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Fact Check: Is Hitting Your Dog For Bad Behavior Illegal?

Is It Illegal To Hit Your Dog

We love our dogs. There’s no question about that. 

But for some, hitting is still part of training your pooch. 

Tough love, as they say. 

But what do the laws say about this?

Is it humane and legal? Or not? 

Read on to find out:

  • The US’ definition of animal abuse.
  • The animal cruelty laws in 4 countries. 
  • What dog trainers don’t tell you about hitting your dog. 
  • PROVEN: Studies show negative effects of aversive training.
  • And many more…

Is it illegal to hit your dog? 

It is illegal to hit your dog if it results in serious injuries. In the US and Canada, there has to be a willful intent to do something bad to the dog. In Australia, the court has to prove willful intent of cruelty. The UK advocates positive reinforcement. And they consider hitting as an offense. 

Can you go to jail for hitting a dog?

You can go to jail for up to 5 years for hitting your dog. Especially if your dog gets serious injuries. Or it’s proven that you do it on a regular basis. The court will charge you with animal cruelty. And you will have to pay fines of $20,000 or more.

Is it illegal to hit your dog – 4 countries revealed

#1: United States

The US has 50 states. Each with their own set of unique rules.

And their laws against animal cruelty also reflect that. 

But there’s a common thread.

In all states, it’s illegal to abuse or treat animals with cruelty. 

Nolo explains that all the animal welfare laws do include the common forms of abuse:

  • Torture. 
  • Neglect.
  • Mutilation. 
  • Dogfighting.
  • Abandonment.
  • Cosmetic cruelty. 

Some states are stricter than others in implementation. 

In previous years, there wasn’t even a clear definition of animal cruelty.

Today, US animal welfare laws have targeted more specific behaviors. 

Such as leaving the dog outside without proper shelter. Or serious and repeated abuse. 

Take these 2 states for example…


The Penal Code 957 PC targets animal abuse. 

For this state, it is a crime when someone with bad intentions does these to an animal:

  • Kill.
  • Harm. 
  • Maim.
  • Torture.

The convicted will have a charge of misdemeanor or a felony. Which means serving time for up to 3 years in jail. Or pay a fine of at most $20,000.

This law covers wild, stray, domesticated, and farm animals 

“How does a lawyer prove that it’s animal abuse?”

They have to prove that the defendant acted with malicious intent.  While they were abusing the animal. 

SHouse Law Group defines “malicious intent” as a wrong act. In which the person does it intentionally.

But there are a few exceptions. In these scenarios, the defendant can escape the charges:

  • Acting in self-defense.
  • They didn’t have the means to take care of it. 
  • The defendant wasn’t responsible for the animal. 

Next, I give you…


Dog Abuse In Washington

In this state, the animal cruelty law has 2 parts. 

The first one is like California’s with provisions that follow the US Animal Welfare Act

But for the second part, the state adds specific scenarios:

  • Inflicting unnecessary suffering on an animal.
  • Adopting and abandoning rescued fighting animals.
  • Failing to provide proper shelter, medications, space, rest, sanitation.

Washington considers animal cruelty as a gross misdemeanor. 

This means that the convicted can go to jail for up to 364 days with a fine of $5,000. 

Both California and Washington have a core description of animal cruelty. 

But they’re different in the intensity of consequences. And also, the included scenarios for conviction. 

It is important to note that in California, pet owners can correct their pets for bad behavior. 

Because this isn’t “hitting with malicious intent”. 

For example…

Some dog owners on the Internet advocate hitting the nose. Or muzzle for behavior correction. 

But this can actually injure your pooch as the nose is very delicate. 

They can commit offenses only when there’s a serious injury to the dog. Or they’re maimed or deformed in some way.

While in Washington, the lines are more defined. 

Courts can classify hitting for behavior correction as:

“Inflicting unnecessary suffering or pain to an animal”. 

#2: UK

Like the USA, animal protection laws in the UK are similar but have a few differences. 

This happens because the countries are responsible for implementing the laws. 

UK CountryAnimal Protection Legislation/Law
EnglandAnimal Welfare Act 2006
WalesAnimal Welfare Act 2006
ScotlandAnimal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006
Northern IrelandWelfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011

“Who does it apply to?”

The laws say that anyone who:

  • Owns an animal. 
  • Is in charge of one.
  • Handles an under-age person who takes care of one

These people are responsible for anything that happens to the animal.

According to Animal Law, the UK legislation doesn’t recognize animals still in the womb. And they define the term as “any vertebrate other than man”. 

Although it only applies to “protected” animals who are:

  • Owned by humans. 
  • Not living in a wild state.
  • Commonly found and domesticated in the UK.

“What are the offenses?”

The UK laws forbid:

  • Mutilation.
  • Giving poisons.
  • Animal fighting.
  • Tail-docking for dogs.
  • Unnecessary suffering.

They also state that it’s a “criminal offense”. If you’re unable to provide basic care for a protected animal.

Basic care means:

  • The right diet.
  • Suitable environment.
  • Ability to behave normally.
  • Able to be with other animals or not.
  • Protection from pain, suffering, injury, and disease. 

In May 2021, the UK Parliament passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill

It is the first-ever to recognize animals as sentient beings. Ones who can feel pain and experience suffering. 

Parliament announced the bill effectively, starting June of 2021.

“What are the consequences for committing the felonies?”

In the previous years, convicted persons could receive 6 months of imprisonment. And/or a fine of up to $26,880 (£20,000). 

They can also receive a ban on keeping animals.

But sentencing for animal cruelty has changed. 

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill raised the jail time up to 5 years. 

The law doesn’t specify the fines. But the judge can include that in the charges.

Mayhew says that it is the harshest sentence in Europe to date. 

“So is it illegal to hit your dog for bad behavior in the UK?”

According to the BBC, it is illegal to do these to any animal:

  • Kick.
  • Terrify.
  • Ill-treat.
  • Torture.
  • Infuriate.
  • Over-load.
  • Over-drive.
  • Cruelly beat.

Hitting your dog for bad behavior only results in a dog being fearful of you

You may notice your dog flinching when you reach out to pet them. 

It will likely progress to aggressive responses. Which is dangerous for your dog and other people. 

This also violates their right. 

To have “protection from pain, suffering, injury, and disease”.

Interesting fact: the UK government advocates for positive reward-based training. Which they state in the code of practice for the welfare of dogs.

Want to know more about positive reward-based training for your pup?

Then watch this video for more information:

#3: Canada

World Animal Protection describes Canada’s animal cruelty laws as:

“needing room for improvement”

This is when it’s compared to other countries. 

Canada has animal protection legislation at the federal level and the provincial level. 

At the federal level, animals are property. Which means that they are still part of the Criminal Code. 

But there’s no specific legislation tailored for animal needs. 

It doesn’t mean that there are no laws protecting them. At the provincial level, some have made improvements on humane animal treatment. 

But the laws target the:

  • Captive animals.
  • Companion animals.
  • Commercial animals.

It doesn’t extend to wild or stray animals.

“What does the Criminal Code say?”

In Sections 445 – 446, it outlaws several types of animal cruelty. 

One is willfully causing or permitting unnecessary:

  • Pain.
  • Injury.
  • Suffering.

On an animal or a bird. 

It also classifies neglect as an offense.

Like the UK, they have a code of practice on the treatment of animals. But the government doesn’t enforce those.

But they’re used as bases for cases involving animal cruelty.

“What about the provincial laws?”

Each province has its own set of animal cruelty laws. And all prohibit permitting or causing distress for an animal. 

The big BUT there is, the provinces vary on which species to include. And which activities cause suffering. 

For example…


In this province, animals used in the following activities aren’t protected:

  • Zoos.
  • Fishing.
  • Hunting. 
  • Trapping.
  • Husbandry. 
  • Pest control.
  • Slaughtering.
  • Sporting events. 

Although these will have to follow regulations for best practices. 

But it’s not just Manitoba. Almost all provinces exempt hunting and trapping in their legislation.

Although there’s light at the end of the tunnel. 

Ontario has adopted the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act 2019 (PAWS).


This is the first provincial act that forms an animal welfare enforcement system. 

The Act requires the appointment of inspectors. They are experts in their fields. And trained for this job. 

If they have cause to believe that an animal is in distress they can:

  • Get a warrant. 
  • Inspect the house of the owner. 
  • Take possession of distressed animals. 
  • Have the animal taken to the vet for examination.

The Act allows inspectors to fine people who disobey animal cruelty laws. The fines can go up to $1 million. Especially for people who are repeating offenders.

Inspectors can also rescue a distressed dog left inside a hot car.

“So if I hit my dog for bad behavior is it illegal?”

The main rule for charges of animal cruelty is that the act was willful. In other words, it has to be deliberate. 

But if the animal is not in distress there’s no reason to think that hitting for bad behavior is illegal. 

Unless the hitting causes the dog:

  • Pain.
  • Injuries. 
  • Suffering.

It will count as abuse. With proof, it’s grounds for fines up to $10,000. 

And imprisonment for up to 5 years. 

But federal law is different from provincial law.

According to Humane Canada, this is why most charges are under provincial laws. 

They tend to have stronger protections for animals than the Criminal Code.

#4: Australia

Interesting fact: Australia is both a country and a continent. 

It’s the smallest continent on earth. But it’s also the 6th biggest country.

This means that it has a large land area. It houses a variety of animals, both native and introduced species. 

But sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a focus on animal welfare. Especially at the constitutional level.

‘What is the government system in Australia?”

Australia has a federal government system. Which means that there is a Federal law or Commonwealth. 

It also has states. These were formed before the establishment of the federal government. 

They can make their own legislation. And have the final powers when deciding. 

The next division is territories that are under the Commonwealth. 

So the government can make laws for them. It’s also the final power of decisions within the territories.

And because of this, there isn’t much unity in animal cruelty laws. 

“What’s the country’s stand on animal cruelty?”

World Animal Protection states that no law recognizes animals having feelings.

But the government gives the states and territories the power to make their laws. Which includes animal cruelty bills. 

This also tells us that animal protection isn’t a priority in the country.

“What are the state and territory laws on animal protection?”

Most of them place a duty of care on people who own animals. And this means that they have a  responsibility to provide for the animal’s needs.

This includes:

  • Food.
  • Water.
  • Accommodation.
  • Treatment of disease or injury.
  • Display of normal behavior patterns.
  • Ensure appropriate handling of animals.

Animal cruelty is an offense. And it’s subject to fines or imprisonment if proven. 

But, there are differences in how the states and territories outline their offenses. 

Australian Capital Territory

Australian Capital Territory

In this part of the country, acts of cruelty aren’t allowed. It includes those done by individuals or corporations.

Their Animal Welfare Act says that a person in charge of an animal gives the following:

  • Control.
  • Supervision
  • Reasonable care.

The act continues that people should not let animals go through pain, especially if it’s 

  • Unjustifiable.
  • Unnecessary.
  • Unreasonable. 

Those responsible for animals also have to provide medical attention. If the animals are in pain.

New South Wales

This state defines cruelty as:

  • Causing unnecessary suffering.
  • Failing to relieve animal pain when it happens.

Their act also places a duty of care. It requires people to prevent or control cruelty from happening.

Northern Territory

They have the Animal Welfare of the Animal Welfare Act 2000 which:

  • Places a duty of care.
  • Condemns failure to act.
  • Prohibits unnecessary cruelty.

In 2018, they passed the Animal Protection Bill. Which states that anyone found guilty of cruelty will lose their animals. 

It also raised imprisonment up to 5 years. And the fines to $56,550 (AUD$77,500).

South Australia 

This state has similar laws to others. 

People aren’t allowed to harm animals in intentional, unreasonable, or reckless ways.

They further explain “harm” as any:

  • Pain.
  • Distress.
  • Damage.
  • Suffering.


This state forbids unjustifiable or unreasonable acts of cruelty. 

They also add that methods of managing animals should not cause:

  • Suffering.
  • Unjustifiable pain. 
  • Unreasonable pain. 


This state places a cruelty offense on doing these to animals:

  • Terrifying.
  • Tormenting.
  • Worrying an animal.
  • Failing to act in times of cruelty.
  • Causing unreasonable pain or suffering.

Western Australia

They prohibit:

  • Acts of cruelty.
  • Abandoning animals.
  • Causing unnecessary harm.

But they do have exceptions if it is in self-defense. Or when protecting other people and animals.

“Are these laws enforced?”

In Australia, there have been few cases for cruelty and neglect. Especially for companion dogs.

And the RSPCA says that there’s a high rate of abandonment and euthanasia in the country.

This study states that Australia euthanized 40% of unclaimed animals in 2012-2013. Most of these are stray and surrendered dogs.

“Is it illegal to hit my dog for bad behavior?”

In Australia, it’s not. Unless you have caused serious injury to your dog by hitting them.

Depending on which area, this can mean that you’re causing:

  • Pain.
  • Torment.
  • Distress. 
  • Suffering.

Most of the country also prohibits “unreasonable” or “unjustifiable” acts. 

And as hitting for bad behavior as its purpose, there may be no consequences for those who do. 

Warning: Hitting your dog for bad behavior only teaches your dog to fear you. 

It may not be illegal in most countries but it has bad consequences for your pooch.

A study on a series of experiments proves that using aversive methods has bad effects. 

Especially on your dog’s mental and physical aspects

This study gets more specific. It states that the method causes stress-related behaviors such as:

  • Panting.
  • Tenseness.
  • High levels of cortisol (stress hormone).

It doesn’t mean that positive punishment or negative reinforcement isn’t effective. 

These methods will work. But only for a short time.

A pioneering study in 1968 by Richard Solomon and his colleagues explains this. 

Aversive methods need timing

They trained dogs using aversive methods to eat only kibble and avoid meat. 

In the first group, there was immediate punishment when they ate the meat. 

But the second group had delayed punishment of 15 seconds.

The experimenters then brought the hungry dogs to a room with bowls of the two foods. 

There was no person to prevent them from eating the meat. 

Within 30 days, the dogs from the first group never ate the meat. 

But the second group of dogs ate the meat only after 2 days of the experiment.

“How is positive reinforcement training different?”

This method also needs trainers to have the right timing. It also doesn’t mean that dogs won’t have structure. Or boundaries. 

Dog trainer, Victoria Stilwell, says that positive reinforcement is effective.

 Because it teaches our dogs how to adjust well.

Dogs have more enthusiastic responses to this method. 

It’s easier to train them. And there’s less aggression coming from the doggos. 

You might also want to check out: 19 Reasons Why Your Dog Is Out Of Control + 7 Tips To Fix It