Every dog has the potential to bite. Regardless of whether you think your dog is friendly or not, owners should be aware of their legal obligations and the consequences of their dog attacking any person or animal, or others wise causing a nuisance.

Legal consequences around safety issues

Because dog attacks are quite common in New Zealand, we have special laws that dog owners must be aware of in order to help prevent attacks from occurring.

Consequences of a dog being involved in an attack may include:

  • The owner of the dog can be prosecuted and depending on the offence, be liable upon conviction to a fine of up to $20,000 or three years imprisonment. In cases where a dog attack prosecution results in a conviction, an order must also be made for the destruction of the dog, except in exceptional circumstances.
  • The offending dog may be impounded and held by the Council.
  • The dog owner is liable for any costs or damage arising from the dog's attack.
  • The dog owner may be issued with an infringement offence notice under the Dog Control Act 1996. Infringement offence fees under the Act range from $100 to $750. Council may instead choose to issue a warning notice if the circumstances allow it
  • The offending dog may be classified as a menacing or dangerous dog. Both of these classifications require, as part of their effects, the dog to wear a muzzle at all times when in public, and for the dog to be desexed. 

If a Dog Control Officer has good cause to suspect an offence against the Dog Control Act 1996 or the dog control bylaw is being committed, they can enter onto any land or premises at a reasonable time to inspect any dog appearing to be kept there and the conditions in which any dog is kept, and if authorised by the Act, to seize and impound any dog on the land or premises. 

This does not include a dwelling house unless the officer is authorised by a warrant under the Search and Surveillance Act 2012, and is accompanied by a constable

Probationary or disqualified owners

Any person convicted of an offence under the Dog Control Act 1996 (apart from an infringement offence) or having received three or more infringement notices within a two-year period, must be classified as a disqualified owner unless the Council decides that disqualification is not warranted, or decides instead to classify the person as a probationary owner.

  • Disqualification continues in force for a period specified by the territorial authority (Council), not exceeding 5 years.
  • A person disqualified under the Act must dispose of all dogs owned by them (rehome or euthanase) and not be in possession of any dog for the period of disqualification (see exception below).
  • Any dogs disposed of may not be rehomed to any person living at the same address as the disqualified person.
  • They may only be in possession of a dog in order to return (within 72 hours) a lost dog home or to prevent the dog from causing injury, damage or distress.
  • Any owner who breaches these conditions may be fined up to $3,000 and have an additional five years disqualification period extension to their status.

Instead of disqualification, the Council will sometimes decide to classify a person (with three or more infringement notices within a two-year period, or who has been convicted of any offence under the Dog Control Act 1996), as a probationary owner. 

If a person is classified as a probationary owner:

  • The probationary owner classification will take effect for two years unless terminated early by the Council.
  • Any dog not registered at the time of the classification must be re-homed or disposed of within 14 days.
  • Any dog already registered may be kept by the owner.
  • The probationary owner may be required to take dog owner education training and/or a dog obedience class.

Classification as a probationary or disqualified owner extends to all of New Zealand, so if the owner moves to a new district within New Zealand the effects of classification will still apply.