Effective Policies

Effective Policies clearly describe the standards of Responsible Pet Ownership practices expected by the community from all dog owners. They also outline behaviors that the community will not tolerate from dog owners.

Which Policies are Effective?

Laws that govern responsible pet ownership, including: licensing, vaccination, and leash / confinement laws are effective.

For example: Calgary, Alberta enacted a Responsible Pet Ownership By-law in 2006 that focused on community-wide support for basic responsible pet ownership behaviors, including humane care (providing proper diet, veterinary care, socialization and training), humane custody (licensing and permanent ID), and humane control (following leash laws and not allowing a pet to become a threat or a nuisance). Through defined goals, support, public education, and incentives, Calgary achieved an unparalleled level of compliance, as well as record lows in total reported dog bites through 2012. 

Read more about Calgary's success through 2012:

For additional information on effective policies for dog bite prevention, in particular (including polices that track compliance of owners with one injurious bite, and higher penalties for dog bites in the context of other negligent infractions) please read "Dog Bites: Problems and Solutions" for a list of suggestions:

How Can Communities Move Toward More Effective Policies?

Remove Barriers to Responsible Pet Ownership.

Effective community policies remove barriers that prevent well-intentioned pet owners from complying with laws. The overwhelming majority of pet owners want to do what is best for their pets and to be responsible members of their communities, but not all have the financial resources or access to / understanding of the information required to do so.

For example, the town of Pierrepoint, NY has adopted the strategy of reminding residents that there are laws regarding pet ownership, and that they are taken seriously, by simply posting signs announcing “Dog Control Laws Enforced.”

For additional information, including animal control programs that aim to remove barriers through outreach and community support, please read: “Support, Inform, Then Enforce”:
For additional information on non-profit community outreach aimed at giving under-served pet owners access to services that enable responsible pet ownership, please read about the Humane Society of the United State’s “Pets for Life” Toolkit:

Incentivize Compliance with Laws.

Effective policies focus on incentivizing compliance with laws. 
  • For example: Promoting licensing compliance.
    • Perks for Licensing: Agencies can further incentivize licensing by affording pet owners who license their pets certain community “perks”, such as discounts with participating local retailers.

    • “Free Ride Home” policies: Some animal services agencies utilize policies where licensed or microchipped dogs are returned directly to their family on their first offense as opposed to impounding the dog and consequently incurring sheltering costs for the community. Such programs demonstrate the value of compliance with license / identification laws to pet owners, incentivizing them to comply. 

Enforce Existing Laws.

As noted above, policy approaches that support, inform, and incentivize compliance with laws should be used first to reach the majority of pet owners. However, enforcement of existing ordinances is also important in order to elevate the significance of responsible pet ownership laws in a community and increase public safety. The following examples further illustrate the value of leash and confinement laws as well as enforcement of ordinances:
  • In a European study of dog bites to children, the researchers found that all of the cases involving bites from dogs unknown to the child that occurred outside of the home could have been prevented by simply leashing the dog.1
  • A study of 36 Canadian municipalities concluded that “a high level of ticketing, perhaps combined with effective licensing, may lead to a reduction in dog bites, although it may also be accompanied by an increase in reporting of bites.”2

Focus on Education.

It is important for Animal Services to focus on education that clarifies the responsibility of all pet owners in the community.
  • For example, after enactment of the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw in 2006, the City of Calgary Animal & Bylaw Services provided bylaw education programs for adults and ESL learners to further enable responsible pet ownership and facilitate compliance. (Calgary’s Animal Services Programs, such as these, were entirely funded by licensing revenue.)
With respect to dog bite prevention in particular, targeting high-risk human behavior toward dogs is much more likely to decrease incidents, rather than attempting to identify and weed out “at risk” animals. Because of this, education and specific strategies for safe interactions with dogs is a good area to focus on as it has the potential to have widespread impact.
A few basic topics to focus education on: 

Educating children3,4 and adults on how to behave safely with dogs, including the importance of supervision of children around dogs. (Such public education programs could be supplemented by humane organizations and volunteers, freeing up municipal resources.) 

    • In the above mentioned European study, they found that in none of the 69% of bite incidents that occurred in the child and dog’s own home was there an adult present.5
    • One such study found that while adults were present at the time of more than half of the incidents in the sample, they were apparently unaware of common situations that can be perceived as threatening to dogs.6
Educating pet owners on the importance of making sure their dogs have ample opportunities to form bonds with human beings.
    • Research has shown that dogs that live in close contact with their owners are not only more likely to look to their people to help them solve tasks than those who lived outside7, but they were also reported to be much friendlier and less aggressive than resident dogs.8

Updated March 3rd, 2021

Sources and Notes:
1. Kahn, A., Bauche, P., & Lamoureux, J. (2003). Child victims of dog bites treated in emergency departments: A prospective survey. European Journal of Pediatrics, 162(4): 254-258.
2. Clarke, N.M., & Fraser, D. (2013). Animal control measures and their relationship to the reported incidence of dog bites in urban Canadian municipalities. Canadian Veterinary Journal, 54(2): 145-149.
3. Chapman, S., Cornwall, J., Righetti, J., & Lynne, S. (2000). Preventing dog bites in children: randomized controlled trial of an educational intervention. The Western Journal of Medicine, 173(4): 233-234. 
4. Wilson, F., Dwyer, F., & Bennett, P.C. (2002). Prevention of dog bites: evaluation of a brief educational intervention program for preschool children. Journal of Community Psychology, 31(1): 75-86. 
5. Kahn, A., Bauche, P., & Lamoureux, J. (2003). Child victims of dog bites treated in emergency departments: A prospective survey. European Journal of Pediatrics, 162(4): 254-258.
6. Reisner, I.R., Nance, M.L., Zeller, J.S., Houseknecht, E.M., Kassam-Adams, N., & Wiebe, D.J.. (2011). Behavioural characteristics associated with dog bites to children presenting to an urban trauma centre. Injury Prevention, 17(5): 348-353.
7. Topál J., Miklósi, Á., & Csányi, V. (1997). Dog-human relationship affects problem-solving behavior in the dog. Anthrozoös, 10(4): 214-224.
8. Mirkó, E., Kubinyi, E., Gácsi, M., & Miklósi, A. (2012). Preliminary analysis of an adjectivebased dog personality questionnaire developed to measure some aspects of personality in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 138(1): 88–98.