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In Pennsylvania, there are state laws for handling of dogs.

My dog wears a shock collar, and I know that my dog will not run and will listen to me. Do I still have to have them on a leash?

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  • Also, it is not quite clear what you mean by "PA leash law" - there is no state law by that name. Please edit to clarify. I linked an overview page about PA law - feel free to add more specific links to laws you are talking about.
    – sleske
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 7:53
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    A leash performs many tasks a shock collar does not. "my dog will not run and will listen to me" This is what every owner who had a dog that mauled someone will say, until it happens.
    – eps
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 19:20
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    When off your property, it would be extremely unwise to not have a visible leash on your dog. Most townships require a physical leash. Also, it's fairly inconsiderate not to leash your dog, as not all people are dog lovers and some are just plain afraid of dogs. How do they know the dog will leave them alone? It's not worth the hassle, honestly. Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 23:37
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    Please keep your dog on a leash, regardless of your legal obligations. Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 23:47
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    "I know that my dog will not run and will listen to me." --> OK - let us take that as absolute truth. Say another owner & dog do not. Once the dog moves away from the owner and before the owner calls out "stay", what should a 3rd person conclude? All is safe? Wait for things to play out? Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 17:32

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I guess your local law in question does not actually define "leash". Which is fine, people know what a leash is.

The dictionary defines it as "a line for leading or controlling an animal".

So one thing is certain, it is a physical line. This pysical line does not need to have specific wave length properties. If you manage to invent a truly invisible one, that would be fine. If you have a transparent one, that is just really hard to see, that would be fine, too. At least for this specific topic. It might be a danger to others running an invisible line in public spaces though.

But the thing that is marketed as "invisible leash" and is basically a shock collar with an automatic trigger based on distance to you? That is not a leash. The only way that might be considered equivalent to a physical leash would be if it insta-killed instead of shocked.

With a physical leash, the dog cannot do certain things. It cannot run accross the street and attack the toddler. With a shock collar it still can. It will be unpleasant, but it absolutely can.

Saying "my dog would never do that" is like ignoring gun permits, because "that nice boy next door would never do something like that". We have laws for a reason, for large parts because we cannot perfectly read minds. Not those of our own species and certainly not those of others.

In some juristictions you can have your dog officially certified, trained and tested. And then, you get a permit to have it off leash.

But just using a product whose brand name marketing includes the word "leash"? No, that is not how laws work.

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    This answer is almost completely conjecture.
    – Plutor
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 19:06
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    Your reasoning violates Hume's law.
    – d-b
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 21:27
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    This answer only applies to jurisdictions where the law says something like "dogs must be kept on a leash." Notably, this is not the case in PA.
    – MJD
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 22:04
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    @MJD The other answer quoted the law: "firmly secured by means of a collar and chain or other device so that it cannot stray". A "invisible leash" device does not fit those criteria, because it does not mean the dog cannot stray, it only means the dog is encouraged not to by means of pain. It still very much can, compared to a leash or fence that makes it physically impossible.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 5:48
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    In light of the other answer noting that the word "leash" appears nowhere in the law in question, this answer saying that "the law does not define leash, but we all know what it means" seems tendentious. The law says the dog must be "under control", not "on a leash", so your entire argument about the meaning of the word "leash" feels specious to me. (I take no position on what constitutes "under control", I just feel that your answer misled me as to what the law actually said.) Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 0:08
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First of all, there is not just one singular "PA leash law". There are various rules in state law about dogs, and in addition to that, local government can have additional rules - so the exact rules depend on where you are in Pennsylvania.


That said, PA state law does not explicitly mention leashes. However, it does say (Title 3, § 459-305):

§ 459-305. Confinement and housing of dogs not part of a kennel

(a) Confinement and control.-- It shall be unlawful for the owner or keeper of any dog to fail to keep at all times the dog in any of the following manners:

(1) confined within the premises of the owner;

(2) firmly secured by means of a collar and chain or other device so that it cannot stray beyond the premises on which it is secured; or

(3) under the reasonable control of some person, or when engaged in lawful hunting, exhibition, performance events or field training.

So if you are walking your dog, it must usually be "under the reasonable control of some person".

So, going by the letter of the law, a shock collar is an acceptable alternative if you can keep the dog "under control". Of course, if there should be a dispute, a court would probably have to decide whether the control provided is sufficient (though the same would apply to a leash).

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    In particular, "under the reasonable control of some person" means that just a physical leash is not sufficient either. For example, if your 5 year old was holding the leash and let go of it when your dog ran, that'd probably not be judged "reasonable". Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 13:30
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    "under the reasonable control of some person" This is key, because if something happens and you end up in court, the perception of "reasonable control" will likely be a deciding factor. It would take some serious arguments and technical expertise to demonstrate that a shock collar was actively trying to prevent an attack, and even then a jury might not accept it. But, for instance, my +70 year old mother being literally dragged behind her 120 lbs. dog by hanging onto a physical leash would have the perception of at least attempted control. (cont) Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 20:52
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    Besides, what if the collar or remote batteries die? You might get some leniency if a physical leash breaks, but you likely won't have any kind of mitigating circumstances if the collar fails or doesn't have enough electricity to power it. The law usually doesn't provide for this. The might not even cover a broken physical leash if it's in bad shape before the break. Trying to be "technically correct" with the law is usually the fastest way to end up in court. Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 20:57
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Yes, as another answer points out, under Pennsylvania's Title 3, § 459-305, you must use a leash or similar when out and about with your dog.

Also note that if you choose to ignore the law, your dog may be shot and killed if it chases a person, and it's perfectly legal in Pennsylvania.

That's right. Under Pennsylvania Statutes Title 3 P.S. Agriculture § 459-501. Killing dogs; dogs as nuisances, if your dog merely "pursues" a person without biting, scratching, growling or showing any aggressive behavior, it can be legally shot and killed or bludgeoned to death with no criminal or civil liability for the killer. It states in part:

(a) Legal to kill certain dogs.--Any person may kill any dog which he sees in the act of pursuing or wounding or killing any domestic animal, wounding or killing other dogs, cats or household pets, or pursuing, wounding or attacking human beings, whether or not such a dog bears the license tag required by the provisions of this act. There shall be no liability on such persons in damages or otherwise for such killing.

Just picture the scene: You're out for a walk with Lady off-leash, she sees a youngster and his dad walking toward you. Lady makes that happy squeal that means it's time to play, and her tail starts wagging like crazy. You know what's on her mind as she trots toward the child and you don't call her back. Unfortunately, the child has a dog phobia, and he turns around and runs toward his dad. At that instant, your dog is "pursuing" the child. Before you can react, the Dad draws his Glock and sends Lady to the rainbow bridge.

A security camera on the house across the street caught the whole thing. There's one frame in the video that shows the child running toward his dad with the dog in pursuit. That makes it a justified shooting. Your dog is dead, and it's your fault. And under the statute, even if you sue for damages, the case will be dismissed.

So please, keep your dog on a leash.

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    @OscarCunningham Semantics? A dog can lunge if on a leash, but pursue? I don't think so unless the owner is running along or if the dog is on one of those retractable leashes and the owner allows it to pursue. Would that then become assault with a deadly weapon? See People v Nealis (1991) law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/3d/232/…
    – MTA
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 15:24
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    @PCLuddite That's a fair criticism. I've added a preamble to answer the question and kept everything else to inform the OP of the potential consequences of ignoring the law, which was my original purpose. Thank you.
    – MTA
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 17:33
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    "you must use a leash or similar when out and about with your dog": this is incorrect unless you include verbal control as similar to a leash, which I do not. A dog that can be effectively and reasonably controlled by a person without a leash does not violate the law. Furthermore, the degree of control that is "reasonable" will vary depending on the location and other circumstances, as implied by the example of hunting.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 19:24
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    @phoog "A dog that can be effectively and reasonably controlled by a person without a leash" does not exist. Watch any dog show competition on youtube, as soon as they aren't performing they are immediately leashed and controlled by the owner. And they are dogs that are professionally trained from near birth. Because dogs are animals and all animals (humans included!) are extremely capable of unpredictable behavior when circumstances arise. That being said, the rules (de facto or jure) will be very different for a hunting ground or rural area than a suburb
    – eps
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 19:31
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    @AzorAhai-him- The question, answers and comments on this entire page turn on the meaning of "control". There appear to be two camps at polar opposites. I think you'd have to go to case law to learn how "control" of a dog has been interpreted. Westlaw anyone?
    – MTA
    Commented Oct 28, 2023 at 14:17
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Laws requiring dogs to be on a leash are usually local government ordinances and not state laws. So the language of the ordinance in your particular locality would matter.

But, generally speaking leash laws usually require the dog to be on a leash even if the dog is on an "invisible leash" and you know that your dog will not run and listens to you.

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As others have remarked, Pennsylvania (pop 12M+) is reasonably large, with 67 counties containing 56 cities, giving plenty of scope for a range of local laws that provide clearer alternatives to that ambiguous third "must be under control" clause of PA dog law.

I would go so far as to say that in your case, it seems unlikely that PA state law is the only law that applies.

Here are a small selection of a few of the largest, to give an idea of their type and range (in all cases, bolding and emphasis is mine):

Philadelphia (pop 1.6M+) - section 10-104 -

All animals, other than sterilized cats, using any street, public place or private property of anyone other than the owner of the animal shall be on a leash not exceeding six (6) feet in length including the handgrip but excluding the collar and accompanied by a person able to fully control the animal at all times.

First offense $100, second $200, third $300 plus removal of the animal.

Pittsburgh (pop 302k) - § 633.08 -

No person, whether as owner or person in possession, shall permit his or her dog to run at large upon the public streets, sidewalks or other public places, or upon the property of another. A dog shall be restrained by the use of a leash, or a chain not exceeding six (6) feet in length, at all times when upon public places, streets and park.

Montgomery County (pop 860k+) - § 114-6

While the animal is not upon the property of the owner, the animal must be kept on a leash.

"Leash" is not defined that I can see. Penalty $25-$1,000 plus costs, or up to 30 days' prison, per offense, with each day counting as a separate offense.

By contrast, Alleghany County other than Pittsburgh is remarkably lenient on this topic:

Alleghany County (pop 900k+ excl Pittsburgh) - Animal Control Ordinance S 7

It shall be unlawful for any owner to permit his dog to run at large if such animal is reported to be creating a public nuisance and an enforcement officer determines after investigation that the reports are supported by sufficient evidence to establish this fact. In such cases, and only in such cases, the owner must keep the dog that has been found to be creating a public nuisance on his own property at all times unless the dog is under restraint or control of a competent person by means of a chain, leash, or other device, or is sufficiently near his handler to be under his direct control and is obedient to that person’s commands, or on or within a secure enclosure. If a dog is impounded for running at large in violation of this section, and after having been found to be a public nuisance as set out above, the owner may reclaim his dog by paying a fee of ten dollars ($10.00) plus board

So, in rural Alleghany, at least with my naive reading of that law, you only need to "control" your dog if it's off your property AND someone has reported it as a public nuisance, AND the report has been investigated and found to be factual... and even in that case, simply having the dog "near" you and obedient is considered "control". And even if you violate it, the charge is just ten bucks, plus two bucks a day for boarding.

As a very vague rule of thumb, urban areas will tend to have significantly stricter requirements for animal control than rural ones, and also heavier penalties.

Ideally, you'd ask a legal professional versed in your local law to find all federal, state, and local laws, bylaws, codes and ordinances that apply to your case. At a minimum, you should probably check your county and city ordnance yourself: you can typically find this (as I did above) by Googling the place name and the words "leash law" or "animal control law". Or just keep your dog on a short leash.

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