Dog leash laws

Leashes required when walking dogs

When you take your dog for a walk, you are required to use a leash. For the Record, City Council changed the law last year, and using voice commands to control your pet is no longer sufficient on public property. The city's Animal Control Advisory Committee requested the change, and a citizen survey showed three-fourths of respondents favored requiring a physical leash.

A few other dog rules:

  • Your pet needs to be licensed.
  • While you're on a walk, you are also legally required to clean up behind your dog.
  • When you get home, remove that leash, rope or chain. Tethering is also against the law in Hampton.
  • But do keep your dog confined to your property in another way: Unconfined dogs are the largest source of dog attacks.

Need a place to let your dog run? The city has two dog parks. Details below.


Q: Are there exceptions to the leash law? 

A: Yes, for dogs in one of the city's official dog parks, dogs involved in public safety and dogs on a bona fide hunt. There's also an exception for an area of a public park designated and marked as an off-leash dog area.

At-large dogs are illegal, and City Council's revision last year changed the definition of a dog at-large:

"At large shall mean roaming, running or self-hunting off the property of its owner or custodian and not under its owner's or custodian's immediate control by leash, rope, or chain attached to a commercial pet collar or harness or contained within a pet carrier, crate or enclosed pet stroller. A dog shall not be considered at large if it is on a bona fide hunt in the city in the company of the hunter; is off-leash in an officially designated Bark Park; or is off-leash in a space within a public park defined as an off-leash dog area by the director of Parks, Recreation, and Leisure Services and identified by signage as available for off-leash dog activity. At large shall not apply to any person while engaged in law enforcement or search and rescue activity; in a supervised formal obedience training class or show; or during formally sanctioned field trials or field dog training."

Q: What was the reason for the change?

A: Advocates for the change noted several reasons:

  • Dogs are unpredictable, and even a trained dog can misbehave on occasion.
  • It's safer for other dogs, especially smaller dogs.
  • It's safer for people.
  • People who demonstrated little voice control still let their dogs off leash and created problems.
  • People feel safer and more secure when they can see that a dog is restrained. Because of experience with unleashed dogs, many people said they no longer felt safe walking in their neighborhood.

Q: Is there anywhere I can let my dog run on a beach?

A: Not on Hampton's public beaches. Dogs have long been required to be leashed in all of the city's parks, which would include Buckroe Beach and the two beaches the city manages at Grandview Nature Preserve and Fort Monroe's Outlook Beach. In fact, dogs aren't allowed on the beaches at all — even leashed — during the most crowded season (April 15-Sept. 15 at Grandview; May 15 to Sept. 15 at Buckroe and at Outlook.)

Q: What is the tethering rule?

A: Effective Jan 1, 2013, it became unlawful to tether any companion animal in the City of Hampton — "whether or not the animal has been provided adequate space." Tethering is generally defined as a rope or chain by which an animal is fastened so that it can range only within a set radius. This would include "tree trolley" or "zip line" tethers. The ordinance was passed by City Council on July 13, 2012, after officials spent months researching the issue and listening to public reaction to different tethering proposals.

Q: Where are the city's dog parks?

A: The Bark Parks are:

  • Ridgway Bark Park, 85 E. Mercury Boulevard (The entrance is near the Hardee's by Fox Hill Road). The park offers benches for owners, separate small-dog and all-dog enclosures, and water fountains for both pets and people.
  • A set-aside part of Sandy Bottom Nature Park, 1255 Big Bethel Road. (It's located past the main entrance, to the right.) The park offers a water fountain, benches and obstacles in a shady area.

Both are open from sunrise to sunset.

Registration and an annual membership fee are required. Bring current proof of your pet's registration with the city and a current record of rabies, Bordetella, parvo, and canine distemper vaccinations to the Sandy Bottom Nature Center in the park or to the Parks and Recreation offices on the fifth floor of City Hall, 22 Lincoln Street Puppies must be at least 4 months old. The cost is $10 for the first dog and $5 for each additional dog in the household. More about the city's dog parks.

Q: Why are pet licenses required?

A: The state requires localities to license dogs. A licensing program is an invaluable asset in controlling the spread of rabies. It also helps reunite lost dogs with their owners faster.

Q: How do I get a pet license?

A: Both dogs and cats must be licensed in the city after they are 4 months old. You can get a license in person or by mail from the Treasurer's Office, 1 Franklin Street The fee is $4 a year for neutered or spayed pets; $10 for others; service dogs are free. Licenses are good for a calendar year. A current rabies certificate and proof that your dog or cat has been spayed or neutered must be presented at the time of purchase. More information.

Q: What if I don't get a license?

A: It’s a Class 4 misdemeanor. Veterinarians are required to inform localities when dogs get rabies vaccines, so you may get a bill in the mail if you don’t get a license.