Insights & Articles
Legal Responsibilities of a Dog Owner
Canada is a nation of dog lovers. As of 2018, 41% of households in the country had a least one dog. We love them and treat them as members of our family. However, many people are often surprised to learn that they have significant legal responsibilities with respect to their beloved animals.
In Ontario, those responsibilities are governed by a statute called the Dog Owners’ Liability Act (the “Act”). All dog owners in the province must comply with this legislation or risk fines of up to $10,000. It creates strict penalties for the owners of any dog that poses a danger to the public.
Of particular note, “owner” is defined very broadly in the legislation. It includes anyone who “possesses or harbours” a dog. This can include someone who is walking the dog (for example, a hired dog walker) or someone who a dog is temporarily residing with (for example, if friends are staying at your home and bring their dog). Accordingly, you may be legally responsible for a dog that does not belong to you in the traditional sense.
Under the Act, dog owners must exercise all reasonable precautions to prevent their dog from:
- Biting or attacking a person or domestic animal; or
- Behaving in a manner that poses a menace to the safety of persons or domestic animals.
This may seem intuitive. However, if your dog does bite or attack a person or domestic animal it does not matter what actions you took as their owner. You are legally responsible for any damages that result, even if you took every precaution to prevent the attack. There is no requirement to prove negligence. If you own a dog, you must be prepared to accept these consequences.
In addition to being legally responsible for any damages that your dog may cause, the Act allows the courts to make specific orders with respect to your dog for the protection of the public. If the court finds that your dog has bitten or attacked a person or domestic animal or they find that your dog’s behaviour is such that it poses a menace to the safety of persons or domestic animals, the court may order:
- That the dog be put down; or
- That the owner of the dog take specified measures for the purposes of public safety (ex. the dog must be confined to the owner’s property, the dog must be on a leash and/or muzzled at all times in public, the dog must be neutered or spayed)
The bottom line is that dog owners must take every safety precaution with their dog. If you know your dog has aggressive tendencies, keep it on a leash and/or muzzled in public. In off leash areas, such as dog parks, make sure you act responsibly and keep an eye on your pet. If you fail to do so, it may result in significant consequences for you and your dog.