Off-Leash Dogs – State and Local Regulations

October 19, 2019
We often run into off-leash dogs, either in the city or in the woods. Even though the existing regulations aren't very clear, there are some important guidelines you must take into account.

The idea of ​​strolling around with our dogs off-leash is always attractive to most of us. Especially as the days become warmer. Who wouldn’t want pets to be able to run free so they can enjoy nature on their own terms? Unfortunately, we must comply with laws and there are many on this subject.

Most cities around the world have specific regulations. They establish certain limits and conditions for walking with off-leash dogs in public areas. Logically, each state and country have the autonomy to pass their own laws, as they must consider the specific needs of their inhabitants.

Off-leash dogs – laws

There are many states with state-wide dog leash laws and requirements. If a state doesn’t have them then the local governments – such as counties, towns, cities, municipalities, and boroughs – enact their own leash laws.

However, even where there are state-wide leash laws, some state governments allow local governments to pass their own leash laws. Usually, local laws are stricter than state laws. Contact your local government for more information if you have any questions about the leash laws in your neighborhood.

Note that there are many state laws that order aggressive dogs to be on a leash and muzzled in public areas at all times for public safety.

Only two states state that a dog must be under the control of their owner when off their premises: Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Michigan provides the clearest example of a statewide leash requirement. For instance, section 287.262 states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to allow any dog . . . to stray unless held properly on-leash.” There are numerous exceptions in the law including working dogs, guard dogs, and hunting dogs.

Pennsylvania law is not as clear in regard to the restraint requirement. Their law states that it’s “unlawful at all times for the owner of any dog to fail to keep the dog:

  • Confined within the premises of the guardianship
  • Firmly secured by means of a collar and chain or another device so that it cannot stray beyond the premises on which they’re secured
  • Under the reasonable control of a person when engaged in lawful hunting, exhibition, or field training.”

Off-leash dogs in public areas

A dog in a field.

Many states prohibit dogs from running or roaming at large. Many of those states, like Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wyoming, do this indirectly by giving local governments the authority to enact ordinances that prohibit dogs from “running at large.”

Other states directly forbid running at large. For example, Wisconsin law says that a dog found running at large is subject to impoundment. A dog is considered to be running at large in this state if they’re off their home premises and not under the supervision of their owner or pet-sitter.

New Hampshire declares a dog a “nuisance” if it’s running at large. That is, “off the premises of their owner or keeper and not under the control of any person by means of personal presence and attention as will reasonably control the conduct of such dog, unless accompanied by the owner or custodian.”

Minnesota allows any person to seize, impound, or restrain any unlicensed dog found running at large. Maine and Louisiana both provide that it’s unlawful for a dog guardian to allow their dog to run at large.

Delaware and Connecticut also make it unlawful for a person to allow their dog to run at large, meaning that the dog isn’t under the strict control of their owner.

Wildlife areas, parks, and other public places

There are other state leash laws that are specific to the areas they visit with their owners. For instance, a person is guilty of a misdemeanor in Alabama if their dog is off the leash in a wildlife area.

Similarly, it’s illegal for any dog guardian in New Hampshire to allow their dog to run at large in a territory inhabited by game birds or quadrupeds. This is also the case on lands where livestock is pastured. This law is in effect all year round.

Likewise, Arizona requires that a dog be “physically restrained by a leash, enclosed in a car, cage, or similar enclosure” when at a public school or park. Delaware imposes a fine to those owners who allow dogs on state coastal beaches during the spring and summer.

Finally, Massachusetts and West Virginia have some unique state laws regarding restraint requirements. Massachusetts requires you to restrain a dog by chain or leash at any public rest area. In turn, in West Virginia, a dog can’t be on the grounds of any government buildings without a leash.

Potentially dangerous dogs

A jumping dog.

A few states also require that dogs remain on their home premises. That is, they’re not allowed to roam around when a rabies quarantine order is issued. In the case of Arizona, a rabies emergency requires that owners either confine the animal or use a leash. It must be no longer than six feet away when not on the owner’s property.

When the health department of Ohio issues a rabies quarantine, a dog can’t leave their home premises off a leash. Additionally, they must be under the supervision of a responsible person at all times.

Thanks for reading. You may also like to read our featured article below – it’s about dog walking regulations in your area.

  • Dirección General de Tráfico. El perro y la seguridad vial. Extraído de: http://www.dgt.es/PEVI/documentos/catalogo_recursos/didacticos/did_adultas/el_perro.pdf
  • Real Decreto 287/2002, de 22 de marzo, por el que se desarrolla la Ley 50/1999, de 23 de diciembre, sobre el régimen jurídico de la tenencia de animales potencialmente peligrosos. Extraído de: https://www.boe.es/buscar/doc.php?id=BOE-A-2002-6016