Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He also trains dogs, mostly large breeds and those that suffer from aggression problems.
Most of us with big dogs want to have our pets declared safe so that if something happens, they will not be considered vicious. But is there anything you can do to foil those that do not approve of your dog? Yes, there is.
How to Prove That Your Dog Is Safe
The best way to prove that your dog is not dangerous is to prevent anything happening. While this may be impossible in all instances, here are a few good things you can do in the meantime.
Ways to Prove That Your Dog Is Safe
- Canine good citizen test (AKC): This is really a great way to start proving that your dog is safe around people and other dogs. If your dog has been declared a good citizen, it means that you have taken some effort to have him trained and she is comfortable around others. (Dogs that are locked in the backyard on a chain all of the time are not likely to earn this award and if they attack, they are more likely to be condemned by the judge.) Although this is an AKC certificate, your dog does not need to be registered with them to earn this. Talk to your local trainer or look at the web site for information on how to get started in your area.
- Therapy dog certification: If you want to go above and beyond the Canine Good Citizen certificate, having your dog declared a therapy animal is the best way to go. Animal control will have a hard time declaring that your dog is not allowed off of your property when he has already spent hundreds of hours visiting hospitals and nursing homes. Just like with the easier Good Citizen certificate, your dog does not need to be purebred or registered with the AKC to get a certificate.
- DNA testing: If your dog is a mixed breed, I recommend you pay for the testing. The testing does not do much and will not save your dog's life if there is a vicious attack, but there is a lot of racism among the non-dog owning public and some judges and juries will consider dogs that are part “Pitbull” to be aggressive. If the DNA testing comes back and shows that your dog's blocky head is due to having Labrador genes, your life will become a lot simpler if you ever have to go to court. Although the Embark test is not cheap, it is the best product that I have used. Others available at cheap discount stores may not be taken seriously if you and your dog end up in court.
Will Your Dog Be Delcared Dangerous Anyway?
If your dog does bite someone, the first thing you need to be concerned about is the health of the person who was injured. (If you are concerned and try to help, the person may not even sue you and your dog.) After the incident, of course, no matter what you do, you may be sued. Some states, like California, make the dog owner responsible for all of the expenses even if the dog has never bitten. Other states have the one bite rule and do not penalize excessively if this has never happened.
During this process, or even before, the person may then complain to the local animal control official and they may take you to court so that your dog is declared dangerous.
What You Need to Provide to Prove Your Dog Is Not Dangerous
- An alibi, if the dog was not even responsible for the bite. (Yes, animal control does go after the wrong dog at times. If you can prove that your dog was not responsible for the bite, the case may go no further.)
- Proof of rabies vaccination status and the address of your veterinarian. Your vet can also provide information on the dog's health status, if relevant. (If the dog has arthritis, cancer, or any other problem that makes it difficult for him to get around, you need to prove this to animal control and the court.)
- A certificate proving that the dog has been through training. If he has been through the canine good citizen program be sure to bring the certificate, and it is a good idea to print out the details of the program so that you can submit it to the judge who will determine if your dog is dangerous.
- Any DNA testing that proves your dogs breed.
Finding an Attorney to Help
Although there are some lawyers that work mostly with dog bite cases, a dog is considered property and any lawyer that works in property law is adequate. Almost all of us want a lawyer that has handled dog issues before, of course, so if you want an experienced lawyer here is what you can do.
How to Find an Attorney for Your Dog
- Call your veterinarian and ask for a referral of a lawyer that deals with dog bites.
- Call your dog trainer or local shelter and see if they can refer you to an attorney that helps dogs that are threatened with being declared dangerous.
- Check Google by entering “lawyer to defend dog deemed dangerous” and the name of your city and state.
- Check the website for the American Bar Association.
What About a Certificate Stating My Dog Is Not Dangerous?
This would be a lot easier if it could be avoided with a simple test and certificate. Unfortunately, there is no jurisdiction in which your dog can obtain a certificate stating that he is not now and never will be dangerous.
This sounds very unfair and I would really like a guarantee like this, but if you think about it, this applies to people as well. If you hurt someone, you are condemned as a violent person but there is no group that will give you a certificate saying that you will never hurt someone.
A few weeks ago, a carpenter who was doing some work for me came over and grabbed one of my Pitbulls around the waist. I have trained her to accept all sorts of handling since she was a puppy, and I routinely open her mouth, feel between her toes, etc. The carpenter was not abusing my dog (or I would have stopped him) but the dog did look at me with a confused face. She was upset and most dogs without proper socialization would have bitten at that point. Yes, dog owners do realize that it can happen anytime.
So if your dog bites, what happens if she is declared dangerous? If it is a first bite, some legislative regions will only demand that you keep the dog confined to a fenced yard, keep the dog muzzled when walking outside of the yard, etc. The judge will have the power to order your dog to be euthanized, however, so please follow the steps I outlined at the beginning of this article and do your best to avoid court.
Train your dog to not feel the need to bite.
- Canine Good Citizen program: This site will familiarize you with the program and help you find classes you and your dog can attend.
- Therapy dog program
- Dangerous dogs: ALDF is an organization that deals with animal defense.
- Finding an Attorney: As well the resources listed above, you can contact the American Bar Association to find a property lawyer if you are in the US.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on June 09, 2020:
Sorry Nick that is a really tough situation. Boerboels are going to have a hard time, just because of their looks, and unless you can hire a lawyer to argue this you are probably going to lose. I am not sure where you are at but a lot of places have a "one bite law" and if the dog has never bitten before the judge will let him off. If it is a second offense most likely the judge will be harsher.
If you guys do get through this, expect to pay a lot more for homeowners insurance.
Nick Greci on June 09, 2020:
While Walking my Boerbeal,My Neighbor approched me,We Spoke the Dog was Wagging hiis Tail,He jumped up and Nipped Her Twice,The Police Animal Control,Her Attorney is Suing my Homeowners,I have to go to court under Dangerous Dog Act,i do not have big Bucks for Lawyers,And do not want to put down my 20 minth old pup,What can i Do
femi on March 02, 2019:
In my country(West Africa Region) some of the tests and certification are not available. We generally keep dogs as pests or guard dogs.
I have had different types of dogs over 20 year period and i love them. However i believe every dog is dangerous despite training or certification, by their natural instinct they will protect the owner against intruders or aggressors.
Liz Westwood from UK on February 27, 2019:
That's a good point.Supervision is key. I am by nature very cautious. I noticed that the parents keep a close eye on them both.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 27, 2019:
Hi Liz, I am not sure if you want to hear this at this point, but it can be dangerous to let any dog with a toddler unless closely supervised. The problem is not the dog so much as the toddler. If you push your dog, and he growls, you stop. A toddler not might recognize that warning growl and continue with his behavior, which the poor dog has already told him was "ENOUGH".
I have also read statistics on the biting incidents of Labradors. I am not sure they are true, because we both know that stats can be altered to say whatever the person wants to say, but it is worth being cautious.
I had a small dog when my son was a toddler, but I do not think that is a good solution either. When he would get rambunctious and fall on the dog the poor animal would be injured. Thank goodness that rarely happens with Labs.
Liz Westwood from UK on February 27, 2019:
I was a little wary of how a labrador would take to a new baby in the house, despite others assuring me that this breed of dog is traditionally good with children. I need not have worried. My sympathy is now with the labrador, who puts up with the teasing of a toddler with great tolerance.
Specialists in Dog Law | Tel: 01304 755 557
It is a criminal offence if your dog makes someone reasonably fear injury. If this can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt the dog will be considered to have been as dangerously out of control under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. If the dog injures a person or an assistance dog whilst so out of control then it will be regarded as an aggravated offence. The offence applies even if you’re just looking after someone else’s dog.
Specialists in Dog Law | Tel: 01304 755 557
Allegations that your dog is dangerously out of control are extremely serious and can lead to a severe penalty. A conviction may also mean that your pet will be destroyed.
We offer free preliminary telephone legal advice for this type of case. We can explain the law to you and outline your available options. Following this, we can also offer representation, sometimes for a fixed fee (or we will provide you with an estimate).
Contact us via telephone on 01304 755 557 during normal office hours. Or outside of office hours, email us on [email protected] with your contact information and we will call you.
Please be aware that the information on this page relates to laws in England and Wales only and does not constitute legal advice. For guidance on your specific situation, please refer to the ‘How we can help you’ section of our website.
If you want more detail about the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 Trevor Cooper has filmed a 65 minute DVD which is available from Doglaw Limited for only £10 (incl P&P).
More information can be found here.
This part of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 applies to every single dog across England and Wales. Whether it is a purebred dog, a crossbreed or a mongrel. The size of the animal also does not matter.
Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is a criminal offence which can be brought against the owner and (if different) the person in charge of the dog if it is dangerously out of control.
The offence under Section 3 applies to incidents throughout England & Wales. It is usually the Police who investigate this kind of case but occasionally it is the Council.
Following an allegation, your dog may be seized although the Police may sometimes require a warrant.
Unfortunately, if the dog is seized there is no provision for ‘bail’ for the dog pending a conclusion at Court. However, on occasions the Police may be persuaded to allow a dog to go back home subject to conditions.
You could be arrested and taken to the Police Station but, if not, you are likely to be invited to attend a formal interview under caution. You may be required to provide fingerprints, DNA and have your photograph taken.
Not every case is prosecuted as sometimes the Police can be persuaded to deal with the case out of Court using some form of community resolution, such as an Acceptable Behaviour Contract, where the owner agrees to certain conditions.
Thankfully destruction orders are no longer mandatory. However, Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 still makes it clear that on conviction Courts must order that the dog is put down for this kind of aggravated offence unless it can be proven that the dog “would not constitute a danger to public safety”.
Naturally, we can never guarantee that a case is going to have a happy outcome for the dog but we will certainly try our very best. We work with barristers and experienced experts to make sure that we can get the best possible outcome for you and your dog.
The Court must have regard to the temperament of the dog (including its past behaviour) and whether they regard the owner as a fit and proper person to have charge of the dog. So it’s a question of us putting the very best case forward to hopefully show some or all of the following:-
- this was an isolated incident from a usually good-natured dog,
- lessons have been learned,
- any triggers that led to the incident have been removed, and
- the owner is a responsible dog owner who can be trusted to comply with any reasonable conditions that the Court may require to ensure that the incident can never be repeated.
If the Court can be persuaded not to impose destruction, then the alternative is a Contingent Destruction Order. This means that the owner must abide by certain conditions laid out by the Court.
Maximum penalties include:
- For cases involving the injury or death of an assistance dog: 3 years prison sentence
- For cases involving injury to a person: 5 years prison sentence
- Cases where the victim dies as a result of the injury: 14-year prison sentence
- There may also be community penalties (such as unpaid work), fines and compensation
If the incident takes place in, or partly in, a building which is a dwelling (or forces accommodation) and the victim is a trespasser this may be regarded as a “Householder Case”. In this situation, the Defendant may have a statutory defence.
This is regarded as a ‘strict liability’ offence which means that, for England & Wales, there is no need for the prosecution to prove that the Defendant intended the incident nor that they had any reason to believe that the dog was going to behave in that manner. Whilst provocation is not a defence specified in the statute, case law suggests that the prosecution has to prove that there was something (more than minimal ) that they did or failed to do which led to the incident.
If the owner did not have charge of the dog at the time, it is a defence if they can prove that the dog had been left with someone you reasonably believed to be a ‘fit and proper person’ to be in charge of the dog.
Animal Law Solicitors
We have many years of experience acting in these cases and have handled the defence of many hundreds of cases throughout England and Wales at Magistrates’ Courts and Crown Courts. We have also had cases that have concluded at:
- Administrative Court (High Courts) on Judicial Review and Case Stated
- Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)
- European Court of Human Rights
- Criminal Cases Review Commission
If you are being accused of an incident that breaches Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, please see our ‘How we can help’ page and get in touch.
How to Prove Fault in States Without Dog Bite Laws
Created byВ FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last updated December 03, 2018
In states that do not have strict liability "dog bite laws," in order to recover damages from the animal's owner an injured person usually must show that the owner knew (or had reason to know) that the animal was predisposed to bite or attack -- that the animal had what is known as "vicious propensities."
The following list describes some of the more common factors that can be used to demonstrate an owner knew or should have known of his or her animal's vicious propensities. Keep in mind that this is not a complete list, and simply proving one of the items below does not guarantee a legal victory.
Breed and Size of Animal: Generally, the larger the animal, the greater the chance that the animal can cause injury. The species and breed of an animal may also be relevant if you can prove that, as a general rule, that breed has a propensity for viciousness (such as a pit bull or Rottweiler).
Purpose for Which the Animal is Kept: If an animal is kept for protection, and is trained to attack unknown people, it can be inferred that its owner knew or should have known it might attack someone.
Frequent Snapping and Biting: A history of aggressive behavior can be used to demonstrate that the owner had knowledge of the animal's vicious propensities.
Complaints Brought to Owner's Attention: If people previously complained to the owner, and the owner did nothing (or didn't do enough) to prevent future attacks, this can be used as evidence that the owner knew the animal could be dangerous.
Fighting with Other Animals: Even if an animal had not attacked a human before, if it had fought with other animals, this may be useful in proving its vicious nature.
Frequent Confinement of the Animal: If the owner keeps the animal locked in a cage, or on a tight leash or chain, this may indicate the owner's awareness that the animal might be dangerous.
Occasional Muzzling of the Animal: Particularly with respect to dogs, if an owner muzzles an animal on walks or at times when people are near the animal, this can be proof that the owner is aware of the animal's dangerous nature.
Warning Sign on Owner's Premises: If an animal owner puts up warning signs (such as "Beware of Dog"), an injured person can use this fact to establish the owner's knowledge of the animal's viciousness.
Statements by Owner as to Animal's Character: Any statements made by the animal's owner concerning past bites, fights, or aggressive behavior are relevant to the owner's knowledge regarding the likelihood of future attacks.
Owner's Warnings to Strangers About Animal: Verbal warnings to others potentially show that an owner is worried that the animal might cause harm to others.
In preparing to meet with an attorney regarding an animal bite or attack, read up on your state's dog bite laws, consider all of the above factors, and speak to people in the community where the animal lives to learn more about the animal's past. These steps might help to strengthen your case significantly even if your state lacks strict liability dog bite laws.
The Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) was the first law to proscribe some breeds of dog in England & Wales. The law was introduced in August 1991 and amended in 1997 and again in 2014.
The DDA says the following dogs are unlawful:
- Pit bull terrier
- Japanese tosa
- Dogo argentino
- Fila brasiliero.
If you have a banned dog, the police or local council dog warden can seize it and keep it, even if it isn’t acting dangerously and there hasn’t been a complaint.
The police don’t need a warrant to do this if your dog is in a public place, but they will need a warrant if your dog is in a private place.
A police or council dog expert will decide what type of dog you have and whether it is or could be dangerous to the public. Your dog will then either be released or kept in kennels while the police (or council) apply to a court.
If your case goes to court, it’s up to you to prove your dog is not a banned type. If you manage to do this, the court will order the dog to be returned to you. If you can’t prove it (or you plead guilty), you’ll be convicted of a crime. You can get an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to six months (or both) for having a banned dog against the law. Your dog will also be destroyed.
Pit bull terrier type dogs
Whether your dog is a banned type depends on what it looks like, rather than its breed or name.
For example, what makes a dog a pit bull terrier type is not defined and it is not a recognised breed in the UK. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), however, refers to the criteria laid out by the American Dog Breeders Association:
- The dog appears square from the side, and the height of its shoulders is the same distance as from the front of its shoulders to the rear of the dog’s hip.
- The ratio of its height to its weight is in proportion.
- Its coat is bristly and short.
- From the side, its head appears to be wedge-shaped and rounded when viewed from the front.
- Its head is roughly two thirds of the width of its shoulders, with the width at the cheeks being approximately 25% wider than at the base of its skull.
- The space between the tip of the nose and the eyes is about the same as the distance from the back of its head to its eyes.
- Its muzzle is straight and box shaped.
- Its eyes are small and deep-set.
- Its shoulders are wider than the eighth ribs.
- Its elbows are flat.
- Its front legs run parallel to the spine.
- Its forelegs are roughly twice the thickness of the hind legs at the point just below the hock.
- Its ribcage tapers at the bottom.
- The tail hangs down like the handle on an old fashioned water pump to a point close to the hock.
- Its hips ought to be broad.
- The knee joint is in the top third of its rear leg and the bones below should appear to be light and springy.
- Overall, the dog should appear to be athletic.
This list is not considered to be exhaustive but rather a starting point when identifying pit bull terrier type dogs. The law doesn’t say that a dog has to fit these descriptions perfectly, but the dog has to exhibit a substantial number of these characteristics. Any similarities can be contested and it is recommended that you seek the opinion of an expert, such as a vet.
Index of Exempted Dogs (IED)
If you have a banned dog but the court believes it’s not a danger to the public, it may place it on the Index of Exempted Dogs (IED) and allow you to keep it. If this happens, you’ll be given a Certificate of Exemption. This is valid for the life of the dog.
- kept on a lead and muzzled every time it is out in public
- kept in a secure place so it can’t escape.
- take out insurance against your dog injuring other people
- be aged over 16
- show the Certificate of Exemption when asked by a police officer or council dog warden, either at the time or within five days
- inform the IED if you move house, or your dog dies.
Out of control dogs
Section 3 of DDA applies to all dogs that are out of control in a public place, not just those listed above. If a dog acts in a manner that makes a person afraid of attack, then it is an offence.
If your dog is dangerously out of control, you can be jailed for up to six months and/or receive an unlimited fine. You may be banned from owning a dog in the future and your dog may be destroyed.
If you allow your dog to injure someone you can be jailed for up to five years and/or fined. If you deliberately use your dog to injure someone you could be charged with ‘malicious wounding’.
If you allow your dog to kill someone you can be jailed for up to 14 years and/or get an unlimited fine.
If you let your dog injure an assistance dog (eg, a guide dog) you can be sent to prison for up to three years and/or fined.
Dogs Act 1871
As well as being charged with a criminal offence, it is possible for dog owners to face civil proceedings under s 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 if their dog is not under proper control (this usually means it is not on a lead or muzzled) and is dangerous.
The Act allows police, local authorities, or individual members of the public to bring such proceedings before the magistrates’ court. The court can specify the measures to be taken for keeping the dog under proper control, whether by muzzling, keeping on a lead, excluding it from specified places or otherwise. In extreme cases, it can order that the dog be destroyed.
It is different to DDA in that:
- it applies everywhere, not just in public
- proceedings can only be brought against an owner
- dogs do not have to act dangerous towards a person – if it’s general behaviour is dangerous, it qualifies
- except in exceptional cases, a single incident is not usually sufficient proof to show that a dog is dangerous.
A former solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.
We try our very best to keep everything on this site accurate and up-to-date, but the law changes quite a bit and we've got over 1,300 pages to keep an eye on. As such, we can't guarantee everything is 100% accurate. So please don't treat it as legal advice or rely on the information. You should take legal advice from a solicitor where appropriate. If you spot anything that looks incorrect, please drop us an email, and we'll get it sorted!
Still have a question? Ask a solicitor online now
How Well Do You Know Your Dog?
Everybody knows a dog's nose is better than a human nose. As a research scientist, however, the behavioral ecologist Marc Bekoff knows what dogs are capable of doing far better than the average Jack or Jill. He relates that a dog’s nose may be somewhere between 100,000 and a million times more sensitive than a human’s, and if the dog is a bloodhound, its nose may be up to 100 million times more sensitive than the one between our eyes.
But what's remarkable about dog noses adds up to more than just these impressive statistics. "When they can, dogs will spend upwards of 33% of their time with their noses pinned to the ground, and we also know they'll freely put their noses into body parts, including groins and butts, that we think are disgusting and totally inappropriate."
It doesn't take much imagination, therefore, to sense that from a dog's point of view, the world we live in—however much it may physically be the same as the world we know as human beings—must come across to them in ways we cannot easily claim we understand.
It's a dog's world
I think Bekoff is right when he insists that living with a dog should not be a one-sided affair. We need to know as much as we can about how dogs see the world and their place in it so we can give them the best lives possible.
Living up to this worthy goal, however, is easier said than done. When I was a child, my mother used to say to us kids, "just because you can doesn't mean you should." As a scientist interested in human behavior in all its diversity, however, I have embraced as well another adage: "Just because you can doesn't mean you will."
Saying this another way, just like humans, dogs don't do what they do just because of the way they have been put together, biologically speaking (although there is a now-discredited view to the contrary). Most of what they end up doing as dogs has to be learned through experience as a part of daily life. Maybe basic body functions such as breathing and wagging their tail may be behavior that's largely "in their genes." But the rest of what they do doesn't come so easily to them. The same holds true for humans, even though we don't have tails to flag our feelings and fears in seemingly provocative ways.
From this point of view, it would be naïve to think that a dog will do what it can do just because it can do it, anatomically speaking. When all is said and done, there is more to a dog's world than just the physical dog.
Are dogs our best friends?
There are currently about 77 million pet dogs living in the United States. It is estimated that over 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs every year. In a statistical study of such injuries between 2005 and 2018 (the most recent year for which data were available), dog bites ranked as the 13th leading cause of nonfatal emergency department visits. These injuries are more prevalent among school-age children, people living in less-densely populated areas, and the residents of poorer neighborhoods. Three out of five victims were bitten by the family dog or one living in the neighborhood. Moreover, during the current COVID-19 pandemic, dog bites in children have surged.
What's the message here? Knowing the dogs in your life really well—their likes, dislikes, and personal foibles—is not just a way of being kind and thoughtful. This is also a way of staying safe and sound. After all, as I have said in a previous post, it is not too farfetched to think of dogs as wolves in sheep's clothing.
A creative partnership
Learning how to "read" dogs well enough to stay out of trouble makes good sense. However, this is a piece of advice that can be easily misunderstood. Not all dogs are alike, and not simply because they don't all look the same. As Bekoff recently observed, dogs differ, humans differ, and dog-human relationships differ, too. Therefore, "we need to be careful when serving up grand conclusions about what dogs can or cannot do, what dogs know or don't know, or what dogs can learn or cannot learn."
As he also says, the concern is not merely that like people, dogs differ, and so their relationships with us are going to differ, as well. How they respond as individuals to situations, challenges, and events in their lives can also vary depending on everything from how hungry they are to how stressed out they feel, and so on.
I want to emphasize, too, that dog-human relationships differ not only because those involved differ as individuals with varying needs and reactions depending on the time, the place, and the circumstances. When dogs live with humans, the routines of daily life may not be the ones that are possible while living on their own, or in the company of other dogs. This fact of life does not have to mean they cannot live a good life. Yes, it is true that most family dogs did not themselves elect to become pets rather than free-ranging agents. But this does not mean they aren't dogs.
Why am I so confident this is so? Because what it means to be a dog—to repeat what I have already said—isn't written in their genes alone. Yes, what all dogs do in life depends a lot on what they physically can do. But what they actually end up doing also depends on who the dogs are, the people they are living with, and the particulars of the lives they have created with one another.