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5 things about the City of Vancouver’s dog bylaw you probably didn’t know

As Responsible Dog Ownership Day approaches, brush up on these lesser known rules to owning a dog in Vancouver.

Responsible Dog Ownership Day falls on September 18 this year, so the team at OhMyDog! are sharing ways in which each of us can be more responsible for our pets and our communities.


If you’re thinking about getting a dog, or you're new to Vancouver, you might not know that there are several rules implemented by the City that dog owners need to abide by. The Animal Control Bylaw set out by the City ensures pups and their owners can live harmoniously with their neighbours.


Aside from the obvious ones - like not letting your pups off-leash in non-designated areas, or letting them get into trash cans - we’ve compiled a list of the slightly more unusual rules that dog owners, old or new, might not know.


1. You have to pay for an annual dog license


First things first - if you want to own a dog, it has to be registered with the City - and you’ll have to stump up an annual dog license fee of $45.


Although this might seem odd to new dog owners, registering your dog is all about public safety, according to Koji Miyaji, the Assistant Director of Community Standards and the Deputy Chief License Inspector for the City of Vancouver.


He tells OhMyDog! that public safety is “fundamental” to why licenses are required.


“By licensing your dog, we're able to protect the dog and also protect the public if it is required,” he says. “On the public safety side, there are aggressive dogs or some people that are perhaps astute to their responsible pet ownership. And so by having the dog licence, we're able to identify dogs that may be at risk to other animals and that may attack other animals. And in cases it does happen where dogs do bite people.


“If the dog is licenced we are able to try to manage that situation. It's a lot easier if we know who the owner is, and what the dog is.”


Koji explains that the City is “very pro-education”, and officers are more than willing to chat to dog owners to encourage voluntary compliance and understand barriers that owners might face.


You can register your dog on the City of Vancouver’s website here.


2. Your dog has to wear their license at all times - much like a drivers license


When you get your dog registered, you’ll also receive a license tag that needs to be affixed to their collar - and it has to be worn at all times.


Koji explains through registration and keeping the tag visible on your dog, if it gets lost or escapes, it can be easily and quickly identified by it’s tag, and can be reunited with its owner.


According to the City, if a lost dog is picked up by one of its officers or brought in, it can be safely looked after at one of its shelters until it can be identified, licensed or not. However if your dog is licensed it can be driven straight home to you to be reunited. Without a license, owners will need to collect their dog directly at the shelter.


Koji adds that having a tag on show - as well as being formally registered - is also “a very important aspect of reducing strays, and reducing unwanted dogs, or animals.”


“It’s best practice to have the identifier. And so similar to having a driver's licence, they [authorities] expect you to carry it when you're driving. When the dog is out in public, we expect the dog to have its license visible so that we can take a look at it.”

3. You can’t own or keep more than 3 dogs


If you've tried owning multiple dogs in Vancouver, then you may be familiar with this particular rule that is often met with strong opinions from the local dog community


Koji explains that the bylaw was given an overhaul in 2005, when the City consulted with dog owners and other stakeholders to decide on a cap of three dogs per property.


With approximately 21,000 registered dogs in the City, Koji says “quality of life” for both owners and pets was the deciding factor in this decision.


“It is best practice around the different municipalities and also they have similar limits. Vancouver has a much less dense population and so we need to have some kind of limit so that there is quality of life for the dogs and also for the people and neighbours.”


4. A dog in heat has to be kept inside


Any dog owner who doesn’t have a spayed pooch knows that walking your dog when they’re in heat can attract some unwanted attention, which can make walks particularly challenging.


That’s why the City enshrined into the bylaw that dogs in heat need to be kept inside for as long as their cycle runs - which can be anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks every six months, according to the American Kennel Club.


Koji says that this section of the bylaw is in place not only for a female dog’s safety, but also to prevent unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. However, he adds it’s something that the City has never had to enforce during his time working there, adding he’s happy that dog owners are being responsible on this point, with the majority of the dogs in the City being either neutered or spayed.


2 to 4 weeks can be a long time to keep your dog inside, so Koji encourages owners to use a “common sense approach” by “adjusting your dog walk hours so that you're not out there at the time when there may be other animals out there to an early time or later on in the evening”.


5. Your dog’s leash can’t be longer than 2.5m

With nearly 2 years of pandemic living underneath our belts, people are more aware than ever of how long 2 metres is - and will have a good idea of 2.5m for the length of their dog’s leashes.


John Gray, Manager of Animal Services at the City of Vancouver, explains why leashes can’t be any longer than the current restrictions in the bylaw.


“It’s the reasonable length for space between you and the dog so that you can have ultimate control of your dog and its reaction. Obviously, if you have a longer leash, then your dog is further away from you, and you're having a harder time if your dog does react. Next reaction could be running in the streets after a squirrel or another animal, it could be lunging at another person passing by, and could be causing injury to somebody that's reacted to their animal.


“So with a leash 2.5 metres or less, you're able to pull that leash a little bit, and then maybe grab on the dog's collar and pull your dog with the ultimate control.”


But what about extendable leashes or owners who want to use training or recall leashes that are typically used for off-leash training?


“With extended leashes, we can see injury and conflict with those, we have a very busy environment. We have a lot of people doing different kinds of recreation, people jogging, that causes tripping hazards. It can be cyclists, people on scooters - you name it, there's all kinds of things that can happen when you have your dog further away from you. So keeping it close to you is probably the best bet unless you're in an off leash area where your dogs have a little more freedom.”


John says that the City has had to enforce this rule in particular due to injuries, but still encourages a pro-education approach by asking dog walkers to voluntarily comply when they’re out and about with their pets.


He adds: “Where we do see it happen is when there's actually an injury. So if you are responsible for pulling somebody off their bike or tripping somebody on the seawall and there's injuries, there could be a follow up on those situations. So that is usually the rationale for us enforcing the bylaws.”


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