 months old to be registered with their local council every year by 1 July. Registration fees are set by councils to take into account the cost of providing dog control services in their area and the balance between dog owners bearing the costs of dog control and the benefits to ratepayers of having safe and well controlled dogs in their community.
Every council must keep a record of all dogs registered. All councils provide information on the dog and its owner along with its microchip number (if it has one) to the National Dog Data Base (NDD).
Microchipping All dogs registered in New Zealand for the first time (except working farm dogs, which are exempt) are required to be microchipped using an approved microchip, correctly inserted. Microchipping was introduced in July 2006 and provides a simple, lifelong way of identifying dogs and linking them to their owner, making dog control easier and more effective. Microchipping is required for:
- Dogs first registered since July 2006, except farm dogs used for working stock
- Dogs classified as dangerous or menacing, including dogs classified since 1 December 2003
- Unregistered dogs that are impounded
- Registered dogs that are impounded twice.
National Dog DatabaseThe National Dog Database holds information on all registered dogs including registration details, microchip number (if applicable), breed and year of birth. Contact details of owners are also recorded.
Local councils supply and maintain information held on the database. The data base is managed by the Department of Internal Affairs The information on the database is not available to the general public.
Powers of councilsCouncils are requred to have a dog control policy. This includes setting registration and other fees and stipulating leash-free exercise areas and areas where dogs must be kept on a leash or where they are prohibited (except for disability assist dogs).
Councils can disqualify someone from owning a dog, or declare them to be a probationary dog owner for certain types of offending specified in the Act, and they can require probationary owners to take part in an approved dog education programme and/or a dog obedience course.
Dog control officers can seize dogs not under direct control of a person or not fenced in (i.e. free to leave the property) along with dogs that are straying, unregistered, are aggressive, or not receiving adequate food, water or shelter.
Menacing and dangerous dogsCouncils have powers to declare a dog menacing or dangerous in certain circumstances, including if the dog is considered a threat to any person, animal or protected wildlife.
Menacing dogs include those that a council believes poses a threat to public safety because of their behaviour or the characteristics of the breed. Councils must also classify a dog as menacing if there are reasonable grounds to believe it belongs wholly or predominantly to one or more of the breeds or types of dog that it is illegal to import into New Zealand (under Schedule 4 of the Dog Control Act). Currently these 'banned' breeds are American Pit Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino, Brazilian Fila, Japanese Tosa and Perro de Presa Canario.
Other breeds or types of dogs can be added to the list of restricted dogs, but only after an Order in Council is agreed by Parliament.
Menacing dogs must be muzzled when in public and councils may require them to be neutered.
Dangerous dogs include those where an owner is convicted of an offence under 57A of the Dog Control Act, or where, on the basis of sworn evidence, the council believes a dog is a threat to public safety or where the owner records in writing that it is a threat to public safety.
Dangerous dogs must be kept in a fenced part of the owner's property, must be muzzled, on a leash in public and neutered.
FinesThe penalty for owning a dog involved in an attack causing serious injury is up to three years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $20,000. The penalty for not registering a dog is $300 as it the penalty for not microchipping a dog if required to do so.
Owner responsibilitiesThe law emphasises that owners are responsible for controlling their dogs. This includes using or carrying a leash when taking a dog out in public.
What happens when a dog is impounded?Councils are responsible for enforcing dog control laws. This diagram shows what typically happens when dogs are impounded for roaming.
See also: Microchipping Questions and Answers
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