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Should You License Your Dog? Two Views

With Baxter’s gotcha anniversary recently, it was time to renew his license with the city. Pet licensing can be a contentious issue, so I reached out to two people to get perspectives on both sides – should you license your dog?

Karen Edwards is an animal services advisor at the City of Hamilton where we live. She works in the Licensing and By-law Services department.

Wendy is a dog owner who chose not to license her dog. She asked not to be identified by her real name or city.

Karen estimates there are between 70,000 and 80,000 dogs in Hamilton. At the end of 2016, 39,844 dogs were licensed (50-56%). It’s the law in our city that owners must get a license before their dog is three months old and attach it to the dog’s collar.

Dog license requirements by city

Dog licensing laws vary quite a bit depending on what country, city or county you live in. In the comments, it would be interesting to hear from some of you about what’s required in your area.

In our case, we have to renew Baxter’s licence every year. The cost is $33 (CAN). There are reduced rates for puppies or for lower income people. The rates are higher for unneutered or unspayed dogs or if you renew after the deadline.

If you have a dog without a license, you may be fined $180 up to $10,000.

Should you license your dog?

Should you license your dog?

A dog license is required by law in many areas

Karen says the simple answer of why people should license their dogs is, “It’s the law. The long answer is that with a license tag on the dog, Animal Services staff can get a dog home quickly if it’s lost.”

In Hamilton, licensed dogs get one free ride home a year, without the dog going into a shelter first, she says.

“If a pet was found injured, it allows staff to contact the owner immediately so the owner can make the life-altering decisions regarding its care.”

One dollar from each licensing fee is also used to create and maintain leash free areas in the city of Hamilton.

Many dog owners don’t license their dogs

For Wendy, there were many reasons she decided to stop buying a dog license in her city. For one, she didn’t see a personal benefit for her and her dog.

“The only benefit… promoted by the city is Animal Control picking-up and temporarily housing any lost dogs,” she says.

“But part of my job as a dog owner is ensuring my dog is healthy and safe, and I take that very seriously, so I am vigilant and take many precautions to ensure my dog will not be lost.”

Baxter wearing his license

Where do the funds from dog licenses go?

I was pleased to learn from Karen that all licensing revenue in our city stays with Animal Services and helps maintain the city’s shelters—feeding, medically treating, vaccinating, and caring for stray and unwanted animals. In fact, $1 million of the Animal Services’ $4-million budget comes from licensing fees.

For us, we haven’t been in a situation where Baxter has been picked up by Animal Services, and we’re not huge users of the off-leash parks.

So, the benefits that Animal Services lists on our annual license renewal form aren’t big sellers for us. Learning that we’re helping other needy animals in the city is more incentive for me to maintain Baxter’s license.

Some dog owners don’t see licensing necessary

For Wendy, another factor in not licensing her dog is her own feelings on animal control practices in her city.

“My city tends to use a lot of fear tactics, particularly when it comes to dogs,” she explains. “Some of the information they put out is misguided and completely inaccurate.”

She cites an example where her city stated that dog owners who get a license usually take better care of their dogs and are better dog owners. “Of course, the city didn’t provide any data or proof to back-up that claim.”

She also notes that dogs are the only domestic animal required to have a license in her city, yet many cats roam freely without a license.

Should you license your dog

“I did have a license for the first few years of dog ownership, but after becoming educated about the city’s animal control practices, I chose not to renew the license,” she says.

“I suppose this is my way of protesting… even though it means I may have to pay for it, literally!”

Wendy said that getting a ticket is always a threat and a possibility, but she feels that due to understaffing in her city’s by-law and animal control departments, the chance of getting caught is relatively low.

As for Hamilton, Karen emphasizes that Animal Services has a zero tolerance policy in place for unlicensed dogs.

Educating dog owners on dog behaviour

Wendy would like to see education be a focus for her city’s animal control department.

“There’s a lot of misinformation and ignorance surrounding canine behaviour, but I think proper education would better equip owners and benefit the community as a whole,” she says.

“I’d like to see the City implement a mandatory course as a condition of the license. However, I recognize the challenges this idea presents, including the politics involved in sourcing that education. ”

Karen says Animal Services staff work there because they truly care about the pets in their community. She and other Animal Services staff are continuing to improve services and offer additional incentives that encourage more dog owners to license their dogs.

She says she’s aware of the objections about licensing, from “it’s a cash grab” to “my dog never gets out.”

For us, incentive or not, we will continue to buy a license for Baxter. He also wears his ID tags and he has a microchip.

Do you license your dog? Why or why not?

How does licensing work in your city?

Julia Preston is a blogger at Home on 129 Acres where she writes about her adventures of country living and DIY renovating. She lives on a 129-acre farm in Ontario, Canada.

Related posts:

Baxter the escape artist

Why are so many cats killed in shelters?


Thursday 14th of December 2023

I refuse to license my dog because its ridiculous.

I bought my own dog tag with my address on it and that's as far as I will go .

I pay enough taxes to this country and I have rights. Or so I like to believe

I won't do it because it's ridiculous and I'm absolutely tired of all these rules and unnecessary payments that I am supposed to make because omg its the law.

Do you ever wonder why people lose it and shoot up the place? Lol. Well these kind of things.


Tuesday 22nd of August 2017

I live in San Diego County and it's the law that all dogs be licensed. I complied for 30 years because "it's the law" but I don't any more. All my dogs have been micro chipped so I don't worry about them getting lost and I've given the appropriate vaccinations to develop immunity. I now titre my dogs to make sure they have adequate antibodies for every doggie disease that they can get. However, San Diego Animal Control will not accept a titre showing sufficient antibodies for rabies and will not give me a license (that I'm happy to pay for) until I get my dog a rabies shot which she doesn't need. We over-vaccinate in this country to the detriment of our dogs health and I will no longer participate in this mind-set.

Sandy Weinstein

Friday 18th of August 2017

i think where i live you have to have rabies, etc. b4 you can get the license. since my girls were too small, at 16 wks, i did not get rabies shots til they were older. i had 2 breeders one of which was a vet, who did my dog's ears and she said to wait, that she needed to grow more b4 she got her rabies shots. i did have problems with my previous vet. she wanted to charge me an additional 50.00 in case the dog bite someone. the dog weighed abt 6 lbs and was a sweetheart. i did not pay, i was pissed since i had been a long time client. my oldest who recently died, a wk ago today, had not had any shots for several yrs due to health reasons. i will stop some of the shots on my other girls as soon as they get a little older. my dog breeder stops her vac as soon as they stop showing. going to the cancer vet for almost a yr, i found that many people had stopped all vac on their dogs. what is strange is that, i found 2 people that had stopped all vac, heartworm, flea/tick, etc and their dogs went into remission, when the warm weather came back and one person started going back to the lake, she tried flea/tick and some other vac and the cancer came back full speed, the dog died within a wk. all of these chemicals we are putting in our dogs, on them are killing them. i saw puppy, 7 mos old with spots on their liver, a 2 yr old jack russell had end stage cancer of the knee, no knee at all, a 5 yr old put bull terminal cancer, young dogs. i talked to my homeopathic vet abt all of this b/c she said she is getting more and more dogs, young dogs that have cancer. it is the chemicals in the grass, what we feed them, over vaccinations, etc. if you have a good relationship with your vet she can write you a note stating for health reasons, your dog should not have vaccinations.


Tuesday 15th of August 2017

I was pretty lax renewing Stetson's license and guess what? Animal Control stopped by my house. I wasn't home, but they left me a note on the door. Anyhow here in Orange County when you get your puppy/dog his first rabies vaccination the vet sends that information to the OC Animal Control. Then OC Animal Control sends you a bill to license your dog and apparently if you don't pay the bill they send someone to your house.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 15th of August 2017

Oh gosh! Wow, that seems very extreme. Our vet also sent in Ace's rabies certificate to animal control and I got a letter and bill 4 years ago. I never paid it and thankfully no one came to my door! I've never licensed a pet but I think I'm going to license Remy for the extra protection if he ever runs off or gets stolen. I also had him chipped for the same reason.

M.A. Kropp

Monday 31st of July 2017

I have always licensed our dogs, Murphy for the ten years we had him, and now Lambeau. It is the law here and I know if he ever gets loose (and the best watched dogs sometimes do), and is picked up by animal control, we will be facing a fine. And that's not the only reason. An unlicensed dog that is picked up here and whose owner can't be found, can be legally euthanized after a waiting period is over. Now, I know *most* towns and cities will try to adopt unclaimed, healthy, friendly dogs, but I don't want to risk my dog being the one that gets trapped by this part of the state's law. For me, the risks are far greater than the licensing fee.