Dog Laws

How to Get Legal Ownership of a Dog

Owning a dog is not just about sharing love and companionship, it also comes with specific legal responsibilities. We’ll elucidate on how to get legal ownership of a dog and explores the varied aspects associated with it.


In the eyes of the law, pets are considered personal property. Hence, obtaining legal ownership of a dog is akin to acquiring any other movable property. However, the process involves certain steps that need to be followed to ensure the legalities are taken care of.

Understanding Pet Ownership Laws

Before we delve into how to get legal ownership of a dog, it’s essential to understand that the laws around pet ownership vary from state to state. Regardless, there are some universal principles that apply.

Personal Property

Like your car, clothes or any other movable items you own, your pet is considered personal property. This means that if you find a stray animal, it doesn’t become yours after a specific period of time, similar to how found money doesn’t become yours over time.

Adoption from Animal Control Agency

The only legal way to take ownership of a stray domestic animal and prevent the original owner from reclaiming their pet is by adopting from an animal control agency or rescue organization. They ensure the animal has served a mandated stray holding period before it’s put up for adoption.

Exceptions and Potential Risks

There are no laws supporting any exceptions to the rule of personal property. If you decide to keep a stray dog without following proper protocol, there’s a risk of ending up in court with its rightful owner. As the legal owner, you could also be sued if your dog bites someone.

Ways to Prove Pet Ownership

In situations where pet ownership is in dispute, there are several ways to prove that you are the rightful owner of a dog. These include:


A registered microchip is a common method to establish ownership of a pet. However, it’s important to note that the chip should be registered under your name, and you should have all the associated documents.

Registration Papers

Breed registration papers can also help establish ownership. Having these documents in your name can serve as proof of ownership, particularly when combined with other proofs.

Adoption Papers

Adoption papers from a recognized animal shelter or rescue organization serves as a legal document that proves ownership of a pet.

Collar with ID Tags

Collars with ID tags are an effective method for ID, though they can be lost or removed. Having a license tag shows that you have fulfilled the legal obligations tied to pet ownership.

Vet Records

Vet records, especially recent ones, show that you have been taking responsibility for the pet’s care, further reinforcing your ownership claim.


In today’s digital age, having photos of your pet can play a crucial role in substantiating your claim of ownership. A history of photos with the dog over a period of time can help you establish ownership.


While possession isn’t an absolute proof of ownership, having the pet in your custody for a long period of time, while also fulfilling all responsibilities towards it, can support your claim of ownership.

Pet Custody Laws

Pet custody laws have evolved over time to reflect the unique nature of pets as compared to other personal property. Today, in some states, judges have the power to consider the care and best interest of the pet when making decisions in separation or divorce matters.

Pets as Property

Previously, pets were treated like other physical property during a separation or divorce. The decision on who gets the pet was based on who purchased or adopted the animal.

Best Interest of the Pet

With changes in laws, courts now award custody of a pet based on what is deemed best for the animal. They can even create shared custody agreements and may enter orders that require one party to care for a pet prior to final ownership determination.

Understanding how to get legal ownership of a dog is crucial for all potential and current dog owners. Having a pet is rewarding but also requires responsibility. Following the outlined steps and understanding pet ownership laws ensures a legally sound and dispute-free journey with your pet.