Know Your Rights and Liabilities When Using Dog Parks

For pet owners, dog parks are a welcome reprieve from leashes, fenced-in yards, and kennels. Dog parks, or off-leash areas, are designated (and typically enclosed) spaces where pets socialize and exercise. There are already several dog parks open in Macomb County, with a few set to open soon in Sterling Heights and Utica. But before you visit these facilities it's important to know your rights and liabilities when using dog parks.

As a dog owner, you may feel as if you’re able to relax when your animal is enjoying the park, but that’s not the case. The law requires that you keep a close eye on your dog, and with good reason. If your dog bites a person or another animal, digs holes, or pushes someone and that action led to injury, you, as the animal’s owner, are legally responsible. This law applies to dog parks as well, even though those “Enter at Your Own Risk” signs are clearly posted. Those signs do not release you, the animal’s owner, from liability, so be careful.

According to Michigan law, if a dog bites a person without provocation while the person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner of the dog, the dog owner is liable for any damages suffered by the person bitten. This is regardless of the viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness. This includes an animal bite that occurred while using the dog park.

Here are rules governing dog parks that every dog owner should know, according to the Michigan State University College of Law:

  1. Read and adhere to the rules governing the dog park.
  2. Do not bring more than two dogs into the park at one time.
  3. A handler must be at least 16 years of age.
  4. Children ages 10-16 may enter the park with a responsible adult; children under age ten should not enter the park in any case.
  5. No female dogs in heat or sick dogs allowed in the park.
  6. Dogs should be brought to the park on a leash and released inside the dog park, then put back on the lease as they exit the park. No spike, choke, electric, or prong collars.
  7. Each dog brought into the park must be wearing, or the handler must carry, current vaccination and registration tags, which may be checked by a member of the municipality, Dog Park Group, animal control authority, or other law enforcement officer.
  8. Food (human and dog treats), toys, and glass containers are not permitted in the dog park.
  9. Handlers should remain in visual contact with their dogs in the park and shall have verbal control of their dogs.
  10. A handler must immediately leash and remove a dog that becomes aggressive, regardless of whether the dog has a history of bites or has been designated as a dangerous or vicious dog under state or other applicable law.
  11. In no event may a dog that has been designated as dangerous or vicious be brought into the park. Criminal penalties apply to bringing a dangerous or vicious dog into the park.
  12. Dog bites must be immediately reported to the local police or animal control officer. All bites of other dogs or people shall be reported to local police and the animal control authority by anyone involved or witnessing the bite.
  13. Handlers should control excessive barking.
  14. A handler is responsible for the destruction caused by his or her dog, which includes filling in any holes the dog digs while in the park.

Not every dog park has the same rules. The guidance provided by MSU is helpful, but you should always be aware of the rules specific to each dog park you visit. If you need advice regarding a dog-related injury at the dog park or elsewhere, visit our website or call 586-726-1000 to speak to one of our attorneys.