When Should My Dog Be On a Lead


Multiple pieces of legislation apply to dog owners in Northern Ireland. This guide will help you understand your responsibilities, but it is not to be considered legal advice. The information below applies to Northern Ireland only. The rules may be different in the Republic of Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland.

When should my Dog be on a lead

Dogs do not always need to be kept on lead. However, they must not be dangerously out of control in public places.

A dog is deemed to be ‘under control’ if on a lead held by someone able to control the dog. For example, a large dog would not be under control if its lead was held by someone who would be unable to restrain the dog if it strained against the lead. Training classes can help to build recall skills which will allow the dog to be safe to be off lead around other people and animals.

Dogs must be under control when in open country (mountains, moors, heathland, hills, woodland, cliffs, foreshore, marsh, bog or waterway).

Dogs must be kept on a lead in designated pedestrian zones and on land where livestock is present. Local government districts have bylaws (including Dog Control Orders) outlining areas where this is required, such as in public parks or children’s play areas.

What can happen if I break the law?

Local government districts have the power to introduce dog control  orders and can issue fines or fixed penalty notices for those who do not comply with them. A dog that behaves dangerously may be seized by the local dog warden, and the owner may be prosecuted. The dog may be destroyed if the magistrate considers that it is  they are a danger to the public.


Access to the Countryside (Northern Ireland) Order 1983

The Dog Control Orders (Prescribed Offences and Penalties, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012, schedule 2.

Environment & Heritage Service, A Guide to Public Rights of Way and Access to the Countryside, Guidance Notes on the Law, Practices and Procedures in Northern Ireland (2021) https://library2.nics.gov.uk/pdf/dof/2022/PDF220190.pdf