What Are Virginia Leash Laws? | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Virginia, like many states, has specific leash laws in place to regulate the control of dogs and other domestic animals in public spaces. These laws are designed to promote public safety, protect animals, and minimize potential conflicts between pet owners, pedestrians, and other animals. Understanding Virginia’s leash laws is essential for pet owners to ensure that they comply with local regulations. If someone is injured because a dog owner failed to comply with the law, that owner is liable for the victim’s losses under Virginia law. Speak to a Virginia Beach injury lawyer to learn more.

Here’s an overview of Virginia’s leash laws:

Local Variations

Virginia’s leash laws can vary by locality, so it’s important for pet owners to be aware of the specific regulations in their city or county. Local ordinances may have additional rules or restrictions beyond the state-level laws.

Running at Large Prohibited

Virginia Code § 3.2-6538 states that it is unlawful for any dog, licensed or unlicensed, to run at large. A dog is considered “at large” when it is off the property of its owner or custodian and not under the immediate control of a person capable of physically restraining the dog. This means that dogs must be on a leash or otherwise under control when outside of their owner’s property.


There are certain exceptions to the running at large prohibition. These include dogs that are participating in a lawful hunt, competition, or training exercise, dogs used by law enforcement agencies, and dogs within enclosed areas such as dog parks.

Dangerous Dogs

Virginia has specific regulations for dogs that have been declared “dangerous.” A dangerous dog must be securely confined or restrained, and when outside, it must be on a leash and under the control of a responsible person. There may be additional requirements for dangerous dog owners, including liability insurance.

Consequences for Violations

Violating Virginia’s leash laws can result in legal consequences. Owners of dogs that are found running at large may be subject to fines and could be held liable for any damage or injuries caused by their dogs.

Responsibility for Injury

Virginia follows the doctrine of “strict liability” when it comes to dog bites and attacks. This means that the owner of a dog can be held liable for any injuries or damages caused by their dog, regardless of whether the dog has a history of aggression or previous incidents. It’s essential for dog owners to take responsibility for their pet’s behavior and ensure they are properly restrained.

Control in Public Areas

When walking a dog in public areas, it is crucial to maintain control at all times. Even if a dog is on a leash, the owner must ensure that the dog does not become aggressive or pose a threat to others. Dogs should also be prevented from entering areas where they are not allowed, such as certain recreational spaces or businesses.

Service Animals

While leash laws apply to most dogs, they do not typically apply to service animals that are actively assisting individuals with disabilities. These animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and may be off-leash when performing their tasks.