If you own a dog you must:
register each dog you own
keep your dog under control when walking it
keep your dog confined to your property at other times
make sure your dog doesn't bark persistently
obey any Council orders about having your dog on a leash or disposing of your dog's droppings
stop your dog straying onto another person's property
prevent your dog chasing or attacking people or other animals
Abandoning your dog carries a very heavy penalty. You can be fined up to $1,000.
Definition of owner
Under the Act, the term 'owner' includes not only someone who keeps a dog but also someone who has a dog in his or her care. In the case of a dog attack, any person who is apparently in control of the dog before the incident will be considered the owner of the dog and liable for the damage unless there is proof that someone else is the owner.
Most of the law is the same throughout Victoria. However, councils can make their own rules on certain points, such as whether dogs have to be on a leash. If you're unsure what applies in your municipality, contact your council.
Councils can make the following laws that affect dogs and their owners:
On/off leash areas
Dog free areas
Number of animals
Council local laws or animal management office have the following powers, if they believe there are reasonable grounds:
enter and search land, vehicles or buildings (but not if it is a place of residence)
inspect animals or enclosures
request a person to give their name and address
seize or examine documents
seize or remove animals
destroy animals in certain circumstances
You must register your dog with your local Council, and then renew that registration annually. If your animal is unregistered you can be fined up to $500. Once your dog is registered, the council will send you a certificate and an identification tag showing the animal's registration number and the name of the council. Your animal must wear its tag whenever it is off your property.
Councils offer reduced registration fees to pensioners, owners of desexed dogs and DOGS Victoria members. All dogs must be microchipped to be registered, and some councils require desexing unless the dog is being used for showing or breeding.
Registering your dog means it can be easily returned to you if picked up as a stray. Registration fees are used by councils to offer animal management services.
Breaking the Law
You can be fined for breaking the law relating to dogs. Most offences are dealt with by an 'on-the-spot' fine, issued by a Council officer (much like the Infringement Notice you get for a traffic offence). The fines range from $50 to $200.
If the offence is more serious or if you keep committing the same offence, you may be prosecuted in the Magistrates Court. The fines following prosecution are higher (ranging from $100 to $1,000) and the magistrate could order you to pay court costs and damages. In the case of a dog attack, your dog may also be destroyed. You can also be sued separately for damages by a person who has suffered some injury or loss because of your animal's behaviour.
Since April 1996 the law about dogs has been set out in the Domestic (Feral and Nuisance) Animals Act 1994. It gives local Councils power to control dogs living within their boundaries. This Act replaced the Dog Act 1970. The aim of the law is to promote:
In 2007 the Act was reviewed and some changes have been made. For updates on the changes, please see The Law and You.
The Law Regarding Other People's Dogs
Your neighbours have the right to object to:
dogs creating a health risk
dogs being repeatedly on their property without their permission
dogs wandering outside their owner's premises
dogs being off-leash in an on-leash area
dogs rushing at or chasing a person or animal
dogs attacking or biting a person or animal
You can also object to other people’s dogs exhibiting any of these behaviours.
If you have a problem with your neighbour, either due to your dog or theirs, consider the following.
Talk to your neighbour
Councils have limited resources and most councils will encourage you to try to solve minor problems yourself. It is difficult for them to investigate complaints that aren't well founded or are simply part of a continuing hostility between neighbours. It is important to have reasonable expectations of normal animal behaviour - dogs can be expected to bark sometimes. Don't be too quick to react to isolated incidents, wait and see if there really is a continuing problem.
If you do have a genuine problem with your neighbour's pet, start by discussing your concerns with your neighbour. Talk about it in a friendly and constructive way. Many people don't realise that their animal is being a nuisance. Try to find a mutually acceptable solution. There may not be an immediate solution, so be prepared to be patient. It can take a while for someone to retrain their animal.
Your neighbours can complain if your dog is often noisy or disturbs the peace unreasonably. A Council officer will discuss the problem with you and offer advice on what you can do about it. If the problem continues and they don't think you are making a real effort to stop the dog barking, the Council can prosecute and you may be fined.
How can I stop my dog barking?
Many people have success with anti-barking collars (which release a citronella spray when the dog barks). However, even if you can condition your dog not to bark, you will still need to solve the underlying cause of its barking.
If your dog is barking a lot, it may be lonely, bored or not getting enough exercise. Consider what changes you can make to the dog's routine. You might want to consider joining a local [Obedience Club] and participating in their training and activities.
If you can't solve the problem yourself, you can take your dog to a trainer or to an animal behaviourist. There are some organisations which specialise in stopping dogs barking excessively. Ask your Council or local vet what help is available in your area.
Making a complaint to council
If talking to your neighbour doesn't work, you can contact your local council. The council will pursue legitimate complaints, but to pursue the matter properly they will need your help. You should be prepared to:
give your name and address to the Council
put your concerns in writing to your neighbour in the case of an unwanted dog on your property
keep records of the incidents, e.g. when you see a dog wandering on its own
sign a Statutory Declaration of your complaint if Council asks you to
be a witness if court prosecution becomes necessary
Serious Dog Offences
Any dog can attack.
Dog attacks on adults are caused mostly by dogs outside their owner's property. Keeping your dog securely confined to your property and following the rules of responsible pet ownership will help prevent your dog attacking someone.
By contrast, dog attacks on children occur mostly in the yard of their own home or another person's home. Dogs tend to attack or bite out of fear or an attempt to dominate. Children are often vulnerable targets for a dog attack, even from a dog they know and love. They may provoke aggressive responses by inadvertently challenging the dog or intruding into its territory. Children and dogs should always be supervised together. Children should be taught the appropriate way to interact with the family dog from the first day the dog is brought home. If children unfamiliar to the dog are visiting and cannot be constantly supervised, they should be separated.
Your dog can be seized and you can be prosecuted If your dog:
any animal or person.
If your dog does attack, you may be able to defend a prosecution or a dangerous dog declaration if you can show that:
the dog was being teased, abused or assaulted
another person or animal was trespassing on the premises where the dog was kept
another person known to the dog was being attacked in front of the dog.
Consequences of dog attack
As dog attacks are serious, Council officers may seize the dog and hold it while they take action against the dog owner. This could lead to a prosecution in the Magistrates Court and the dog could be declared a 'dangerous dog' -only if it caused 'serious injury'.
If the dog owner is charged with an offence by Council or police, the case will be heard in the Magistrates Court. If Council has seized the dog, they must hold the dog until the case is over and the magistrate's decision is made.
YOU are liable if your dog attacks, or injures someone! YOU may be prosecuted and ordered to pay a fine and damages. YOUR dog may be destroyed. YOU are responsible for keeping your dog confined and supervised.
Whether the council prosecutes you for dog attack or not and regardless of the outcome of the prosecution, council may also declare your dog a 'dangerous dog'. This will have serious consequences for how you must house and look after your dog. Council has power to declare a dog dangerous if it:
has caused 'serious injury' to a person or animal by rushing at, attacking, biting, worrying or chasing, is kept as a guard dog or has been trained to attack people or animals for the purpose of guarding people or property
has been declared a dangerous dog by another council
'Serious injury' means an injury in the nature of broken bones, lacerations requiring multiple stitches or cosmetic surgery, or the total or partial loss of sensation or function in a part of the body.
It's not enough for people to be afraid the dog will cause injury. A dog can only be declared 'dangerous' if it has caused serious injury.
If the Council is planning to declare a dog dangerous it must notify the owner of the dog and give the owner the opportunity to put their point of view to the Council both in writing and in person. The Council will consider all the information given to it about the dog before making a declaration.
Once the declaration has been made Council must send the dog owner a notice telling them that their dog has been declared a 'dangerous dog' and giving reasons for the declaration. An appeal against a declaration can be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Victoria.
Consequences of declaration
Your dog must be kept under strict requirements and identified as dangerous both in terms of signage and its collar and lead when out and about.
The full Domestic Animal Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, both of which affect dog owners, can be found on the Department of Primary Industries