Dog Bite Law

Sensational dog bites, the ones that involve children and/or severe disfigurement, are the ones that receive a lot of attention – and spark debate about dog bite laws. But that doesn’t mean that less serious bites by smaller dogs shouldn’t be reported.

While the law might not stipulate that ALL dog bites be reported to the authorities (police service), it’s highly recommended that you do. Reporting dog bites allows authorities to get an accurate picture of the risk to the public, helps in lawsuits and serves as formal notification to owners that they have a potentially dangerous dog on their hands. Responsible owners will take action to ensure that similar incidents don’t happen again, while less responsible owners will be forced to face the legal (and financial) consequences of their inaction.

What to do if your dog bites someone

It can be both shocking and embarrassing when your dog unexpectedly bites someone. It’s important that you take steps to limit your liability while also acknowledging your responsibility. Steps to take include:

How to report a dog bite in Canada

If you need to report a dog bite incident in Canada, either as a victim or owner, you should contact the Animal Services department in the municipality concerned. If the dog has run away from the owner or is a stray then animal services will send out a search unit. Within 24 hours animal services will contact the victim to confirm the incident and request written reports from all present, including witnesses. Documentation detailing medical treatment provided is also required. A public health inspector will quarantine the dog involved in the incident.

Consequences for the owner include:

Who is liable for dog bites?

Obviously owners are liable for injuries and damages that result from their dog biting someone, but they aren’t the only ones. Other people responsible include:

What to do if you are bitten by a dog

A quick note of US law

If you do report a dog bite or your dog is the one who has bitten, it’s important that you understand the dog bite law in your state. Not all states have the same regulations when it comes to dog-to-human bites and dog-to-dog bites.

Most states have a “Strict Liability Law”, others have a “One Bite Rule” and still others have independent laws governing dog bites.

Strict Liability

According to strict liability law, dog owners are liable for all injuries or damage caused by their dogs regardless of whether they know or have reason to think that their dogs are dangerous. The onus is on the owner to prove that there were extenuating/mitigating circumstances in the event of an attack or biting incident, for example, the victim provoked the dog, ignored warnings, was trespassing, was breaking the law, or otherwise acted recklessly or negligently.

According to the law, dogs don’t actually have to bite or cause harm; owners are liable even if the dog acted menacingly towards the victim and the victim hurt themselves (tripped over a root and twisted their ankle or knocked their head) trying to get away.

One Bite Law

One Bite Law is informally known as ‘the first bite is free’. Owners are liable for injuries or damage caused by their dogs if they know or have reason to know that their dog is dangerous. So, if you have no prior reason to suspect that your dog is dangerous and then your dog bites someone, you are ‘notified’ of the risk and will be liable for any subsequent dog bites. However, there are actions that can also put owners on notice other than a bite, for example, a history of growling or snapping at people in public or on their own property, and if the dog has a history of jumping on people (the dog could knock down senior citizens or children). Menacing or threatening people also serves as notice, as does fight training.

Again, provocation or wilfully reckless and negligent behavior by the victim serves as a valid defence.


Acting negligently also makes you liable for any injuries or damages caused by your dog biting someone. Dog owners are legally responsible for ensuring that their dogs are under control and not a threat to the public at all times.

Strict Liability One Bite Rule Other
New Hampshire
New Jersey
Rhode Island
South Carolina
West Virginia
New Mexico
New York
North Dakota
South Dakota
Georgia: The owner or keeper of a vicious or dangerous animal may be liable for injuries through carelessness or by allowing the dog to go off leash or otherwise not under control.
Hawaii: Owners liable if animal is known to be dangerous, or if plaintiff proves that owner was negligent.
North Carolina: The owner of a dangerous dog is strictly liable in civil damages for any injuries or property damage inflicted upon a person, his property, or another animal.
Tennessee: (1) The owner of a dog has a duty to keep that dog under reasonable control at all times. Any breach is subject to civil liability for any damages suffered by someone who is injured in a public place or lawfully in or on the private property of another. (2) Owners may be held liable regardless of whether the dog has shown any dangerous propensities or whether the owner knew or should have known the dog could be dangerous.

One last thing

One of the most important things you can do for your dog is to act as her advocate and guardian. It’s up to you to know your dog and not to put her in situations where she is going to feel threatened or uneasy. If you know your dog isn’t fond of people or is anxious when there is a lot of activity around her, then don’t take her to public parks or the beach, especially on weekends or holidays.

If you know your dog is reactive, always walk on lead when in public places and choose appropriate times to walk your dog to avoid conflict, even if that means getting up an hour earlier or sacrificing an hour of TV in the evenings.

You also need to give people plenty of warning regarding your dog’s likely behavior; either by telling them as they approach (you are well within your rights to ask someone not to approach your dog or to put their dog on lead as they pass you) or by having warning signs on your property’s wall or gate.

You can also get embroidered leads or bandanas that advertise your dog’s emotional or mental state, for example, a bandana across the back could clearly announce that your dog is aggressive or fearful and needs to be given space. You could also have a bandana that announces your dog is in training, so people won’t interfere.

The Yellow Ribbon Campaign is trying to implement a worldwide color code in which different colored bandanas and ribbons on leads or collars indicate a dog’s status and notify the public of the appropriate behavior. For example, a red bandana, collar or lead indicates an aggressive dog, yellow means an anxious or worried dog who needs space, and green means your dog is happy and well-adjusted. Other colors include:

Owners also need to know their legal responsibilities because sometimes the threat of punitive action is a greater incentive to keep dogs under proper control than just the idea that their dogs need protection.


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