How Old Do You Have To Be To Buy A Dog?


You want a dog. I get it. Dogs are amazing, make for great companion animals, and are generally a pleasure to have around. But you’re not yet 18 years old, so are you legally allowed to own one?How does it work?

Or, maybe you want to get a dog for your kid. They’re responsible enough to take care of one, and you want them to take full responsibility. Can they legally do this? Will you get stuck with the legal liability if anything goes wrong? What are the laws governing this?

Maybe you live alone, and this whole global pandemic made you even lonelier. Would it be a good idea to get a dog as a companion? Are there other options? Maybe it’s time for a crazy cat lady starter kit, right? We rounded up some options for you.

What is the Minimum Age For Dog Ownership?

If you live in the US, you have to legally register your dog, regardless of where you live. This process differs slightly between states and sometimes even between towns, so you might have to redo this if you move. Either way, it involves legally signing as the owner, something you can’t do as a minor. If you’re less than 18 years old, you can’t be legally held to any contract that you sign, which is why you can’t sign as a dog owner on your own. 

There’s a slight loophole, though: if your parent or guardian co-signs with you, you can be listed as your fur kid’s owner, even though legally, the buck still stops with your parent.

Before selling you a puppy, registered breeders will require that you sign a contract to confirm the purchase and completing all the registration papers that go with it. For this, you’ll need your ID document and proof of address. No respectable breeder will do this without meeting the family, and in some cases, even doing a home inspection first. They’ll want to make sure that they’re giving the pup to decent people that will take proper care of it. And, if you’re a minor, they’ll want to make sure that you have your parents’ permission to have a dog since that’s kind of a big deal.

So, you probably won’t get away with doing this one on your own as a minor. Sorry!

If you’re in the UK, laws are a little more accommodating. There, you’re allowed to buy a pet when you’re 16 years old, although your parents will still be legally responsible for your fur kid’s welfare. So, as in the US, it’s probably best to check with them before you head off to the pet store or local shelter.

Is There A Minimum Age For Buying A Dog From A Nationwide Store Such As Petland?

Pet stores must also carry out due diligence in their business. After all, they’re selling live animals, and animal cruelty and neglect must be avoided at all costs. Buying a bird large enough to ride, Thor? How about a duck or llama? Whatever the species, you’ll have to prove that you’re at least 18 years old. Most of these stores have a registration form that goes with the purchase, which acts as a legal contract transferring ownership to you. Again, you can’t sign this on your own as a minor.

Is It Different If You Adopt A Dog From A Rescue Centre?

Thousands of pups end up at rescue centers each year, and it’s super important that these poor fur kids go to loving, responsible forever homes and not end up back at the shelter. That’s why most rescue centers expect you to sign a contract. Here, you’ll state that you either agree for them to spay or neuter your new fur kid or that you will do it yourself within something like 90 days. If you don’t do this, they can take back the pup you just adopted and keep the deposit you would likely have paid for the process. 

Since minors can’t sign legal documents independently, they probably won’t let you adopt a dog without having an adult sign the papers with you. That means that you must be at least 18 years old to adopt a dog. Most shelters will also require proof of residence and proof that your parents are okay with you having a dog. Again, sorry, kid. You won’t be able to get that pup on your own.

You can legally adopt a dog from the shelter in the UK if you’re 16 years or older. Again, as with buying it at the local pet store, your parents will be legally responsible for its welfare.

You’re not required to license your cat or any other non-exotic pet in the US unless you live in Rhode Island. That means that you won’t technically own the cat, and therefore, a minimum age of ownership doesn’t apply. In practice, responsible pet stores and shelters won’t allow you to purchase or adopt a pet if you’re a minor. They also won’t sell you anything if you can’t prove that you have your parents’ permission. So, on a practical level, the minimum age of 18 still applies, even though it’s not necessarily a legal requirement.

Here, the UK again differs from the US. There, you must be at least 16 years old to own a pet, regardless of its species. They also require cats to be registered and microchipped, which means you get registered as your fur kid’s legal owner.

What Are The Main Responsibilities Of Dog Ownership As Far As The Law Is Concerned?

When you own a dog, you’re morally and legally obligated to care for it. While most people care for their dogs really well, some don’t. Legally, as your pet’s owner, you’re obligated to provide a suitable environment for your fur kid to live in. You should also feed him a suitable diet and protect him from pain, suffering, injury, or disease as far as reasonably possible. In my opinion, this is the bare minimum, and most pet owners go way beyond that in how they spoil their fur kids.

Then, there are the dog bite rules. In most states in the US, they live by the “one bite” rule. Under this rule, you’re legally liable if your dog bites someone, only if he’s done it before or displayed dangerous behavior. In California, you’re entirely liable for your dog’s behavior, regardless of its history. So, if you’re visiting Cali with your furkid, keep it on a tight leash and don’t take any chances.

As a dog owner, you should also take others into account. That’s what the pooper scooper law is for. If your dog poops at the park, on the sidewalk, or while you’re out on a hike, pick it up. If you don’t, you make things really nasty for everyone else using that space, and you’re likely to get slapped with an enormous fine. In the US, this fine ranges from $100 to $1000, depending on the state. In the UK, it will cost you around £100.

Some states are also super strict on barking and other noisy doggy activities. Here, if your pup barks unabated for 20 minutes, your neighbor could issue a complaint, and you could get slapped with a fine, amounting to $50 for a first offense and $75 for a second, escalating from thereon. Yikes.

Should A Young Person Seriously Consider Owning A Dog If They Don’t Own Their Own House?

If you don’t own your home, chances are that you’ll probably end up moving at some point. It happens all the time. You find a new place that’s a better deal, the owner sells, you don’t like the neighbors and decide to move on, or whatever. That means that your living conditions will change. They might be suitable for accommodating a dog right now, but are you sure they’ll still be good when you move? Before getting any pet, it’s essential to think things through and make sure that you really can commit to this new addition to your family. Dogs have long lives, so you’re potentially making a decades-long commitment when you take that little fluff ball home.

Pets need an insane amount of care and attention. Dogs especially need training and attention, helping them be well-behaved, well-adjusted family members. Because that’s what they will be: your family. If you’re working crazy hours, traveling a lot, or just spending a lot of time away from home, your fur kid will be alone for long stretches at a time. Since dogs are inherently social animals, this won’t be great for them. Your pup might get really lonely or bored and start acting out. He might chew on stuff, howl, dig up the garden, and do whatever else is needed to vent his overwhelming emotions.

Before taking the leap and adding that new fluff ball to your life, take a good, hard look at your life to ensure that your lifestyle can accommodate him.

Is A Dog A Good Idea For a Lonely Young Person? Are There Easier Alternatives For a Lonely Young Person?

Dogs are great companion animals. Most dog breeds are very social, and there’s a breed to match nearly every human personality. Scientific studies have found that having a dog as a companion animal lowers stress. It also helps people to conquer fear, boost self-esteem, and support their social connections. So, getting a dog to help you cope with loneliness is generally a good idea.

Dogs can be a lot of work, though, and you might not be up for that kind of commitment. Luckily, there are other companion animals, some of whom are less effort than dogs. Worldwide, cats are the most common companion animal by far. They’re easy to care for, don’t require much space, and are relatively independent. You could even get one if you’re living in a tiny apartment.

Other common companion animals include rabbits, birds, and hamsters. I kid you not; a hamster is a recognized companion animal. Cutesy little rodents.

Closing Thoughts

Caring for a dog could be one of the most meaningful experiences in your life. Before you take the plunge, ensure that you’re ready for this commitment. Dogs are needy, and providing for their needs could be quite expensive. If you’re still a minor, you’ll need your parents’ permission to buy or adopt a dog if you’re dealing with a responsible shop, dealer, or shelter. Also, take stock of your lifestyle. If you’re away from home a lot for whatever reason, or if your living circumstances are likely to change drastically in the future, you might want to reconsider

That said, dogs are fantastic companion animals, and they help alleviate loneliness and a host of other yucky emotional situations.

James Grayston

My name is James and I love dogs. have owned four Golden Retrievers in the past 15 years. Currently I own two "Goldies"- a five year old and a seven month old. The photo shows me with our youngest when she was about 7 weeks old!