Understanding Washington DC and Surrounding Area Leash Laws

By Peter DePaolis

As a pet owner, you are required to follow all leash laws and keep the public safe. Even if your pet is completely harmless and has never bit someone before, you still need to obey these laws. Failure to comply with district leash laws could result in fines. But if your dog was to bite another person, the consequences might be much worse than a few hundred dollars.

In the District of Columbia, the statute allows the council along with the Mayor of DC’s office to create, enforce, and regulate all leash laws in the area. In Virginia and Maryland, the state oversees all leash laws and some counties have separate laws imposed on owners.

What Are the Leash Laws Dog Owners Should Know in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and VA?

Regardless of whether you live in D.C. or Virginia, you are required to keep a dog on a leash. The circumstances of when you must have your dog leashed, the fines you might face, or unique situations that prohibit you from taking your dog into public vary by area.

The Leash Laws of D.C.

District law states that anyone owning a dog cannot bring that dog into public spaces within the District without a secure, substantial leash in place. Furthermore, a person capable of holding the leash and controlling the dog must be present. Therefore, having your child hold your dog’s leash during a walk in the park is a violation of the law – unless your child is strong enough to control your dog.

When it comes to playgrounds, natural or synthetic park turf, athletic courts, pool areas, and public fields, no dogs are allowed in these areas unless they are registered service dogs. It is advised that you bring along your dog’s registration when entering these areas to avoid a citation.

What about Designated Dog Parks?

The District does have designated dog parks, and these zones do allow for you to unleash your dog but only within the assigned facility.

What Happens If You Violate D.C. Leash Laws?

D.C. leash law violators can face fines of $25 for their first offense. If you have a second offense in a two-year period, you can face up to $50, and $100 for every fine after that within the two-year window.

The Leash Laws of Maryland

Maryland’s dog leash laws vary depending on the county. Most counties require that your dog have a leash if they are on public property or leaving your residence. The penalties in certain counties may vary. All counties can impose their separate regulations when it comes to seizing and disposing of animals caught without a leash.

Here Are the Laws for Those in Montgomery County, MD

If you reside in Montgomery County or you are visiting, your dog must be leashed any time it is outside of your property. Furthermore, if you live in a community, cooperative, or have a homeowners association, you still must leash your dog in the neighborhood or building. Your dog may only be unleashed in a fenced yard or inside your home.

You can unleash your dog in a designated dog exercise park as long as it is designated by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

If you violate the Montgomery County rules, your first offense costs you $100 and $500 for all subsequent offenses (with no lookback period).

The Leash Laws of Virginia

Your dog cannot roam free in certain counties of Virginia. Some counties, like Fairfax, do allow for your dog to be off a leash while you are engaging in lawful hunting – but you must be in a designated hunting zone. Furthermore, your dog can be unleashed for obedience training courses or dog shows as well as in an off-leash dog exercise park.

Note that there is no statewide leash law in Virginia. Instead, you must review the local municipality and government policy.

The Consequences of an Unleashed Dog: Civil Penalties

Some states or counties have minor fines for a dog caught off its leash, but the fine is the least of your worries. If your dog were to attack someone, you could face civil penalties. A victim of a dog attack or bite can file a civil lawsuit against you for the actions of your dog.

In a civil suit, you may have to pay for:

  • Medical Costs: Any medical costs stemming from the attack or bite, including hospital stays, ambulance rides, reconstructive surgery, psychotherapy, prescription medications, doctor’s appointments, and more. If the victim requires future medical care, you may pay for those costs, too.
  • Lost Wages or Loss of Earning Capacity: When a bite or attack is severe enough to take someone away from work, the dog’s owner may be liable for those costs. If the victim is permanently disabled from that attack, owners may have to pay for wages they would have earned had they not been injured.
  • Pain and Suffering: A vicious dog attack is not only physically traumatic, it is mentally and emotionally traumatic, too.
  • Punitive Damages: In the event your dog was trained to be vicious or you already have a dangerous dog registration in the area, you could face punitive damages. Punitive damages are on top of compensatory damages and designed to punish those who exhibit grossly negligent behavior.

Attacked by a Dog? Speak with an Injury Attorney Today

If a dog that was not on their leash attacked or injured you or a loved one, you might have a claim against the dog’s owner. To explore your options and start the process, speak with an attorney that has experience handling dog attack claims.

Let the team at Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP, help with your case. We have offices located in the D.C., Maryland, and VA areas to serve you. Contact an office near you or ask us a question online.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.