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Communtity Law Manual | Neighbourhood life | Dogs: Care and control of your dog

Dogs and other animals

Dogs: Care and control of your dog

The Dog Control Act 1996 sets out the law about legal obligations of dog ownership, including their care, control and owner responsibilities for damage caused by their dog. Local councils also have bylaws about the control of dogs, the areas where dogs are allowed (and when) and rules for keeping dogs.

Care of dogs

Dog Control Act 1996, s 54

You must make sure your dog gets proper care and attention, including enough food, water, shelter and exercise. It’s a criminal offence to fail to do this – you can be jailed for up to three months or fined up to $5,000.

If your dog is ill or injured, you must make sure it gets treatment for any unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress. There are criminal penalties if you don’t do this.

Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations 2018,

regs 12–15

There are also these rules for specific situations and issues:

  • Muzzles – You must make sure the muzzle doesn’t physically harm the dog or stop it from breathing normally, drinking, panting or vomiting.
  • At home – Your dog must have access to a dry, ventilated, fully shaded area that’s big enough for it to lie down, stand up and turn around naturally, and where the dog isn’t too hot or too cold.
  • Dogs left in cars – You have to make sure the dog isn’t compulsively looking for the coolest, most shaded part of the car and isn’t showing one or more signs of heat stress (excessive panting, or excessive drooling, or hyperventilation).
  • Dogs on moving vehicles – If your dog is on an open deck or trailer on a public road, you have to use something like a cage or short tether to make sure the dog doesn’t fall off or hang off the deck or trailer.

Animal Welfare Act 1999, s 11

If you’re concerned that someone else’s dog is being mistreated, you can contact the local SPCA, the local council’s dog control officer or the police.

Control of dogs

Dog Control Act 1996, ss 52, 52A, 54A

A dog owner must keep their dog under control at all times, even when at home. If a dog is found on someone else’s property or in a public place and it is not under control, it can be seized by a dog control officer or dog ranger and returned to its owner or impounded.

Other than working dogs, if a dog is not on a leash in public then its owner must carry a leash. Even so, many councils require that dogs are on a leash in certain public places.

Note: If you have an assistance dog (disability assist dog), you can bring them into any public place. See the chapter “Disability rights” under the heading “Assistance dogs (“disability assist dogs”)”.

Damage done by dogs

Dog Control Act 1996, s 63

A dog owner is generally responsible for any damage their dog does, for example, digging up a neighbour’s plants.

If the dog owner doesn’t agree to pay for the damage, the neighbour can make a claim in the Disputes Tribunal.

Registration and microchipping

Dog Control Act 1996, ss 36, 36A

By the time a dog is three months old, it must be registered, and then it must be registered annually for the rest of its life.

Dogs also have to be microchipped when they’re first registered. However, this doesn’t apply to working farm dogs (that is, those kept only or mainly for herding or driving stock).

Barking dogs

Dog Control Act 1996, s 54

If a neighbour’s dog is causing a nuisance by persistent and loud barking or howling, you can complain to the dog control section of their local council.

A dog control officer or dog ranger can:

Dog Control Act 1996, s 55

  • go on to the neighbour’s property at any reasonable time to inspect the conditions under which the dog is kept, and
  • whether or not they do an inspection, give the neighbour a written notice requiring them to stop the dog causing a nuisance and, if necessary, to remove the dog from the property.

Most councils will only serve a notice if they have received more than one complaint.

The neighbour has the right to object to the notice to the local council within seven days. The local council will decide whether to confirm, change or cancel the notice. If the neighbour does object, the views of the person who complained can be heard.

Unless the notice is cancelled, it is an offence not to comply with the notice. The penalty is a fine of up to $1,500. The dog control officer or ranger may also remove the dog.

Dangerous dogs (dogs attacking people or animals)

Dog Control Act 1996, ss 57, 57A, 58

If you see a dog attacking a person, you have the right to seize or destroy the dog to stop the attack. You can also seize or destroy a dog if you see it attacking any livestock (sheep, for example) or poultry, or any domestic animal (like a cat or other dog) or any protected wildlife.

If a dog rushes at, startles or attacks a person, animal or vehicle, causing someone to be endangered, injured or killed, or causing any property to be damaged or endangered, any person can also seize or destroy that dog.

If the dog is seized, it must be handed over to a dog control officer, a dog ranger or the police as soon as practicable. They can either impound the dog or, if that is not practicable, destroy it.

The owner of the dog can be fined up to $3,000 and made to pay for any damage caused by the attack.

If the dog has caused serious injury to a person or has killed any protected wildlife or injured it so badly its destruction is necessary to prevent further suffering, the dog owner is liable to up to three years imprisonment and a fine up to $20,000.

The court must also order destruction of the dog, unless there are special circumstances.


Animal Welfare Act 1999, s 31

Dog-fighting is illegal in Aotearoa New Zealand, and so is any other animal-fighting.

It’s illegal not just at the time the fight happens – it’s against the law to own, possess (that is, to have the animal even if you’re not the legal owner), train or breed dogs or other animals for the purposes of using them in fights.

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