Dogs and other animals

Contributed by SharonMcTaggart and current to 1 May 2016

In the NT a number of different sources of law affect dogs and other domestic animals. Some laws are found in NT legislation; some local councils have laws, called by-laws, that specifically relate to dogs and other animals. The common law also covers dogs and other animals in that it can be used to recover compensation where a person has been injured or had their property damaged by an animal, but information about this subject is contained elsewhere in the book (see Injuries and accidents caused by animals ).

Animal welfare

Animals in the NT are protected by the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT). The Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT) provides for the welfare of animals with the aim of ensuring that animals are treated humanely without cruelty. It places obligations on animal owners, making a range of activities illegal, including:
  • neglecting, abandoning or being cruel to animals - see Sections 6-7 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT)
  • failing to provide adequate and sufficient food, drink and shelter - see Section 8 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT).

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT) also regulates the way animals can be confined and transported - Sections 11-14 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT). For example it is an offence to confine a bird by a ring, chain, string, cord or wire attached to its leg or a restraint around its neck or body.

Under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT) an 'animal' is defined as a live member of a vertebrate species, including an amphibian, bird, mammal (other than a human being) and reptile. It also includes fish that are dependent on people for food, and crustaceans that are on premises where food is prepared for human consumption, such as a restaurant or take-away outlet - see Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT).

If a person believes that an animal is being mistreated they should contact the RSPCA. The RSPCA has offices in Darwin, Katherine and Nhulunbuy (see Contact points). Cruelty complaints can be made over the telephone. The NT Police are animal welfare inspectors under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT) so cruelty complaints can also be made to the closest police station.

The police must start proceedings within 12 months from the date that the alleged offence occurred - see Section 71 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT). If the matter goes to court the police will be the prosecutors.

Fines of up to $11,000 or imprisonment for 12 months can be imposed by the court, plus an additional $550 for each day the offence continues - see Section 75 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT). The court can also order the offender to give up all other animals in their care and prohibit them from having any more animals for a specified period - see Section 76 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT).

A person accused of committing an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT) has a defence if they acted to alleviate the suffering of the animal and was reasonable in the circumstances - Section 79 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT).


Local council by-laws

All councils in the NT have by-laws that regulate dogs. A by-law made by a local council only applies to that council area. The following municipalities have specific by-laws regarding dogs and animals:
  • City of Darwin Council By-laws (Pt. 3)
  • Palmerston (Animal Management) By-laws
  • Litchfield Council (Rural Dog management) By-laws
  • Alice Springs (Animal Control) By-laws
  • Katherine (Town Council) By-laws (Pt. 3 Div.2)
  • Jabiru Town Development (Control of Dogs) By-laws
  • Coomalie (Dog Management) By-laws
  • Pine Creek (Control of Dogs) By-laws
  • Nhulunbuy (Animal Control) By-laws
  • Borroloola Community Government Council (Control of Dogs By-laws)
  • Tennant Creek (Control of Dogs) By-laws
  • Mataranka Community Government Council (Control of Dogs) By-laws.

Dogs outside these areas are covered by NT legislation and common law. The NT legislation applies in most rural and bush areas. In areas where both NT legislation and by-laws apply, such as in the City of Darwin municipality, the by-laws take precedence.

For reasons of space the only by-laws referred to in this section are those of the City of Darwin (COD). COD by-laws are similar to by-laws in other councils, but there are important differences. Anyone interested in the particulars of the by-laws that relate to their council area should contact the dog control officer in their council.

The definition of a dog owner

For the purposes of the COD by-laws, the definition of dog owner includes:
  • the registered owner of the dog
  • the person who has control of the dog
  • the occupier of premises where the dog is usually kept
  • the parent or guardian of the dog owner if they are under 17 years of age.

Any person who fits into any one of the above categories can be prosecuted over a misbehaving dog. For example, a person can be prosecuted if they take their friend's dog for a walk and it bites someone.

Registering a dog

Every council requires dogs within their boundaries to be registered. All dogs within the Darwin municipality have to be registered with the COD. It is an offence to keep an unregistered dog under Council By-law 63(1). A dog owner new to Darwin is given one month to register their dog. All dogs are required to be fitted with a micro-chip and these details must be included on the registration application form.

A dog can be registered by filling out the relevant form, available from the City of Darwin Civic Centre and website (, all Post Offices within the municipality and the COD Pound and paying a fee in person, or by post. All dog registrations expire on 30 June each year and must be renewed.

Once a dog is registered, the COD issues the owner with a dog-tag. It is an offence for a dog to be without its dog-tag or another approved identification device.

How many dogs can be kept?

In most councils there is a limit on the number of dogs and the number of specific types of dogs allowed to live on any premises. Though limits do vary, in most councils the limit is two dogs per premises. In Darwin it is an offence to exceed the number specified, unless a special licence has been granted under Council By-law 64(1). An application for a licence needs to be made on the appropriate form, available from the City of Darwin Civic Centre and website ( A licence application fee is payable. A Council officer inspects the premises where the dogs are to be kept and notifies all neighbours of the owner's intention to keep more than two dogs.

Exercising dogs

The City of Darwin has designated dog exercise areas. These areas include Council parks and some beaches. In all other areas dogs must be kept on a leash. Dogs are prohibited from East Point Reserve, Smith Street Mall and from attending markets.

Dog offences

In the Darwin municipality, a dog owner commits an offence if their dog:
  • is at large and not under effective control [bl.67]
  • attacks or menaces a person or animal [bl.69]
  • chases a vehicle, including a bicycle [bl.70]
  • is a nuisance, defined to include a dog that is a danger to health or repeatedly behaves in a manner contrary to the general interest of the community or an individual by, for example, persistently barking or barking at people who pass where it lives or repeatedly defecating in a public place [bl.71].

A person who gets a dog to act in a way prohibited under the by-laws [bl.68] or who abandons a dog [bl.72] is guilty of an offence.

Dog offences under the by-laws are treated in the same way as parking offences. The alleged offender is served with an infringement notice and given 14 days to pay a penalty. If the penalty is not paid, the alleged offender must attend court and may be liable, if convicted, for a penalty of up to $2000 plus up to $100 for each day the offence continues.

Noisy dogs

Every year councils receive a large number of complaints about barking dogs. A person who is being troubled by a noisy dog can take the following steps:
  • Contact the local council. Council staff will request a meeting with the owner to discuss the noise problem and provide them with information to assist in correcting any substantiated nuisance barking behaviour. If the noise problem is not solved, conditions can be put on keeping the dog, including requiring the dog to wear a bark correction collar or changing fencing. If owners don't comply with the conditions, the council can cancel registration and order the dog to be removed from the municipality.
  • Contact the Community Justice Centre for assistance.
  • Apply for a noise abatement order at the Local Court (section 53D of the Summary Offences Act 1995 (NT)). This option may be appropriate for someone who is forced to endure continuous barking, as a noise abatement order directs the responsible person to permanently reduce the noise. The court can order them to be quiet or that noise should be reduced at certain times of day. An order for no barking between 9pm and 6am would be an example. Other conditions can also be imposed. For more details on noise abatement orders (see Noise ).

Rural and bush dogs

Dogs in rural and bush areas frequently cause problems by killing wildlife and livestock and chasing vehicles. They also injure themselves and need to be put down. A person who has a problem with a dog, but lives outside a council area, should call police. Police can act on complaints in a number of ways. They may enact sections 53B and 53D of the Summary Offences Act 1995 (NT) to deal with consistently barking dogs. Under the Summary Offences Act 1995 (NT) police can direct the owner to deal with the noise problem. In certain circumstances police may destroy an injured or diseased animal.

Dangerous dogs

The owner of a dog that attacks or menaces a person or animal is guilty of an offence and faces a maximum penalty of $5000. A number of offences relate to dogs that attack or may attack people. There is also a maximum penalty of $5000 fine for a person who entices or induces a dog to act in a manner that would render the owner of the dog liable (section 75A of the Summary Offences Act 1995 (NT)).

Destruction of dogs

An authorised person under the Local Government Act 2008 (NT), can apply to the Local Court to have a dog destroyed - see Section 116 of the Local Government Act 2008 (NT).

This order can be brought against any dog in the NT, not only against those living in local council areas. The order can be issued on its own or included as part of an order made against the owner - Section 75A(5) of the Summary Offences Act 1995 (NT).

The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment Act 1991 (NT) also provides for the destruction of dogs. According to the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment Act 1991 (NT), a dog owner can't take action against a person who destroys a dog if:
  • the dog is so diseased or injured that destroying it is humane
  • the person destroys the dog according to NT law
  • the person destroys the dog on the request of someone who they reasonably believe to be the owner - Section 34 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment Act 1991 (NT).

Injuring and killing dogs

A person who kills or injures a dog or any other animal can be sued for compensation by the dog's owner. A court action will generally only be worthwhile if the dog was valuable. Legal advice should be obtained before starting any action.

A person who kills or injures a dog has a defence if the following applies - Section 33 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment Act 1991 (NT):
  • the dog was attacking them, someone else or a bird or animal belonging to them, or they had reasonable grounds to believe that it would
  • the attack was unprovoked
  • they weren't trespassing.

A person who injures or kills a dog on their own property or on land they are permitted to be on will also have a prima facie defence - see Section 33(3) of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Amendment Act 1991 (NT). A prima facie defence means the person has an initial defence, which may be argued against.

Stealing dogs and other animals

It is an offence to steal someone's dog, bird or other animal - Section 54 of the Summary Offences Act 1995 (NT). The maximum penalty is a $200 fine plus the value of the animal stolen.

Other animals


The only municipalities in the Northern Territory that regulate cats are Alice Springs and Darwin. In Alice Springs cats can be registered according to the Alice Springs (Animal Control) By-laws. Only sterilised cats can be registered [bl.11(2)], unless the owner obtains a cat breeder's licence from the council [bl.20(1A)]. Cats don't have to be registered, but a person who allows their cat to breed is guilty of an offence if they don't have a cat breeder's licence [bl.27(2)]. The by-laws also restrict the number of cats that can be owned to two. A person who wants to keep more than two has to apply for a special licence from council. This licence is known as a cattery licence [bl.27(1)(b)]. It is also an offence for a cat to be repeatedly at large, [bl.34A] which means that owners are required to keep cats within their property.


In the NT the control of livestock, which includes horses, pigs, cattle, buffalo, sheep, and even bees, is covered by the Livestock Act 2008 (NT) and the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (NT). Information about these laws can be obtained from the Stock Inspector at the Department of Regional Development, Primary Industry, Fisheries and Resources (see Contact points).

It is a criminal offence (attracting a maximum penalty of $200) to 'turn loose' horses, cattle, pigs or goats onto roads or into public places - see Section 75 of the Summary Offences Act 1995 (NT).


There are many laws about fishing and keeping fish as pets in aquariums. For further information contact the Fisheries Division of the Department of Regional Development, Primary Industry, Fisheries and Resources (see Contact points).


Buying, selling or keeping native birds is generally prohibited unless a person has a licence from the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission. Keeping some non-native birds is also prohibited. Contact the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission for more information (see Contact points).

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