California Leash Law

Dog Bites & Injuries | November 9, 2021

Updated 2/27/2024

Every day, someone suffers catastrophic injuries in a dog attack. Dogs running loose or at large contribute to many of these severe and sometimes deadly incidents. In California, it is every pet owner’s legal responsibility to obey leash laws in public places. Otherwise, the dog owner could be responsible and held liable for what his or her dog does to another human or animal.

Understanding California’s leash laws can help you stay out of trouble, as well as know when to call an attorney if someone else’s dog bites you.

Barking dog on leash

Is it Legal to Have Your Dog Off a Leash?

You must keep your dog on a leash in most municipalities in California. Although the state does not have a universal law requiring owners to keep all dogs on leashes, most counties have enacted their own ordinances with this requirement. If you live in a rural area, this might not be the law in your region, but California’s metropolitan places require dogs on leashes in public places.

Los Angeles County’s leash law, for example, states that owners must restrain all dogs on substantial leashes not exceeding six feet in length while on public property or shared areas of private property (Code of Ordinances section 10.31.010). A dog may only be off-leash on private property with the property owner’s consent. If you have a dog your county has deemed dangerous, you might have stricter dog restraint rules, such as muzzling your dog on walks.

Most counties in California have similar dog leash laws. You must keep your dog on a leash that meets your city’s requirements when walking in public places. The only exception is if you are in a public place with signs allowing off-leash pets, such as dog parks or designated dog beaches. Having your dog off a leash in public in a county that prohibits this could result in a fine.

Is it Illegal to Let Your Dog Roam in California?

It is illegal to let your dog roam – referred to as running at large in most statutes – in most cities in California. Like the leash laws, each county has the right to enact its own unique statute regarding dogs running at large. Most counties have laws prohibiting dogs from roaming any public street, area or park, as well as roaming private properties without the owner or lessor’s permission. When off private property, the pet owner must leash the dog according to the county’s leash laws.

Can My Dog Be Off-Leash in My Front Yard?

If you do not have a fence or wall bordering your front yard, your dog must remain on a leash or otherwise confined in most counties. You must restrain your dog, even on private property, if your dog could otherwise run at large. The only time you may allow your dog to be off-leash in your yard is if it has a wall, fence or barrier that separates the dog from the public.

Smart Leashes

In recent years, technology has introduced smart leash systems with GPS tracking and geofencing, aiding pet owners in complying with leash laws while ensuring their dog’s safety. These leashes allow real-time monitoring and boundary setting through smartphone apps, preventing dogs from roaming at large and providing owners with peace of mind. Alongside technological advancements, community-driven initiatives and partnerships offer education, subsidized gear distribution, and obedience classes, promoting responsible pet ownership and reducing the risk of dog-related incidents. By embracing these tools and collaborative efforts, communities strive to enhance public safety and the well-being of both pets and owners.

What If You Break Your County’s Leash Laws?

California is a strict liability dog bite state. The victim of a dog bite injury will not need to prove the dog owner’s negligence or prior knowledge of the dog’s violent behaviors to be eligible for a compensatory award. The pet owner will be strictly liable for damages whether or not he or she was negligent in leashing or controlling the pet, and even if the owner had no reason to suspect the dog of vicious propensities. California has a strict dog bite law instead of a one-bite rule to encourage pet owners to take responsibility for training and restraining their pets.

It will not matter whether you were breaking one of California’s leash laws at the time of the dog attack. You will be financially responsible for injuries if your dog bites someone. The only exceptions are if the victim was trespassing on your private property at the time of the dog bite or if the victim instigated the attack. You may, however, receive additional fines and penalties for breaking your county’s leash laws at the time of the attack. Speak to a dog bite attorney in Sacramento if you suffer serious injuries in a dog attack or need assistance countering someone else’s dog bite claim against you in California.