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Legal Requirements for Dog Owners

Code of Practice for the Private Keeping of Dogs (Extract)

1. Preface

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 is administered by the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR). It has the purpose of protecting animals, encouraging the considerate treatment of animals and improving the level of community awareness about the prevention of cruelty to animals.

Care should be taken when introducing a new puppy or dog into a household with existing dogs or cats. Introduce the new animal slowly and under supervision to ensure any conflict over territory or hierarchy is controlled.

Old dogs and growing puppies should be exercised with care as they are more easily exhausted than other dogs. Overexercise in growing pups can cause joint problems.

2. Purpose of the Code

The Code and its provisions are to be observed by owners, carers and custodians of dogs.

Responsible Dog Ownership


Dogs have been associated with humans for over 10,000 years. Domestic dogs' breeding, care and feeding are totally controlled by humans.

In Australia, 37% of households have a pet dog. As well as valuable companions, they also serve as working partners, herding dogs, substance detector dogs, guard dogs, guide dogs for the blind and in more recent times, hearing dogs and helper dogs.

Dogs are excellent animals to keep as a pet providing valuable companionship. However owners need to understand their dog's requirements and ensure they provide proper care and protection to ensure a happy healthy life for their pet.

It is important to start looking for a missing dog immediately, as pounds only hold dogs for 8 days, after which they may be euthanased or rehoused.

It is a legal requirement to hand over stray dogs as soon as possible to the local Council as they are the first point of call for any owner who has lost their dog. They will check the dog for identification, such as a registration tag or microchip, which can identify the owner. Just because a dog is straying does not mean it is unowned or unwanted.

Councils have specific local laws regarding dog management and dog owners need to be aware of these and abide by them. Local laws/orders cover issues such as numbers of dogs allowed per property, requirements for leashing in public places and picking up and disposal of a dog's faeces deposited in public areas.

Legal responsibilities

Owners must provide their dog with proper and sufficient food, water, shelter and veterinary treatment.

Dogs must be treated humanely.

Stray dogs must be handed to the local Council as soon as possible.

  • - dogs must be registered with, and identified as required by, the local Council;
  • - dogs must be confined to their property;
  • - dogs must not be allowed to create a nuisance problem e.g. constant barking;
  • - dogs must be leashed in public places (as required by legislation or local laws);
  • - requirements for dangerous, menacing and restricted breed dogs must be complied with.


Dogs must be fed a diet that provides proper and sufficient food to maintain good health and meet their physiological requirements.

All dogs, especially any that receive offal as part of their diet, must be given regular treatment to control intestinal parasites and worms.

Dogs need to be fed a well-balanced diet to maintain health, vitality and body weight.

Adult dogs should be fed once a day to ensure requirements are met but not exceeded, to avoid development of obesity.

A dog's body condition needs to be monitored regularly to ensure its diet is adequate, and dogs should be maintained in the 'ideal' body condition range.

Factors such as size, age and life stage of the dog, activity level, medical requirements, and climate impact on the diet required.

Puppies have special feeding requirements and require more food per kilogram of body weight because in addition to energy for activity, they need extra nutrients for growth. A number of small meals need to be provided daily as their daily requirement of food is greater than their stomach can accept in one feed. At weaning, puppies should be provided with 3-4 meals spread evenly throughout the day, reduced to 2-3 meals per day around 16 weeks of age, and then the single meal of the adult dog around 6-9 months of age.

Puppies should be fed on commercial puppy food or a balanced diet discussed with a veterinarian to ensure nutrient requirements are being met.

Dogs should be fed raw bones regularly as part of a balanced diet and for good dental health. Cooked bones should not be fed as they can splinter and lodge in a dog's throat or intestine causing severe constipation. Dogs who have trouble chewing bones need to be provided with an alternative chewing item.

A separate food bowl needs to be provided for each dog and maintained in a clean condition.

Offal should not be fed to dogs because of the risk of transfer of hydatid tapeworms and risk of transfer to humans. If offal is fed, it should first be well cooked or deep frozen to kill any parasites and dogs given regular treatment for hydatids and other intestinal worms.

Owner responsibilities

Owners are responsible for the health and welfare of their dog(s) and must provide both the basic necessities and a good quality of life for their dog(s).

Choose a breed/type suitable to your lifestyle and circumstances. The following factors should be considered:

  • - size of the adult dog;
  • - breed temperament;
  • - breed associated genetic disorders that may develop later in life, ensure parents have been tested for such disorders where possible;
  • - exercise requirements for the breed/ type of dog;
  • - activity level of dog;
  • - grooming requirements;
  • - ease of training and skills of owner/ handler;
  • - dog type i.e. working, guard, retriever etc.;
  • - cost of care and feeding.

The majority of dogs are normal, healthy, non-working, non-breeding animals. These have the least demanding nutrient requirements, and the main nutritional concern is overfeeding and obesity rather than nutrient deficiencies.

Appropriate amounts of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals will be provided by a complete commercial dog food. Alternatively a balanced home prepared diet can be provided. 

The quantity of food required is usually indicated on the food package label, expressed in relation to the dog's body weight and breed type.

Obesity is a major health and welfare problem for dogs, and often not recognised by owners. It is important to regularly assess whether a dog is receiving too little or too much food by its body condition and weight.


Dogs must have access to clean drinking water at all times. Water containers must be checked daily and maintained in a clean condition. Water containers should not be easily tipped over and should be refilled often enough to provide access to water twenty-four hours a day. Water containers should be of a design that is easily cleaned and does not cause injury to the dog. If puppies are present, the container should not be so large or deep that they can fall in and drown.

As a general guide, the amount of water needed daily by an adult dog is 50ml water per 1 kg of body weight.

An individual dog's daily water requirement depends on a number of factors including daily temperature, amount of exercise, water content of diet; i.e. greater water requirements if fed dry food compared to canned food, age, etc.

Health and disease

A dog's health and welfare must be checked daily.

Veterinary advice must be promptly sought for dogs showing signs of injury, ill health or distress.

Dogs must be treated regularly for internal and external parasites and vaccinated against common diseases.

A daily health check should include examining the dog's physical condition, checking for signs of ill health and that the dog is eating, drinking, toileting and behaving normally.

It is important to present sick or unwell animals for examination early in the course of a disease as this gives the veterinarian the best opportunity to quickly return the pet to good health.

Dogs should receive an annual health check by a veterinarian. More frequent checks may be needed for older dogs or those with health/welfare problems.

Regular vaccinations for the control of contagious diseases, as well as preventative treatments for internal; i.e., worms and external fleas and parasites, need to be provided to safeguard the general health of dogs. Frequency of treatment depends on the product used and life stage of the dog. Puppies need more frequent worming than adults.

Dogs should receive regular check ups of their teeth for dental problems and be fed raw bones or appropriate chewing/ teeth cleaning substitutes.

Dogs should be groomed regularly. Severe matting of the coat is not acceptable and may require a veterinarian or groomer to deal with this. To avoid matting of the coat. dogs require regular grooming, shampooing and routine clipping.

If a dog's claws are too long they should be trimmed. However, if not done correctly it can cause bleeding, so a veterinarian or an experienced person should undertake this procedure. Flea allergies, mange and other skin disorders need special treatment.

Keep any poisons or chemicals used in the house, garden or work place stored away from areas to which a dog may have access. Most common poisonings of dogs result from access to snail or rodent poisons.

Dogs with white hair, or white or non-pigmented nose, eyelids or ears can be prone to sunburn and skin cancers. Precautions, such as use of sunscreen, should be taken to protect the vulnerable areas or alternatively keep dogs indoors or in shaded areas during the heat of the day.

Some animal diseases and parasites are transferable to humans (zoonoses) so it is important that those handling dogs practice good personal hygiene.

Dogs can appear resilient to pain and may go quiet or hide as a response to injury or disease. This does not mean that they are not in pain or injured.

Human medicines should not be given to dogs except on veterinary advice.

Breeding and reproduction

A breeding dog must be fit, healthy and free of disease.

Puppies must not be separated from the mother before 7 weeks of age and not be sold or given away until 8 weeks of age or older.

If it is not intended to use a male or female dog for responsible breeding purposes, they should be desexed by a veterinarian from 8 weeks of age and preferably before puberty (4-6 months).

Desexing has positive welfare and health benefits for dogs, as well as reducing tendency to stray, particularly in male dogs. Dogs do not 'need' to have a litter of puppies for their psychological or physical welfare.


Minimum Standards

  • - Dogs must be provided with a weatherproof sleeping area and shelter from sun, wind and rain.
  • - Kennels must be large enough for the dog to stand, turn around and lie comfortably.
  • - Dogs must be confined to the property at all times, unless under the effective control of the owner or handler.
  • - The area a dog is confined to must have secure fencing that the dog cannot get over, under or through.
  • - Where dogs are housed in enclosures or restricted areas they must meet the minimum size requirements.
  • - Enclosures need to allow dog(s) to move freely, urinate and defecate away from sleeping and eating areas and be cleaned daily so that enclosures are free of faeces.
  • - Vehicles must not be used as permanent housing for dogs.
  • - Each dog must have its own sleeping area and food bowl.
  • - Dogs must be given adequate daily exercise outside of enclosures.
  • - Adequate ventilation must be provided if dogs are housed in enclosed areas or buildings.
  • - All housing areas for dogs must be maintained in a safe, clean and hygienic condition at all times.

The following requirements are part of the Code of Practice for the Tethering of Animals:

  • - tethered dogs must be trained to accept tethering and require greater supervision and owner vigilance than other untethered animals;
  • - water and weatherproof shelter must be available and within the dog's reach at all times;
  • - collars must be fitted with a swivel to which the tether is attached and be checked daily;
  • - dogs less than four months old, bitches in season and bitches about to give birth must not be tethered;
  • - dogs must not be tethered to movable objects or adjacent to a fence in a manner that places them at danger of death by hanging; dogs must be given regular daily exercise off the tether.

Suitable accommodation and carers must be provided for dogs when owners are away; i.e., boarding kennels that are registered with the local Council or ensure a responsible person is providing the necessary daily care for the dog.

Fencing of yards or enclosures should meet the following requirements:

  • - a minimum height of 1.8 metres (shorter fencing may be suitable for small dogs);
  • - constructed of: brick, concrete, timber, iron or similar solid materials; or
  • - chain mesh manufactured from 3.15 mm wire to form a uniform 50mm mesh; or
  • - weldmesh manufactured from 4 mm wire with a maximum mesh spacing of 50 mm; or any combination of those materials;
  • - constructed and maintained in a manner to prevent the dog being able to dig or escape under, over or through the perimeter of the premise
  • - for dogs that dig or escape under fencing, concrete footings or wire buried into the ground should be used

Where more than one dog is housed in an enclosure ensure that they are socially compatible - to avoid fights. Each dog needs to have its own sleeping area and food bowl. Bedding needs to be provided to minimise the risk of pressure sores and arthritis. Metal kennels should be placed in a shaded area or an alternative shelter provided for dogs in hot weather.

Dogs should be kept out of areas with swimming pools unless supervised as they may fall or jump into a pool and drown if they are unable to climb out or get caught in a pool cover. Tethering is regarded as a temporary method of restraint that is not suitable for long-term confinement. In preference, dogs should be confined in a secure yard or properly constructed dog pen.

Dogs that escape the yard and roam the streets are susceptible to being injured by cars or through attack by other dogs or may become lost and impounded. Roaming dogs can also cause injury to other animals or people, for which owners are legally liable.

Electronic collar confinement systems do not meet the requirements for confinement of dogs to property and should not be used.


Dogs must not be transported in the boot of a car.

Dogs must not be left unattended in the car if there is a possibility of heat stress or in extreme cold. Dogs must be properly tethered or restrained on the back of a moving vehicle or trailer, in a manner that prevents the dog falling, hanging off or being injured. Dogs being transported in a cage or other appropriate container must be able to comfortably stand, turn around, lie down and act normally.

When travelling, dogs must be provided with adequate ventilation. Containers must have multiple ventilation holes on at least three sides of the container.

Dogs should be adequately restrained when travelling inside a vehicle. Unrestrained dogs can cause accidents. In case of an accident, an unrestrained dog may become a projectile and damage itself and/or the occupants of the vehicle.

Dogs are not allowed to travel with their head out of the car window. This is a road traffic legal requirement. Additionally, dirt can enter a dog's eyes, ears and nose, causing injury or infection.

If a dog must be left in a parked car, lock all doors, park in a shady area and open the car windows wide enough to provide ventilation. Leave water available in a container that will not tip over. The interior of a car can rapidly become hot enough to cause heat stress or death in a dog, even on mild days.

Carry dog food, water and a leash and stop regularly to allow the dogs some exercise and a toilet break. When the driver stops for a break, water should be offered to dogs.

Training, Socialisation and Exercise

Training methods used with dogs must not cause pain or suffering.

Dogs must be given regular exercise. Dogs must not be exercised in any way attached to a motor vehicle due to the danger of serious injury.

Never leave young children and dogs together unsupervised by an adult.

Dogs exercised from a bicycle must be healthy and fit and have been trained to be led from a bicycle.

Dog behaviour and safety is the responsibility of the owner. Dogs need to be trained and regularly exercised (daily if possible).

Dogs should be gradually familiarised with any new experience, e.g. a harness for restraint in a car. Socialise a dog with other dogs and people, particularly during the formative 8-16 week period. Teach family, friends and children to leave dogs in peace when eating, sleeping or if sick or injured.

Dogs should have regular and frequent contact with their owner(s), other people and dogs outside of their yard as they are social animals and human contact is important.

Puppies should be socialised with a range of people and animals and exposed to a variety of experiences so they are confident with these situations later in life. Training and socialisation should be an ongoing commitment throughout the dog's life but are particularly important during the formative first 8 –16 week period of life.

Check/correction chains should only be used when training dogs.

Examine dog collars daily for any sign of rubbing or injury. A collar needs to be tight enough that it cannot easily slip off but not so tight that it rubs or chokes the dog.  Ideally you should be able to slip two fingers between the collar and dog's neck. Dogs should be on a leash at all times in public areas unless in an off-leash area at which times they should be under control of the owner/carer.

Dogs should not be exercised if the weather is too hot, as they suffer easily from heat stress.

Dogs should not be exercised immediately before or after eating as it can cause bloat.

Exercising of dogs from a bicycle is not recommended.

Dogs should be trained and socialised to prevent nuisance behaviours such as excessive barking. Nuisance barking is an offence under the Domestic Animals Act 1994 and you may be prosecuted if it is not rectified.

Injury and other potential welfare risks for dogs

Injured or ill dogs must be promptly taken to a veterinarian or animal shelter with a veterinary clinic for examination and treatment.

Most injuries to dogs can be prevented if they are kept confined to the owners property. Dogs wandering are in danger of injuries from a car or fights with other dogs.

An injured dog should be handled carefully as it can react aggressively from fear and pain. It should be supported property, confined and a veterinarian consulted as soon as possible. If the dog cannot be safely handled, contact the local Council so the dog can be picked up and taken for treatment by trained dog handlers.

Many dogs are fearful of fireworks and/or thunderstorms. Bring dogs inside during such times or, if this is not possible, make sure they are confined securely so they cannot escape or harm themselves. 

What if you are unable to keep your dog?

It is an offence to dump or abandon dogs or puppies.

Circumstances may arise that mean owners are no longer able to keep a dog. In this situation, find a new home for them, take them to an animal shelter, surrender them to the local Council or have a veterinarian euthanase them.

Abandonment of dogs is illegal.


Euthanasia must be humane.

Dogs or puppies must not be killed by being drowned, poisoned or gassed.

Euthanasia should be done by a registered veterinary practitioner or person appropriately trained in humane euthanasia. The recommended method of euthanasia is by lethal injection administered by a veterinarian, however a gun shot at close range into the brain by a licensed and proficient person is also acceptable.

Gassing using car exhaust fumes, drowning and poisoning are not humane methods of euthanasia.

Further reading

The Domestic Dog (1995) by James Serpell (ed.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Everydog (1996) by Eric Allan and Rowan Blogg, Oxford University Press,Sydney.

Doglopaedia. A Complete Guide to Dog Care (1997) by J.M. Evans and Kay White, Ringpress Books Ltd., Gloucestershire.

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