≡ Menu

When Is A Dog Legally Yours To Keep?

Dogs are man's best friend.

We have heard this a million times before, but what does the law say about this? Does it recognize that one can own a dog like theirs?

Are there any rules on this matter, and what are they? Well, for that and more, stick around, and you will find out.

But first, take a look at this scenario, and after you will realize how important it is to have legal paperwork for your dog and fully understand when is a dog legally yours?

Picture this:

Two people present in court claiming that one dog belongs to them; each has a record showing that they have spent time with the pet through pictures and videos. But dogs could resemble each other, and even have the same name, right? So who is the rightful owner?

By the end of this text, you will understand how to own a dog legally and the dynamics surrounding such cases.

What Laws And Regulations Determine The Ownership Of Your Dog?

Photo of Retriever With His Owners

To answer the query, when is a dog legally yours, the following laws must apply.


Any dog owner is expected to fully register their dog with the local authorities in their respective country and area.

These registrations may entail the dogs' full details, things like its breed, color, age, date of birth, area of residence, and unique features.

It is through registration that unique kinds of dogs are listed too. For example, service dogs like guide dogs for blind people or emotional support dogs are indicated on the roster. 

Veterinary records

These are the health records showing the health state of the animal. By law, all dog owners must have the following to prove that the dog is healthy and has had all their vaccinations done on time.

These records should be updated regularly.

If your dog has any medical condition like deafness, blindness, or any other medically related issue, this document will show.


The law in most places requires your dog to wear a tag always. This is an effortless way to identify the name of your dog. Ideally, it would be best if you fixed the name label in a visible place, which is mostly the neck collar.


Yet another law you must abide by as a dog owner has a recent photo of your dog. The image must be of high resolution, highlighting any extra features your dog might have, such as distinctive earmarking.

Adoption or purchase documentation

Photo of Adoption Certificate

If you bought the dog from an individual or adopted it from a shelter, you must have the official documentation to show that the exchange of ownership was legal.

But if you got the dog as a gift from a friend, you can use the registration method.

Pet agreement form

If you have bought the pet with a partner, a pet agreement form comes in handy as it indicates who is the dog's primary caregiver. This form may have one or both your names.

 It can also contain the next of kin if anything happens in your partnership.

Insurance policy

What happens if your dog is hit by a car or injured through an accident that was not your fault? Who pays for the damages and medical expenses?

These are some of the reasons pet insurance can be very instrumental in getting help if something amiss happens. Insurance covers help you sort out medical expenses that are hefty like surgeries and medications.

Estate plan

An estate plan is a scheme laid down indicating how your dog shall be cared for after your demise.

This is mostly in the cases you feel your dog might outlive you. If that is the case, the will contains the details about the person appointed to take care of the dog after the dog owner dies.


Photo of Dog Microchip Scanner

Microchipping is not mandatory, but you are highly recommended to do it. The microchip includes all the details about the dog plus the owner's information.

The microchip is an extra precautionary step that dog owners use to raise their chances of getting their dog back if they ever get lost.

How to Prove A Dog Is Yours?

Getting to prove a dog is yours is pretty straightforward if you are listed as the owner in any of the methods above.

But what if your name isn't there? What more could you use?

Letter of transfer of ownership

Perhaps you bought your pup from craigslist or from a friend, as proof of ownership, you will have to produce the letter of transfer ownership.

In this case, the email exchanges and all the legally available documents showing the deal was legit can be used as proof.

Some people might refrain from updating some of the documentation, such as veterinary records or microchipping info, and this letter of transfer can function on their behalf. Regardless, it would be best if you changed everything in the long run.

Photos and videos

It is known that a picture is worth a thousand words, and can prove that a dog belongs to you.

This must, however, be used as supporting documentation in addition to the vital papers mentioned earlier.

How to Check If A Dog Was Previously Registered?

To find out if your dog is registered legally, visit the concerned authorities. If the dog has a record, your area's regulatory bodies will have the corresponding details matched up to the dog.

Reasons that May Lead You to Do a Registration Search

If you have found a lost dog and want to return it to the owner

Photo of Dog and man on Sofa

If you found a dog wandering without an owner, you should take the dog in and try to find the rightful owners.

The first place you should check is the tag that may sometimes include the name of the dog and the owner's contact info. If, by any chance, this is missing, you should proceed to the nearest dog shelter or the police station to try to locate the owner.

If the dog was previously registered at these two locations, the owner's details would pop up and will be used to contact the rightful owner.

Before buying or adopting a new dog

Before signing any papers, checking for previous dog registration is more a precautionary step.

To ensure that the dog being sold is rightfully owned by the person selling it, it is best to get a background search through regulatory bodies or the local authorities. This will help you to avoid falling on the wrong side of the law.

When you come across a diseased dog

As unfortunate as it may be, you may find a diseased dog in our property and the best action is to check through the authorities if the dog was previously registered.

This way, the rightful owner is contacted and informed of their dog's demise. It would ease their worry, especially if they were looking for their pet.

Can you Fight For Pet Custody?

Photo of Puppy in Hands

Yes, you can!

The law looks at pet ownership as property, and so yes, the same way you can seek ownership of a shared asset, a dog can be too.

Before, the law was only inclined to only go with the person named on all the documentation, but now, they are willing to hear the other side missing from the documentation.

Things that can help you win a pet custody case are as follows.

Proof that you did all the work

If you can prove to the court that you are the dog's primary caregiver despite your name not being on the documentation, you can win the case.

If you were the one in charge of grooming, cleaning, feeding, exercising, visiting the vet, and walking the dog, you might win the case.

Proof you can take care of the dog

This includes your financial capability, space, and availability to cater to all the needs the pet requires.

It would be best if you also are of sound mind, and witnesses can be a great addition to strengthen your case.


When it comes to divorce, where both parties are fighting to keep the pet, shared custody is mostly considered. But this can only be allowed if both partners agree to stick to the routine laid down when it comes to visitations, pick-ups, and drop-offs.

If any of the two parties breach this contract, the defaulter might be denied contact ultimately.

In this case, there is only one party interested in keeping the pet. The issue then becomes easy, and going to court is unnecessary. If you are an interested party, then the answer to when a dog is legally yours to keep is straightforward.

All in all, if the name on the documentation was the other person, you should make a switch. 


This happens mostly when it comes to family dogs registered under deceased parents or primary caregivers, and the kids fight for who will keep the dog.

In such cases, family lawyers come in to evaluate who is best fit to take care of the dog.

Since dogs do well with routines, moving from one home to another is discouraged, but visitations can be encouraged.

If the dispute is not family related, then a lawyer or mediator is contacted, and they may see who is legally the owner. Such a scenario would occur if someone finds a dog, and in checking their registration, they find none.

As a result, they choose to adopt the dog instead of leaving it at the shelter. Now the dispute may arise if the original owner comes forwards after spotting the pet.

The lawyer or mediator then evaluates the situation and helps both parties come with a solution.

Dangerous Animal Allegations

Photo of Dog in Sunset

Dangerous dog's allegations are in a broad spectrum since some people might consider a bark a potential danger, and we know dogs bark for various reasons, not really as a threat.

That said, below are some of the claims put across as a sign of a dangerous dog by several states.

A growling dog

A dog that produces a firm murmur directed to a particular person or object indicates that the dog is provoked and is in high alert.

Most times, it reflects an angry and aggressive dog that is ready to attack. Most times, when a dog growls, it lays low and gets into position to pounce any second.


As aforementioned, barking is not always an indication of a dangerous dog, but if it is in excess and unprovoked, it is dangerous. A barking dog is often angry, provoked, or scared and would attack to protect itself and its owner.


Freezing entails the dog getting into stealth mode, like waiting for the right time to pounce on a hunt. A dog that does this unprovoked and towards someone who is not a threat can be considered a dangerous dog.


A dog that aggressively lunges on someone with the intent of biting or hurting that person is considered a dangerous dog. This is mostly the behavior of guard dogs that have been trained to do so to incapacitate a perpetrator.

Teeth clenching

A dog that shows its teeth is not friendly. This clenching is when the jaw is tensed, and frequently a growl accompanies this action. A dog that does this is a dangerous animal, and you should quickly find safety before it gets bad.

Finding a Lost Dog

Photo of Dog Missing Flyers

Finding a lost dog can occur in scenarios—if you are looking for your dog, and when you find a stray dog.

Let’s first start with what you should do when you lose your dog.

What to do when you lose your dog

Print flyers immediately

Once you notice your dog is missing, please print out a photo of the dog with your contact details indicated and hand them around.

Stick them on all available notice boards in your area and give people you meet on the road. Consider adding an incentive like a reward to the person who comes forward with any lead.

Walk around the neighborhood

Even after handing out the flyers, walk around the neighborhood as you ask everyone you meet if they have spotted your dog. Ask even kids since they tend to be more attentive and observant when it comes to animals.

If you shared a favorite spot with your dog or liked visiting the park at a specific time, go there, and call out the name of your dog. You might just find your puppy there waiting for you.

Visit all pet shelters in and around your area

Ensure that you visit all pet stores and shelters to check if someone dropped off your dog, or if the authorities left the dog there.

It would help if you also headed to any veterinary centers since your dog might have been injured or found dead somewhere.

Use social media to get the word out

We live in a digitalized world, and this can work pretty amazing when you are searching for your dog. Posting on social media or using designated applications to help you find your pet can be very helpful.

Hire professionals

There are also professional animal trackers who can come to the rescue to help you find your dog. They have the necessary tools and expertise that can come to help you find your dog in the shortest time possible.

What to do when you find a lost dog

Check for any identification on the dog

Photo of Lost Dog

Most dogs will have a collar with their name and the contact info of the owner.

If there is, contact the owner, then arrange a meetup. However, if there is none, proceed to the following steps.

Inform the local authorities

The next thing you should do is either call the police or take the lost dog to the nearest police station. The law will then take the dog to the shelters or take it to the owner if there is an active missing report.

Please take it to the nearest animal shelter

If the animal shelter is nearer to the police station, you could head there first and drop off the dog with all the necessary details.

The shelter administrators will still contact the police to check if there are any missing dog reports filed. Regardless, you will have significantly helped.

Follow-up to see if the dog was claimed

As a simple courtesy, reach out to wherever you left the dog and check if the owner claimed the dog. Often, the owner might even reach out to thank you. But even if they don't,  following-up out is an excellent initiative.

Animal Shelters

Also known as a pound, is a temporary home for animals, mostly dogs and cats. They may be stray, homeless, or surrendered by someone who can no longer care for them.


Vets have all the expertise to evaluate what is wrong with the stray dogs when they are brought in. Vets are also responsible for nursing sick animals back to good health by offering care and medication.

Registering a Dog

The process is usually straightforward. And depending on your local laws, you may head to the regulatory body or the nearest police station to get all the needed paperwork.

This paperwork includes all proof that the dog is yours, including receipts of purchase or adoption.

Pet Registration and ID Tags

Photo of Dog with Refistration ID on Collar


A microchip is a very minute device equivalent to a rice grain usually put under the dog's skin.

This chip has all the dog's information and is very instrumental in tracking the animal down. The procedure to get the microchip is painless and takes less than five minutes.

Medical Documentation

Medical documentation includes all the paperwork used and acquired while visiting the vet.

Every visit, including a simple routine check-up, must be included here. They are very fundamental when it comes to insurance claims and proof of ownership.

Vaccinations Records

These are the records showing all the immunization shots your dog got. Information about the rabies shots and other mandatory injections is found here.

The date of the visit and the next ones are also indicated here. These records are always in duplicates, one for the owner and the other remains with the vet.

Canine Insurance

This is gotten as a precautionary in case of any incident involving your dog.

Insurance comes to help you deal with medical expenses that might arise from injury, sickness, or accident. Insurance also helps in incases of theft and dog death.

Can Other People Remove Your Pet's Microchip Or Tamper With It?

No! It is actually against the law to tamper with any dog's microchip without the right paperwork.

If there is a transfer of ownership, professionals who know what they are doing must remove or exchange the microchip. A microchip should be replaced after removal immediately.

What To Do If A Private Party Doesn't Want To Give Up Your Dog?

Photo of Young Couple Walks With Their Dog

If someone is claiming that the dog is theirs, the best thing is to take it up with the authorities.

In such a situation,  all the ownership documentation mentioned above will help a lot in your claim. If you are legally listed, then you will get your dog back.

What Can I Do Legally If I Know Someone Who Abuses Their Dog?

If you realize someone is abusing their dog by either torturing or not providing basic needs, you should call the authorities and report the matter.

You must, however, have proof of your claim. Regardless, they will intervene and do their investigation to check if the dog is receiving adequate care. Often the abuse will be visible.


Hoping now, after reading this piece, you have a conclusive answer to the question when is a dog legally yours to keep!

So if you have a pug or german shepherd you have not yet registered, get to work since it is great to have proof of ownership