Every dog has the potential to bite, regardless of whether or not you think your dog is friendly. Owners should be aware of the legal obligations and consequences should your dog attack any person or animal.

Legal consequences around safety issues

Some dogs have the predisposition to attack, some attack people for no obvious reason and some attack other animals or stock. Because dog attacks are common in New Zealand, we have special laws that dog owners must be aware of in order to help prevent recurring attacks.

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

  • Owners of the dogs 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 most cases where a dog attack prosecution results in a conviction, an order is also made for the destruction of the dog.
  • The offending dog may be impounded and held by the Council.
  • The dog owner will be 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 Dog Control Act range from $100 to $750.
  • The offending dog may be classified as a menacing or dangerous dog. Both of these classifications require, as part of their effects, that the dog wears a muzzle at all times when in public and for it to be desexed. 

If a Dog Control Officer has good cause to suspect an offence against the Dog Control Act 1996 is being committed, they can enter any land or premises to inspect any dog appearing to be kept there, 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 in fresh pursuit of the dog, accompanied by a constable or is authorised by a District Court warrant.

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 instead decides to classify the person as a probationary owner, or that disqualification is not warranted.

  • 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 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.