Dog matters

Dog matters

Some of the more common offences relating to dogs are for:

  • having a dog that is not registered
  • allowing your dog to run outside your premises
  • your dog attacking a person or injuring another animal
  • setting your dog or urging your dog to attack a person or another animal
  • abandoning your animal
  • having a noisy dog that annoys neighbours.

If any of these things happen, the council or the police may issue an infringement notice. See Fines and infringements.

Charged with an offence

You may also be charged with an offence under the Domestic Animals Act 1994. This will depend on how serious the offence is. If you are charged you will get a notice to appear or a charge and summons to appear in the Magistrates’ Court. Whether you are guilty depends on the exact facts and circumstances of your case.

You can be charged with an offence even if you were just looking after the dog for the owner. If the owner is under 18 years old, their parent or guardian will be responsible as the owner.

Declared dogs and restricted breeds

Some offences are treated more seriously if a council has declared your dog as dangerous or menacing, or if the dog is a restricted breed.

A dangerous dog is a dog that:

  • has been trained to attack
  • is used to guard non-residential property
  • has been declared dangerous by a council.

A menacing dog is a dog that has:

  • attacked another animal
  • chased or rushed at a person
  • bitten a person, but not seriously.

A restricted breed dog is a breed that is banned from import into Australia because it might be dangerous. Five breeds have been banned but only the American Pit Bull Terrier is known to exist in Victoria. The council can declare a dog to be a restricted breed dog if it looks like one.

Your options at court

You have three options at court:

Can I adjourn the hearing?

You can ask the magistrate for an adjournment if you want to:

  • go in the diversion program
  • get a private lawyer.

Adjournments are hard to get for any other reason. The magistrate may say no.

Penalties

The penalties you can get will depend on the charge or charges and whether your dog has been declared menacing, dangerous or a restricted breed by a council. The council prosecutor will be able to tell you what the maximum penalties are for each of your offences.

In most cases the magistrate will give you a fine. You can get fined up to:

  • 3 penalty units – where a court has ordered you to do something about a barking dog and you ignore the order
  • 4 penalty units – where the dog rushes at a person or another animal
  • 10 penalty units – where the dog is wandering outside your property
  • 10 penalty units – where the dog bites a person or another animal and the injury is not serious
  • 20 penalty units – where the dog is not registered
  • 40 penalty units – where the dog attacks and causes death or serious injury
  • 120 penalty units – where the dangerous or restricted breed dog causes death or serious injury.

The penalties are higher and may include jail if your dog has been declared a dangerous dog or a restricted breed dog or if a person is killed or seriously injured.

In deciding what penalties to give, the magistrate looks at:

  • how serious your offence is
  • if you have been found guilty of similar offences before
  • what else is happening in your life.

What else might happen if I am found guilty?

Compensation: The magistrate can make you pay compensation for any damage that the dog does to a person or to any property.

Criminal record: What happens in court goes on your criminal record. The court and the police can see your criminal record. Sometimes they can let other people know what is in your criminal record. For example, a criminal record, especially with convictions, may make it harder for you to get some jobs or get visas to some countries.

Can I appeal the magistrate’s decision?

If you do not agree with the decision you can appeal to the County Court. You have 28 days to do this. Get legal advice before you decide. You could get a higher penalty.

Can I appeal the council’s decision?

If you are found guilty of a dog attack the council has the power to destroy your dog, even if the court has not ordered this. You can ask the council to formally review its decision if this happens. Act quickly.

If the council does not follow a formal review process you can ask the Supreme Court to review the council’s decision. This could be expensive. Get legal advice before you decide.

Note: The law about restricted breeds may change soon. The State Government is currently considering a review and councils have been asked not to destroy dogs just because they appear to be restricted breeds until the government makes a decision.

How do I pay a fine?

You can pay the fine at any Magistrates’ Court. Go to the court counter and ask the staff for help.

Let the magistrate know if you might have trouble paying the fine. There are options. You can ask the magistrate to:

  • make a plan for you to pay bit by bit
  • give you community work instead of the fine.

If you do not pay, the court can issue a warrant for your arrest.

Get help

Find out how you can get help with criminal offences.