Most states and many local governments have imposed laws requiring owners of dangerous dogs to protect the public from these animals. These laws provide definitions of what makes a dog dangerous and outline procedures for owners to challenge the application of this definition to their dog. People who own dogs that have been designated as dangerous dogs must follow certain rules related to controlling the dog, or they may face substantial criminal penalties if the dog causes injuries or damage.
Defining a Dangerous Dog
While certain breeds are viewed as being naturally more dangerous than others, the definition of a dangerous dog is usually based more on a specific animal’s behavior. A dog may be dangerous if it has seriously injured a person, such as by attacking them without provocation, or if it has caused serious injuries to other domestic animals. More generally, a dog may be found dangerous if its behavior would make a reasonable person view it as an immediate threat, such as if it chases someone aggressively. Dogs that have been trained for dog fighting are almost always designated as dangerous dogs.
Not every dangerous dog may be subject to the same restrictions, depending on the state. In several states, dogs can be classified in different tiers, according to the level of risk that the dog poses.
Requirements for Keeping a Dangerous Dog
Owners who want to keep a dangerous dog usually need to make sure that the dog is confined to their property and wears a leash and often a muzzle whenever it goes out. Some states may require keeping the dog in a certain type of enclosure, posting a Dangerous Dog sign, getting the dog sterilized, or getting a license to keep it. You may not be allowed to take the dog out of your city or county, and you may need to tell animal control if you transfer the dog to someone else. Depending on local laws, you may need to register your dog on a registry of dangerous dogs.
Getting a Dog Designated as Dangerous
Different states have different procedures for getting a dog designated as dangerous. In some states, anyone can bring a complaint, while in other states, you need to be a victim or witness of an attack to bring a complaint. Law enforcement or animal control often makes the initial complaint and impounds the dog, based on having probable cause to believe that the dog has attacked someone or otherwise acted dangerously. If your dog has been impounded under suspicion of being dangerous, it likely will not be returned to you until a determination has been made on the danger that it poses.
Challenging a Dangerous Dog Designation
You may have an automatic right to a hearing to challenge your dog’s designation as dangerous, or you may need to request the hearing. In some states, authorities make an initial determination before the owner has an opportunity to contest it, but more often the owner can present their side of the story before the decision is made. You have a constitutional right to due process in these proceedings. This is because you could potentially lose your dog, which is a type of property, based on the outcome.
A hearing regarding a dangerous dog is an administrative proceeding rather than a formal trial. Not all of the same protections apply that you would receive in a criminal trial, including restrictions on the types of evidence that may be admitted. If you are dissatisfied with the ruling, you probably have the right to appeal it to a local court.
Penalties for Violating Dangerous Dog Laws
If a dog seriously injures a person or poses a danger to the public, a judge may order it to be euthanized. (In some states, if the dog’s actions were especially vicious, a judge may be required to order the dog to be euthanized.) If you can convince the judge that your dog should not be euthanized, you should be especially careful to follow any restrictions and make sure that it does not attack anyone. The dog almost certainly will be euthanized if a second incident occurs or if you fail to follow court orders.
You may face both criminal and civil liability if your dog causes injuries or property damage. The owner of a dangerous dog may be required to pay two or three times the actual amount of the damage that the dog caused. A judge also can impose fines for violations of dangerous dog restrictions. In extreme cases, an owner may face jail time, although this is not typical in most states.