What is the Law on Dogs in Public Places?

With millions of dog owners sprinkled throughout South Africa, ‘man’s best friend’ is a common sight all around the country. Wherever you go, or whoever you meet, it’s quite likely that you’ll always be in close proximity to an overly-affectionate pet. For many people this may sound like a cause for celebration, but, unfortunately, our furry friends don’t get to ignore the law just because they’re cute. There are many restrictions relating to dogs and other pets which regulate their movement and govern the actions of their owners. With this in mind, we would do well to ask ourselves a couple of important questions, like – Can I let my dog out in public areas? Can it be taken away from me? And what happens if it gets attacked? What is the Law on Dogs in Public Places?

For the most part, dogs are allowed in public open spaces so long as they are on a leash and under control. That said, you should always check the area for signage first, as certain locations may have been designated as ‘no-dog zones’. Additionally, certain dogs may be restricted from public spaces if they are known to be ferocious, dangerous, prone to attack/chase people, etc.

While there are various rules and protections placed on pets/pet owners by different acts in South Africa, more specific legislation can usually be found in the by-laws of certain areas.

What is the Law on Dogs in Public Places?
What is the Law on Dogs in Public Places?

Although these regulations are broadly similar, there are minor variations here and there, and individuals are encouraged to research the legislation relevant to their area before they take their pets out in public. 

Do you Have to Keep your Dog on a Lead in Public Places?

Yes, you do. When in public, dogs should always be kept on a leash and under control.

That last point is quite important because simply having a leash on your dog won’t necessarily save you from trouble if it is being held by a person that can’t hope to rein in the animal (a small child, for instance)

In other words, when you take your dog out in public, make sure that you are in an area which allows animals, and make sure that the dog’s lead is being held by someone who can actually hold back the animal. 

Also, even when your dog is leashed, you may not take them into public when they are known to be wild and ferocious, as mentioned above, or when they are an unsterilised female in heat. 

Are you Allowed to Let your Dog Roam the Streets?

No, you are not. As mentioned, dogs must always be kept on a leash and under control when they are in public areas. 

Dogs found wandering the streets can be seized and impounded by authorities and may eventually be sold or destroyed if they are not reclaimed. 

Can my Dog be Taken Away from Me?

Yes, it can. The law states that an authorised officer can seize and impound an animal under certain circumstances, such as when the animal is being abused. Additionally, authorised officers often have the power to destroy dangerous or diseased animals. 

The SPCA has also been given the authority to seize mistreated animals in certain situations. 

What is the Law on Dogs in Public Places?
What is the Law on Dogs in Public Places?

Can you Sue if your Dog is Attacked by another Dog?

In most cases, yes, you can. In South Africa, dog attack cases are generally settled using the ancient Roman law of actio de pauperie

Broadly speaking, this law relates to the concept of strict liability in which liability may apply to the owner of the attacking dog even if there was no real fault on their part or intention to harm the other person.  

When your dog is attacked by another person’s dog, you may be able to claim damages from the owner of the animal so long as you are able to prove the following points – 

  • The person you are making the claim against was the owner of the attacking dog at the time of the attack
  • The attacking animal must have been a domesticated animal 
  • The attacking animal must have acted contrary to the general nature of domesticated dogs 
  • The conduct of the attacking dog must have caused the damages

If, as it happens in certain cases, the attack occurred when the dog was not acting contrary to its nature as a domesticated animal, the claimant will instead have to prove that the attack occurred due to negligence on the part of the owner.

This is an important point to note as there are certain instances in which the attack may be considered a natural reaction on the part of the other person’s dog. 

For example, if your dog jumps over the neighbour’s fence and begins to provoke or attack a guard dog within their own territory, a court may rule that any subsequent attacks were within the normal scope of behaviour for a guard dog.  


What Can I Do If My Neighbour Leaves Their Dog Outside?

Before we jump into this question, it would be prudent to point out a major distinction between the possible answers, namely – Is your neighbour leaving their dog outside their house (but still on the property), or are they leaving their dog outside their property entirely?

If your neighbour is leaving their dog outside their property (ie, roaming around the road/neighbourhood), then that is against the law and their dog may be seized and impounded by authorities. Obviously, calling the police probably shouldn’t be your first move as your neighbour may have left their dog out by accident. Call your neighbour and inform them of the scenario. If they refuse to do anything, or if this becomes a regular occurrence, then you may want to consider reporting the issue. 

If, on the other hand, your neighbour is keeping their dog outside but still on their property for long periods of time, you may worry about the safety of the animal as it deals with the cold, heat, etc. 

Leaving an animal outside without adequate protection from the elements is a criminal offence and can result in fines, prison sentences, seizure of the animal, etc. 

If any animal is not allowed inside, owners should make sure that they have some form of protection against the weather such as a kennel.

If you believe that an animal is being mistreated, you can call the SPCA to investigate and remedy the issue.  

What is the Law on Dogs in Public Places?
What is the Law on Dogs in Public Places?

In Conclusion – What does the Law say about Dogs in Public Places?

Most of the rules and regulations pertaining to animal care in an area come from the local municipal by-laws. These laws may differ slightly, but they generally follow the same basic guidelines, namely – 

  • Dogs are normally allowed out in public so long as they remain on a leash and are under control. 
  • Certain locations may be marked as ‘no dog zones’. 
  • Dogs may not be allowed out into public if they are known to be dangerous, prone to attack people, etc. 
  • Unsterilised female dogs in heat are not allowed in public

Dogs which are left to wander the streets unattended may be seized by authorised officers and impounded. Such seizures may also occur when animals are being mistreated and the owners of such animals may face criminal prosecution. Additionally, the SPCA does have the authority to perform such seizures in certain scenarios. 

If someone else’s dog attacks you or one of your pets, you may be able to sue them so long as you can prove the following – 

  • The person you are making the claim against was the owner of the attacking dog at the time of the attack
  • The attacking animal must have been a domesticated animal 
  • The attacking animal must have acted contrary to the general nature of domesticated dogs 
  • The conduct of the attacking dog must have caused the damages

Such cases involve something called strict liability, which means that the owner of the attacking dog may be found liable for their pet’s actions even if there is no allegation of fault or malicious intention on their part. 

If the dog was acting in line with the general behaviour/nature of a domesticated animal, the claimant will have to prove that the attack occurred due to negligence on the part of the owner instead. 

Lastly, it is illegal to leave your pets in certain unsafe environments. This includes leaving your dog outside (but still on your property), without adequate protection from the sun, rain, etc. Animals left outside without protection (kennels, for instance) may be seized and impounded and their owners may be guilty of animal cruelty. 

Impounded animals may be sold or destroyed if they are not reclaimed after a certain amount of time has elapsed. 

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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