Working Dog Legal Issues
Dogs can suffer terrible injuries if not secured properly while on moving vehicles. They can be hit by other cars or suffer strangulation when their leash has allowed them to fall over the vehicle's side.
It is a legal requirement to secure dogs on moving vehicles (eg. utes, trays, and trailers) so they cannot fall or jump from, or be injured from the movement of, the vehicle. This law does not apply to dogs when they are in the process of moving stock.
When securing dogs, ensure the restraint is long enough to allow the dog to stand, lie down and move about, but doesnt enable the dogs front or hind legs to reach the side of the tray when the dog is standing normally. Attach the restraint by a swivel to an anchor point against the vehicle cabin. Fix the other end of the chain to the dogs harness or leather collar with another swivel to stop the chain from tangling.
Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, the penalty for breaking this law is approximately $500 in fines and/or six months jail.
Under the Domestic Animals Act 1994, all dogs three months of age and over must be registered with the local council. Existing registrations must be renewed by 10 April each year. Dogs must wear their council identification marker when off the property. Check with your council to find out how many dogs you can keep before you need to get a permit for excess animals.
Registering and identifying dogs improves their chances of being returned to you if they become lost. Registration fees also provide a wide range of other important services.
You are eligible for reduced registration fees if your dog is kept for working stock. To be eligible, the dog must be used primarily for the purpose of droving, tending, working or protecting stock. Contact your local council for details.
All dogs being registered with a Victorian council for the first time, must also be microchipped. This gives dogs a permanent means of identification, and ensures they can be returned to you if they become lost and lose their collar and tag identification.
Ideally, dogs should be kept in securely fenced areas, or where adequate fencing is not available, in pens. The use of electronic collar containment systems does not constitute adequate fencing (the use of these collars is also regulated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986). Tethering should only be considered as a last resort and regulations that apply to tethered dogs are discussed below. Regardless of how they are housed, dogs must always have ready access to a kennel, shed or other protection from the elements and for sleeping. Kennels should be of an appropriate size for the particular animal, have adequate ventilation, and if made of metal, should be kept out of direct sunlight or should be effectively insulated.
Dogs also require daily exercise appropriate to the age, health, working status and breed of the individual animal. Tethered dogs should be allowed off for a minimum of 2 hours daily.
Pens should provide enough space for each dog to comfortably move about and lie down, and provide areas for urinating and defecating that are well away from feeding and sleeping areas. Pens need to be drained appropriately to allow water to run off, and kept hygienic with regular cleaning (it may also be necessary to seal the surface of pens). A separate pen should be used for any whelping bitches.
You can be fined under the Domestic Animals Act 1994 if your dog is not securely confined to your property.
Tethering of working dogs
While tethering is not recommended, where it is unavoidable, the "Code of practice for the tethering of animals" (call 136 186 for a free copy) sets out a number of safety requirements, as follows:
- A suitable tethering site should be chosen that is reasonably flat, free of obstructions (including rocks), and not be situated in a waterlogged or flood prone area.
- Dogs must not be tethered adjacent to a fence or other obstacle in a manner that places them at danger of death by hanging.
- The site must provide a minimum tether radius of three metres allowing six metres of run.
- A suitable kennel must be provided for shelter from the elements and for sleeping.
- Dogs must be able to easily reach their kennel, food and water supply.
- The location of the kennel must not cause a threat of entanglement.
- The acceptable material for a tether is metal chain.
- Fixed and running tethers require the fitting of an appropriate collar, with a swivel to which the tether is attached. Fixed tethers must be fixed to an anchor point (preferably with another swivel) that allows 360 degrees of movement at ground level, and allows the dog to cover the area without tangling. Running tethers must have a strong wire that is secured at either end to trees, fences or posts, but must have stops at either end to ensure the tether can't become entangled or injure the dog.
- As a duty of care you are legally responsible for the welfare and supervision of any dogs that you have tethered. Tethered dogs must be inspected regularly (eg. at least twice during daylight hours in each 24 hour period, and increased to three times or more in very hot weather). All tethered dogs should be let off tethers at least two hours per day during daylight hours.
- Collars, tether chains, swivels, wires and anchor points must be regularly inspected for signs of wear.
- Dogs must not be tied closely together unless under very close supervision.
- Dogs less than four months old should not be tethered.
- Dogs must be closely monitored when tethered for the first time, until it is certain they have adapted to tethering.
- Bitches in season must not be tethered where entire males may have access.
- Bitches about to give birth must not be tethered.
Legally you are responsible for providing an adequate level of health care for dogs in your possession to avoid prosecution under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986. There are requirements for adequate nutrition and health care standards. Within these legal obligations you are required to attend promptly to issues of animal welfare. This legal obligation includes providing appropriate pain relief and veterinary care to injured dogs.
See below for detailed information about health issues that can affect working dogs.
Attacks on stock
Under the Domestic Animals Act 1994, you can face substantial fines and claims for damages if your dog attacks a person or animal. Dogs found guilty of an attack can also be humanely destroyed or declared dangerous (resulting in very strict controls on the dog's housing, exercise and ownership). In addition, the Domestic Animals Act 1994 allows under certain conditions for the owner of livestock to immediately destroy dogs found at large near livestock (ie. in the place where livestock are confined or in the vicinity in which they are tethered).
Even friendly domestic dogs or working dogs that would never attack a person can still attack stock if allowed to wander unsupervised. There are a number of things you can do to prevent dog attacks:
- Ensure your dogs are always securely confined when not working (see "Housing" section for details).
- Never allow dogs to play with livestock (during play dogs learn the hunting skills for later attacks).
- Don't encourage other dogs to visit even if they belong to a neighbour.
- Check your property boundaries regularly, keeping fences repaired and gates closed. Attacking dogs will enter via open gates and through, over or under the weakest parts of fences.
- Listen for signs of attacks - don't ignore disturbances during the night (for instance the sounds of stock running or prolonged barking by your own dogs may indicate an attack).
- Check your livestock regularly - count them each morning and look for minor injuries or behaviour changes (for instance, huddling in small groups, staying close to the house, or avoiding certain parts of the paddock).
- You can use other animals (eg. horses, donkeys, cattle, alpacas and maremma flock protector dogs) as protection for livestock such as sheep and goats, if kept in the same paddock with them.
If other dogs attacking your own livestock are a problem, there are a number of things you can do:
- Firstly, notify your local council. Your council can send out an officer to collect the dogs and will be able to inform you about where you stand legally with respect to this threat to your stock.
- Try to give an accurate description of the attacking dog or dogs. You may be able to catch friendly dogs (some dogs involved in stock attacks may be quite safe when around humans).
- Immediately treat injured livestock - few animals are killed outright by dogs, but they can suffer serious injuries that may require veterinary treatment or may have to be destroyed humanely.
- If the dogs cannot be identified and caught or destroyed, you will need to be on alert for several weeks after an attack, as dogs will often return to an attack site. If you have small numbers of stock, you may be able to confine them in a pen or secure area, or alternatively keep animals close to the house.
In the event of a suspected attack or if you have incurred stock injury or loss the local council needs to be notified immediately.
The issue of wild dog attacks on stock is not covered here - for more information on this issue, contact the Customer Service Centre on 136 186.
Compared to children in urban areas, children in rural areas have a higher rate of injury due to dog bites. Children are often attacked by a dog they know (either in their own home or that of a friend or neighbour), and injuries can be severe. Refer to preventing dog attacks in the home and preventing dog attacks in public places.