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Obligations of Working Dogs Owners

Published: 17th August 2016

Author: Rebecca Dooley, RSM Law

Published in: Rural e.Speaking | Issue #21

Most farmers will agree that working dogs play a crucial part in the day-to-day running of a successful farm. So it’s important that you’re fully aware of your legal obligations and responsibilities associated with owning working dogs. If you don’t, there’s a risk of substantial fines and possibly a conviction.

Registration and micro-chipping

All dogs over the age of three months must be registered with their local council. It’s an owner’s responsibility to register each of their dogs and to renew registrations by 31 July each year. Local councils update the National Dog Database annually which enables them to monitor lost or dangerous dogs.

Since 1 July 2006 dogs in New Zealand have had to be micro-chipped. Working dogs, however, are excluded from this requirement. Working dogs are specifically defined under the Dog Control Act 1996 as dogs used solely or principally for the purpose of herding or driving stock. Dogs of this description are not required to be micro-chipped as provided for by s36A of this legislation. Having said that, working dogs must be registered and wear a collar with the council-provided disc or label.

We stress that this exemption applies to working dogs only; any dogs kept on farms as family pets or used for recreational hunting must be micro-chipped. If you fail to register or micro-chip these dogs, you can be fined up to $300.

Dangerous dogs

Dog owners are often distracted by their pet’s loyalty and personality, and forget that their dog may not greet strangers in the same loving manner as they greet them. Unfortunately, dog attacks are becoming more frequent and often make news headlines. The Dog Control Act was established to ensure owners are aware of their responsibilities and to ensure that their dogs are controlled at all times.

Many people come on to farms including family, friends, posties, vets and contractors. It’s not safe to presume that because your dog is on your property that it will not be bound by the provisions in the legislation.
If your dog attacks a person, another animal or protected wildlife, you may be fined up to $3,000 and your dog may be destroyed.
If your dog causes serious injury (or death) to a person, animal or to protected wildlife you may be imprisoned for up to three years or fined up to $20,000.

If your dog attacks a person or animal and no destruction order is made, your local council can classify your dog as dangerous, meaning it must be kept within a fenced area, neutered, muzzled and kept on a leash in public places.

Protection of working dogs

It’s difficult to hear about the mistreatment of working dogs, however it’s a reality that is around us. If someone abuses or neglects a dog which leads to that animal’s death, they can be banned from owning dogs in the future. In the worst case scenario, they could receive a fine of up to $100,000 and be sentenced to up to five years in prison. If an individual receives multiple fines or is found guilty of a serious offence, councils may ban that person from owning a dog for up to five years. Furthermore, councils have the right to seize any dog from an owner if they consider the animal to be at risk or if that owner has been previously banned.

Look after your dogs

It’s important to understand the obligations associated with owning working dogs. It’s your responsibility to ensure that each of your dogs is property registered, adequately cared for and controlled within their environment. Failure to do this can be devastating (on many fronts) and may possibly result in fines or conviction which impact not only on your dog but also you as the owner.

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