Some states have statewide leash laws, and some allow localities to pass their own form of leash laws. For a great overview of leash laws across the country, take a look at Michigan State University’s Overview of State Dog Leash Laws on its College of Law Historical and Legal Animal Center site.
Here in Virginia, there is no statewide leash law or prohibition of dogs running at large. But Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503 requires all owners to provide their companion animals with adequate space. For a tethered dog, the definition of “adequate space” found in Section 3.2-6500 requires the tether to be at least three times the length of the animal, measured from the tip of the dog’s nose to the base of its tail, unless the dog is being walked on leash or is attached to a lead line.
Virginia Code Section 3.2-6538 allows localities to prohibit dogs from running at large, and Section 3.2-6539 allows localities to pass leash laws. Localities typically prohibit dogs from running at large. Local leash laws vary greatly – so much so that this will be the topic of another blog post.
For now, one good example of how a Virginia locality has chosen to handle leash laws is found in Alexandria. Alexandria’s City Code Section 5-7-32 prohibits dogs running at large. Section 5-7-33 prohibits dog owners from allowing their dogs to run at large, and allows the City Manager to charge the owner fees to cover the cost of capturing a dog at large.
Section 5-7-33.1 clarifies that dogs are not to run at large even in public parks, unless the park is designated as an off-leash dog exercise area. To learn more about Alexandria’s dog parks and the applicable rules and regulations, take a look at this Dog Owner’s Guide to Enjoying the Parks of Alexandria. Be warned — not all “off-leash” dog parks are fully enclosed.
Section 5-7-35 requires dogs to be under “physical restraint” when off of the owner’s property. “Physical restraint” requires “a leash, lead or other means of physical restraint which leash, lead or other means of physical restraint is not harmful or injurious to the dog and which is held by a responsible person capable of physically restraining the dog.” [Check out this post if you are curious about whether an electronic collar qualifies as "physical restraint."] The only exceptions to this physical restraint requirement are on private property with the permission of the property owner, or in a designated dog exercise area.
In 2010, Alexandria expanded on its leash laws by passing an anti-tethering ordinance. That ordinance prohibits a dog from being tethered for longer than three hours a day, or longer than a twelve hours a day if on an acceptable running cable line or trolley system.
Even if you could let your dog run off leash, you should realistically ask yourself whether you should. Leash laws exist for very good reasons, not the least of which is safety – yours, your dog’s and others’. Even if your dog is friendly, your dog may come across a fearful, reactive or aggressive dog. It is unfair to put the owner and the dog in such a position. Telling the owner not to worry because your dog is friendly won’t change anything. If your dog gets into a confrontation and the other dog initiates aggressive behavior, if your dog bites the other dog or an intervening person, you will be the one facing dangerous dog proceedings.
It takes only a second for something tragic to happen. Consider this dog, who was off leash and shot by law enforcement when he approached an officer and his K-9 dog. While the officer may have been able to take steps short of shooting the dog in this case, it would have never happened had the owner kept his dog on leash.