A puppy dog being held by owner's arm

What Determines Ownership of a Dog

Your dog is very much a part of your family and most pet owners would tell you that their dog is just like their child.

In fact, there are some pet owners that have no children, making the dog that much more a steady part of their family and maybe even that much more important to their lives.

In any case, understanding the ownership of a dog is essential. If your dog were to get away or maybe even get stolen, how can you protect yourselves as pet owners?

Unfortunately, some couples also split up, and then pet custody must be determined in those cases.

A woman dog owner hugging her dog tight
Image by Wade Austin Ellis from Unsplash

There are a number of logistical reasons that legal ownership of a dog can come to question and it’s up to the owner to make sure their rights and their dog is protected in these cases.

Some people never consider dog ownership until they are up against someone else who claims a right to their dog. What do they do?

In this guide, we will walk you through all of the aspects you should know of dog ownership. We will answer questions on determining the ownership of a dog and provide you with tips that you as an owner can follow to have proof of ownership and understand your ownership rights in the eyes of the law.

Understand Ownership Rights of Your Dog

In the eyes of the law, pets are considered personal property. It’s not quite like child custody where the court will look at the best interest of the child and consider a schedule for co-parenting or child support.

While a dog is a living, breathing being, the courts review dog cases much like they might look at objects like your car, your TV, your cat, or even just your furniture. A pet owner should be prepared for this in case animal control gets ahold of the dog and the owner is hard to put to prove ownership or something else occurs.

Whether you are facing a situation where your dog got out and animal control snagged them or perhaps a person stole your family dog, or facing a couple divorce or separation and fighting a custody battle, every pet parent should understand the legal system here.

Female dog owner
Image by RebeccasPictures from Pixabay

How to Get Legal Ownership of Your Dog: Laws & Paperwork to Regain or Retain Your Pet

As pet parents, you should do as much as you can to make sure your dog carries your contact information. When it comes to court decisions, being able to show clear proof of ownership of a dog and evidence that you have paid licensing fees or provided for the dog might just be what you need to achieve a court order in your favor.

In most case law, the issues arise with showing ownership. Many times law enforcement looks towards possession so pet owners need to be prepared to provide evidence to support their case. Even your neighbor or best friend might turn against you, so follow this advice to keep custody of your dogs as pets and not risk other individuals being able to steal them from under your nose.

The exception is the court may not rule in your favor if there is evidence of a dog bite problem, neglect, and abuse cases, or there is no evidence you are the real dog owners.

The following are useful tools that might help a person out when it comes to the law. Having dog food in the pantry might not be enough to convince animal control or the court of ownership.

Female dog owner training her pet
Image by ZigmarsBerzins from Pixabay

Pedigree Registries

If your dog is a purebred dog or comes from a specific pedigree, take advantage of the registries available for your animal. Many of these will show clear ownership and provide you with detailed documentation for your dogs as well.

The American Kennel Club has registries for purebred ownership of a dog that can be quite useful here.

License and Registration

Owners should always get their dogs licensed. You can usually do this with your vet but there are also places to create your own tags as well. This action will let a person place a tag on their animal that shows the owners and their contact information. If your pet makes it to the animal shelter for any reason, they can contact the family, and law enforcement can also do the same if they pick them up.

Some states or cities require legal registration of an animal so be sure to determine what is required in your area. This documentation proves the registration of your pet and can reduce the question of whose animal it is in some cases. Your signature on your dogs registration one of the top category places that you can depend on.

Veterinary Records

If you have clear ownership of your dog, you should be able to show the court that you, and not someone else, have been caring for the dog. Veterinary records can easily provide the court with proof that your animal has been cared for by you without taking much time to gather evidence.

A court will sometimes turn to vet records to see who paid for the animal care or who makes the effort to take the animal to the vet. Veterinary records can also show more than one name when a couple has been acting together for the animal.

A dog being treated by a vet
Image by jaminriverside from Pixabay

Does Microchip Prove You are the Dog Owner?

Almost any vet will recommend having your dog microchipped and a responsible dog owner will do this to ensure ownership rights. Your vet records might get outdated if you move or change numbers so this is a good way to keep everything updated as a dog owner, in case your dog comes up missing at some point.

Microchipping is one of the best things a person can do for your dogs. If they end up at the animal shelter, someone can contact you. More and more people are discovering this is the best thing a person can do and it can certainly help your case in court because a microchip can’t be removed by a person like a dog tag can.

With a microchip, a person or persons can be listed for contact, and if your name is on that record, this could help your case in the court of law. While this is not failsafe is can certainly help an owner when it comes to understanding what determines ownership of a dog.

Additional Tools

There are some added things you can have on hand as an owner of said that might help your case. Keep the records for when you purchased or adopted the dog. Remember the dog is considered property so these records might come in handy.

You can also make sure that you have current photos of your dog. If someone steals the dog or finds the dog, a recent photo of you and the dog just might prove you are the true owner and help bring your dog home. If your dog is lost, you can even spread these photos around to try to help find your dog.

Finally, individuals who take ownership together of a dog but are not necessarily an item can make proactive paper agreements when the dog is obtained. This agreement for your dog might detail who will care for the dog or how the care and expenses of the dog are split between the individuals. This is a good way to be proactive in the event that each person eventually decides they want to be an owner on their own or a fallout were to happen. your agreement might even split dog time with each owner.

How Long Before a Dog is Legally Yours?

When you pick up a dog or purchase a dog from a breeder, you become the owner of the dog. Putting legal ownership steps into place as quickly as possible will work in your best interest to prove you are the true dog owner.

If your dog is picked up by animal control and you are not the clear owner, another individual could claim your dog as an owner, and animal control would never know the difference.

When you get a dog, it’s your responsibility to take steps to prove legal ownership. Your dog relies on your as their owner to protect them from scammers, animal control, thieves, and maybe even an angry spouse in a separation event.

The dog becomes your dog when it is in your possession and the same can be said for any other person who has your dog in their possession so act as quickly as you can to prove you are the proud owner of your dog. Be prepared to prove your dog is truly yours to the law and remember any other person could try to do the same.

Pet owner hugging her dog
Image by JanDix from Pixabay

Who Gets Custody of the Dog?

There comes a time when a person may be faced with a divorce or a separation and the dog is in the middle. Sometimes those couples are able to come to terms with the best way to share the dog while other times a specific party might be granted custody or ownership.

In the event that it comes to the courts to decide who gets to be the dog owner, you’re more protected if things are in your name. Now, we certainly don’t want to encourage people to fight over whose name is going to show on records or registration but the court does look at this when a dog must be placed and the parties cannot agree otherwise.

They will look at any record, starting with required dog registration or licensing by the owner. If your pet has your name listed as the owner, it’s possible that you will be more likely to keep the dog than the other parties involved.

What Makes Someone a Good Dog Owner?

There are a lot of different ways that it can be determined whether you are a good owner of a dog or not. The basic concept is that the dog is well taken care of but there are some owner people out there who will go all out to take care of a dog. Is one better than another?

If you want to be an owner of your dog that is thought to be a good owner, you need to show basic care and love for the dog. You certainly should be making sure that all of these needs are cared for.

  • Food
  • Medical care
  • Licensing and registration requirements
  • Vet care
  • Grooming and maintenance
  • Training
  • Clearly part of the family
  • Ownership documentation in place
  • Safety and security

This list could really go on and on. As an owner, it should be your goal to make sure your dog is properly nourished and cared for and welcomed and loved as dogs should be in your home. Even outside dogs can be well taken care of and loved.

A good dog owner kissing and taking care of her pet
Image by RebeccasPicture from Pixabay

Pet Insurance

You do not necessarily have to acquire pet insurance to be a good owner but it could be helpful for you and your dogs. This type of policy can be described much like a car policy. There are two parts to pet insurance – death or theft and medical care.

You might determine that your dogs need one or both of these.

Pet Medical Care

Some dogs require extensive medical care and those costs can sometimes be benefitted from the use of pet medical insurance. If you ever need emergent care, you’re looking at probably a $1,000 bill and that’s not even considering other life care. Pet insurance can help with the costs of medical care for your dog.

There are numerous options out there but here are some things you might want to consider.

  • Type of coverage and how much coverage is needed
  • Does your dog have a pre-existing condition
  • Take into consideration policy cost and deductible (is it really worth it?)
  • Does your animal insurance cap out if costs get too high?
  • Are there certain aspects of care excluded from coverage
  • Can you get discounts or cheaper rates for the same coverage

If you choose to acquire pet insurance, always make sure you have that handy in case it is needed for care.

Pet Life Insurance

Another popular type of animal policy is life insurance and this policy can cover theft or loss of life sometimes. If you have an expensive pet, having a policy like this can help to offset the costs of acquiring and caring for them should something happen. And while you can never just replace your pet, it might help you acquire a new one when you are ready as well.

Recovering Your Lost Pet

If your sweet dog escaped or perhaps got lost from you in some way. What do you do?

As an owner, you may be distraught but you have to take action. Make sure that you have the documents available to prove that you are the owner. This could vary by owner or situation but might include photos, proof of care, or even licensing. Just be prepared to prove it if you want your pet back.

Recovering your lost animal might be as simple as going to the nearby shelter or contact animal control. Other times, you might discover that someone else has taken your dog and declared themselves the owners. In this case, you will have to be able to prove the dog is really yours and not theirs.

Remember that microchipping your dog can go a long way here. Your name will be attached to the chip and show clearly you are an owner. This chip can’t be just discarded or tossed away like a tag from the collar could be. It might just save you in the end.

Potential Problem Areas

When it comes down to it, you could easily run into some problems proving you are the true owner. This is why we recommend that you be proactive and do all of the things to cover ownership to the best of your ability.

Being a good owner also means training your dog to treat others well. No matter how much you prove the dog is yours, if there is a dog bite situation, you could still lose the dog. So do more than just prove it’s your dog! Train your dog and take care to help others be comfortable around them too.

If your dog is outside, do your best to be sure the area is secure. Keep your dog safe from intruders but also try to set boundaries to prevent your dog from escaping the yard. Provide safety and shelter for your dog as well. If your dog doesn’t appear to be sheltered or cared for, you could lose them.

A dog looking out the yard
Image by PensiveYumi from Pixabay

Obey local dog laws, including registration or leash laws. If leashes are required, follow that rule. Be aware of your surroundings and certainly don’t think you are above the rules set about in your area or wherever you may be with your dog.

Protect your dog from wild animals that might seek to cause harm. If you live in a rural space or even on the edges of town, you might need to watch out for things like coyotes, bears, mountain lions, deer, and more. Your dog looks to you to keep them safe.

You can always seek out legal assistance or advice in your area for your animal. There are services available if something arises and you need help.

Keep Your Pet’s Best Interests at Heart

In the end, always remember to keep the best interests of your beloved animal at the forefront of your planning and actions. If a relationship ends, consider what will be best for the dog. If your situation has changed and you can no longer provide the space or care for your dog that they need, determine a plan of action.

There are so many things to consider and at some point, you might need to consider that another solution will work better. Otherwise, as an owner, do everything you can to care for your animal and be prepared in case something comes up to try to harm your or that animal. It’s your responsibility to love them and provide for them in every way.

A pet with the owner
Image by Priscilla Du Preez from Unsplash

Expert Tip

Go the extra mile to document your animal in your home. Take pictures together and in your home. Make sure you have vet records available, make sure your animal is tagged and licensed, make sure you’ve got them microchipped. Above all, make sure they are loved and cared for!

Did You Know?

In many European countries, animal insurance is really the norm. Nearly half of animal owners acquire it. However, in the U.S. it’s still under used. Only about 1% of owners take advantage of this tool or even really know that it exists as an option.

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