Do I risk fine if I walk my dog off-lead in France?

Dogs must remain on-lead in certain circumstances, including where you are walking, and the breed of dog you own

Most dogs can be taken off lead in France, but only in certain conditions and spaces
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Reader Question: I usually walk with my dog without a lead on as he does not like to use one, but a friend said this was illegal. Do you know if this is really true? And if I break the rule, what is the punishment?

With an estimated 7.5 million pet dogs in France, companion canines are popular, but they are not allowed everywhere in France.

In some spaces or situations, having a lead on your pet dog is mandatory.

Can dogs be off-lead in towns?

Mayors have the authority to order dogs to be kept on leads in their communes, so the rules can vary from town to town.

“Mayors shall take all appropriate measures to prevent dogs and cats from wandering. They may order that these animals be kept on a lead and that dogs be muzzled,” states Article L211-22 of the French Rural Code.

To be 100% sure of the rules in an area, you can check the correct office to contact - by postcode or place name - on the government website here.

Nationally, the Ministry of the Interior website states that you must keep your dog on a lead if it could represent, or definitely represents, a danger or a threat to people. This is true for any breed, age, behaviour, or size of dog.

Departmental health regulations also stipulate that dogs “may only circulate on public roads in urban areas if they are kept on a lead”.

Read more: Extendable dog leads banned in Paris suburb

Can an owner be fined for letting their dog off the lead?

If you do not comply with rules where leads are mandatory, you risk a fine of up to €33 for non-categorised dogs (dog breeds that are not legally considered dangerous).

The fine can rise to €75 for categorised dogs (dog breeds considered to be dangerous).

Which dogs are considered dangerous in France and what are the rules?

France’s dog categorisation system has two categories, and includes ‘attack’ and ‘guard and defence’ dogs.

Categorised breeds include purebreds and crosses, namely American Staffordshire terriers (pitbulls), Mastiffs, and Tosa breeds.

In most cases, it is illegal to import or breed these dogs in France, and those who do risk a €15,000 fine.

Categorised breeds, as defined above, must always be kept on a lead, especially in public, urban spaces, but also anywhere that they could present a risk of any kind to humans or animals.

Owners must also comply with a set of strict rules (that can be found on the website linked above) in order to keep their dog, including identification, sterilisation, insurance, and regular behaviour evaluations.

Is there a difference between ‘off-lead’ and ‘running free’?

If you are in a dedicated space where you can be certain that you can control your dog's behaviour and keep them contained, you can let them off-lead.

For example, in an enclosed pet play area or an enclosed park space with other dogs, or a private, securely fenced garden.

The dog is ‘free’ and off-lead, but under supervision.

On the other hand, letting your dog ‘run free’ outside these kinds of areas is considered to be “leaving your dog unsupervised and wandering the streets”, as stated in Article L211-23 of the French Penal Code.

The Code states that any dog is “considered to be wandering” if:

  • When not hunting, guarding, or protecting a herd, and no longer under the effective supervision of its owner or responsible human
  • It is beyond the range of the latter's voice or of any sound instrument enabling it to be called back
  • It is more than 100 metres away from its owner or the person responsible for it

“Any dog left to its own devices is considered to have strayed, unless it was involved in hunting and it can be shown that its owner did not refrain from doing everything in their power to find and retrieve it, even after the hunting had ended,” the code concludes.

If a dog is found roaming or “wandering”, the owner can be fined.

These rules also apply to cats.

“Any unidentified cat found more than two hundred metres from a dwelling, or any cat found more than one thousand metres from its owner's home and not under the owner's immediate supervision,” is considered to be in a state of wandering.

“Any cat whose owner is unknown, and which is seized on the public highway or on the property of another,” is also considered to be in the same state, with the owner potentially risking a fine.

Can you walk your dog off-lead in fields?

The Service Public website states that it is strictly forbidden to ‘let your dog roam’ in ‘cultivated areas’.

This includes in farmland fields, forests, meadows, vineyards, orchards, marshes, and woods; and by streams, ponds, lakes and rivers.

This is to protect the dog from snakes or other animals, to protect the wildlife in the area, and to protect private land and crops.

A decree from 1955 states that dogs must be kept on a lead in woods and forests throughout France from April 15 to June 30, as this is typically mating and reproduction season for wild animals.

Contravening this law risks a fine of €750, and even more if your dog is caught hunting animals whilst off its leash.

‘Letting your dog roam’ in these open spaces is defined as the pet being more than 100 metres away from its owner or responsible person.

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