Legislative Action Center

Is Your Agility Dog Illegally At Large? The Impact of Overreaching Animal Laws on Dog Sports and Events
July 16, 2020 by AKC Government Relations

If you haven’t already heard about problematic animal laws that affect dog events, then it’s time to get up to speed on this issue because increasingly restrictive legislation is being introduced every day.  Numerous animal laws proposed in recent years have crossed the line from reasonable to overreaching—and some may even be harmful to the dogs they are supposed to protect.  

Not only are dog owners and breeders affected, dog sports and events can be negatively impacted by the ever-increasing barrage of animal laws that are being filed—and passed—at all levels of government.  

Perhaps you’ve seen the dog meme on social media that proclaims, “If you’re cold, they’re cold.”  This is generally accompanied by a photo of a sad-faced, shivering dog.  While every dog should have good shelter appropriate for its breed, age, physical characteristics, and conditioning, this emotion-driven meme fails to recognize that a Samoyed in the snow, a Great Pyrenees in a winter field with its flock, and a Chesapeake Bay Retriever leaping into a northern lake are not shivering “fur-babies.”

Dogs are wonderfully adaptable creatures that come in all sizes, shapes, coat types, and levels of athleticism. Breeds were developed over centuries to work and thrive doing jobs in a variety of weather conditions—from desert coursing hounds to thick-coated sledding breeds.  Despite the fact that the vast majority of U.S. dogs receive excellent care, we’re seeing a proliferation of animal laws that are based on emotion rather than science. 

AKC supports reasonable laws to protect animals

Dog owners know that animals, with the possible exception of humans, are physically able to thrive in a wide range of climates.  So when legislation is proposed based on the emotional premise that “if you’re cold, they’re cold,” it’s time for good dog owners to take action and expose the fallacy of this statement.  This and other contrived messaging help drive the introduction of problematic animal laws.

What do overreaching animal laws mean for organizations that host dog events, offer canine activities, and provide dog training programs?  Before considering this question, please read AKC’s statement on dog care and the enforcement of cruelty laws so there can be no confusion regarding AKC’s position: 

The American Kennel Club (AKC) advocates that dog owners bear a special responsibility to their canine companions to provide proper care and humane treatment at all times. Proper care and humane treatment include an adequate and nutritious diet, clean water, safe and clean living and travel conditions, regular veterinary care, kind and responsive human companionship, and training in appropriate behavior.  AKC supports full enforcement of reasonable laws that protect the welfare and health of dogs and do not restrict the rights of breeders and owners who meet their responsibilities.

Now back to the question: What do overreaching animal laws mean for dog events, activities, and training?

Mandatory spay/neuter laws: Conformation dog shows evaluate potential breeding animals. Laws that require sterilization or that impose excessive costs and regulations on owning intact dogs or breeding a litter negatively impact breeders who breed to a standard, work to improve each generation of dogs, and exhibit in conformation shows as part of their evaluation process.  

Laws that require a kennel license to keep intact dogs or breed a litter frequently are coupled with zoning codes that restrict where kennels may operate. In many locales, unless you’re on commercially zoned property, you cannot be issued a kennel license. This progression of legislation combined with zoning restrictions has been an animal rights strategy for decades now.  

What you can do:  Educate lawmakers! Anti-breeder laws are often passed based on misinformation, outdated dog overpopulation claims, and attempts to blame local breeders for shelter intakes of dogs, including dogs sourced from outside that jurisdiction. These laws also fail to consider current studies that equate spay/neuter and pediatric spay/neuter with adverse and deadly canine health conditions. Share AKC GR’s information on Breeding Regulations and Restrictions and Mandatory Spay/Neuter and do your part to bring facts to the table. 

Mandatory spay/neuter of impounded dogs laws: Numerous communities have enacted laws that require every impounded dog to be spayed/neutered prior to release to owner, regardless of the reason for the impoundment.  These laws mandate that a dog that escapes its house or yard, is intentionally released, is stolen and dumped, or otherwise is impounded by local authorities must be sterilized— period.  Some of these laws are effective on any first impoundment and there are no exemptions if the dog is traveling through or temporarily in the community.  These laws should be of great concern to event participants and working dog owners who could have their valuable competition or working dog subjected to unwanted sterilization surgery if it gets away while traveling, at an event, or on the job.

What you can do:  Dog owners are urged to work together to change these laws to instead require escalating fines for irresponsible owners of dogs found repeatedly at large, rather than mandating surgery on the dog.

Dogs in hot cars laws:  In response input from AKC, other animal advocacy groups, and concerned dog owners, certain laws that address leaving a dog unattended in a vehicle are well-written and provide excellent protections for dogs at risk of harm. On the other hand, laws in some locations impose a straight-out ban on leaving a dog unattended in a vehicle, even when the vehicle is properly ventilated or there is no risk of the dog being subjected to dangerous temperatures. Current social distancing requirements may limit the availability of indoor crating space at events and training classes, making this issue even more timely. 

Overreaching or poorly constructed laws regarding dogs in vehicles can have negative consequences that could affect people who safely secure their dogs in a vehicle while attending events or training classes. Under some laws, a dog comfortably resting in a vehicle can be released by an uninformed or agenda-driven person who fails to recognize that the dog is safely contained and breaks in. 

What you can do:  Most importantly, plan so dogs can be safely contained at events and training classes. Be sure you know and comply with the laws where you live and travel. To ensure that laws both protect dogs and are fair to dog owners, work with your lawmakers to introduce good legislation and to amend bad laws. 

Arbitrary outdoor temperature restriction laws:  The previously mentioned “if you’re cold, they’re cold” emotional appeals have resulted in laws that limit a dog owner’s options for allowing dogs to be outdoors unattended. Such laws can make it extremely difficult to properly condition a dog to train, compete, and work in weather conditions to which the dog must be acclimated for its own well-being. This is particularly significant for hunting dogs; man trailing, search-and-rescue, cadaver, and detection dogs; herding and livestock guardian dogs; police, military and patrol dogs; sledding and carting dogs; and dogs that compete in sports that demonstrate the ability to perform these tasks. 

Arbitrary temperature limits also fail to recognize the needs of the individual dog.  For example, under a law that dictates below 32 degrees is “too cold”, a dog well-suited for such temperatures is unnecessarily restricted while other dogs such as an aged dog, a medically fragile dog, a hairless breed, or a vulnerable breed that requires different temperature accommodations may not be adequately protected.  

What you can do:  Share information on how weather affects different dogs and different breeds. Ask your state and local lawmakers to repeal legislation that includes “one size fits few” arbitrary temperature restrictions in favor of reasonable measures that require access to shelter appropriate to the needs of the individual dog when a dog is housed outdoors.

Overreaching cruelty laws:  These laws take many forms, including proposals that would require a dog that experiences any injury or illness to be treated by a veterinarian, regardless of the nature or severity of the incident.  This fails to recognize that many minor situations can be treated without professional intervention. 

recently introduced bill included in its definition of “animal mistreatment” someone who “recklessly” causes injury to a dog. This was coupled with a definition of “injury” that encompassed any damage to skin or muscle.  AKC does not condone harmful actions and behavior towards animals, including behavior that is done knowingly and intentionally. However, use of the word “recklessly” is subject to broad interpretation and could have problematic consequences for dog owners. 

Although no one wants to see a dog harmed, accidents can and do occur during everyday activities and events, even when taking appropriate precautions.  A break in the skin from a thorn during a tracking trial or a stubbed toe from an agility obstacle is not indicative of animal mistreatment. 

What you can do: Again, educate lawmakers that even with the finest care, accidents happen, and not every booboo or sneeze requires a vet visit. 

Restrictions on allowing animals outdoors/tethering dogs under weather advisories:  Laws of this kind have been introduced in response to tragic situations where animals died after being left confined or tethered amid storms and natural disasters. Some of these proposed laws are so poorly constructed that tethering an animal to keep it safe and secure while preparing to evacuate it or after an evacuation would be a violation.  Other proposals seek to criminalize allowing a dog to be outdoors during a weather advisory, even if the weather conditions never occur, never rise to a threat, or have no negative impact on the dog.

Depending on the proposal, such laws could eliminate outdoor working animals, require outdoor events to shut down because of a weather advisory in the area, and other unreasonable restrictions. 

Some of these proposals appear to be a backdoor way of further limiting the humane use of tethers and outdoor enclosures for dogs. 

What you can do: Encourage education on including pets in disaster planning. When overreaching, emotion-driven laws are proposed based on extreme or tragic situations that are far-removed from everyday circumstances, be the voice of reason in support of more realistic legislation. 

Breed-specific laws: Progress is being made on this issue, and 22 states have passed laws that prohibit or limit breed-specific measures.  However, existing breed restrictions do remain on the books. An estimated 900 communities still have breed-specific laws. In areas without prohibitions on breed discrimination, new breed bans continue to be introduced by cities, counties, and occasionally on the state level.  Such laws may restrict owners of targeted breeds or dogs with a particular appearance from competing in events and activities where the bans are in law. 

What you can do:  If your state or community still allows breed discrimination, work to have breed-specific laws repealed in your community in favor of breed-neutral laws that determine a dog is dangerous based on specific actions by the individual dog. Share AKC GR’s policy packet and model legislation on Breed-Specific/ Dangerous Dog Laws and ask your lawmakers to introduce legislation to repeal and/or prohibit breed-specific laws. 

At-large and animal abandonment laws:  Certain laws have been constructed so that a dog working away from its handler, for example, while competing at an unfenced coursing, earthdog, or field trial event or when working in search-and rescue, avalanche recovery, herding, flock guarding, hunting, or other off-lead activity, is considered illegally at large.  Further, there have been efforts to overturn laws that provide reasonable exemptions for working/hunting dogs that go beyond (or are lured from) the boundaries of the owner’s property or legal hunting area.  

This has affected some event-giving organizations in securing outdoor competition and training spaces when laws or restrictions on use of public facilities and lands include restrictions against off-lead dogs or limit the length of leashes.  If a dog present at an outdoor public facility, park, agricultural grounds, etc., is considered illegally at large once the leash comes off, the ability of organizations to offer companion and performance events is curtailed.  

What you can do:  Educate lawmakers about the many working functions of dogs and how dogs are trained to work off-lead when competing in certain events. Provide information on the benefits of dog shows and events. Ask your state and local authorities to include appropriate exemptions in laws and rules that govern access to public facilities and lands utilized by dog owners for training, events, and competitions. 

Dog training and equipment restriction laws:  Laws that seek to regulate trainers or to restrict utilizing certain training methods and equipment have been proposed in different jurisdictions.  In some cases, the entities that would be granted authority over trainers are organizations that derive income from offering their own training classes—a clear conflict of interest.  These proposals may seek to ban use of slip collars, collars made of links or chain, prong collars, electronic collars, electronic fences, underground fences, and other commonly used and accepted equipment. 

Laws have been proposed that would make the possession of certain humane training, competition, and conditioning equipment, such as treadmills and jump bars, “evidence” of animal fighting.  Further, these proposed laws have sought to hold a manufacturer, distributor, or seller responsible for the misuse of such equipment by a person engaged in illegal activities.

What you can do:  Educate lawmakers about the various protocols used by dog trainers and remind them that individual dogs have individual needs when selecting appropriate training equipment and methods. 

“Killing contest” laws:  Laws have been proposed in several states that seek to limit or outlaw events involving birds or other wildlife, or that would prohibit hunting contests where the sole objective is taking the largest number of game or wild birds.  Some of these proposals, as introduced, would have significant negative impact on field trials.

What you can do:  Support hunters, sportsmen, and event competitors by working to ensure bill include language exempts lawful hunting, field trials, dog training, and canine performance events. 

AKC GR works to keep you informed

The AKC Government Relations Department (AKC GR) analyzes proposed legislation and regulations and works to keep dog owners informed about canine issues.  Actions of the department are guided by AKC’s Canine Legislation Position Statements, summarized here.  Accordingly, when commenting on proposed legislation, the first two considerations are, “How does this impact the well-being of dogs?” and, “How does this affect the rights of responsible dog owners?” 

AKC GR tracks federal and state bills and regulations that potentially affect dogs and owners.  With tens of thousands of county and city governments, we rely on dog owners to let us know about pending legislation at the local level.  When you hear discussions or news stories about new dog laws in your community, please let us know. Email doglaw@akc.org  or call 919-816-3720 with this information. The GR team is here to help you.  

Problematic animal legislation is expanding.  Get involved now, because it’s not going away. 

Overreaching animal laws and ever-expanding “no animal was harmed” cruelty laws can make good animal owners into criminals, absent any harm to an animal. 

You can stay up-to-date on canine legislation, both good and bad, by viewing AKC legislative alerts, reading the “Taking Command” e-newsletter (subscribe here), and attending programs hosted by AKC clubs and AKC-affiliated federations.  Here are some more things you can do to protect your dogs and your rights:

  • View and use information, materials, and tools on the AKC GR Legislative Action Center and toolbox, located at www.akcgr.org.  “Key Issues” webpages, located at www.akcgr.org/issues provide a comprehensive overview of AKC legislative information by issue/topic.
  • Encourage your AKC club to host a canine legislative information session at an event, a club meeting, or via a socially distanced online seminar. 
  • Educate, educate, educate. 
  • Contact AKC GR with questions at doglaw@akc.org or 919-816-3720. 
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