If a Dog Bites Someone, Is It Put Down?
Dogs are loving companions, but a scared or sick dog can unexpectedly lash out. Aging dogs can also grow increasingly wary of strangers and other animals.
As the owner of a beloved pet, this can make you nervous. You may wonder if your dog will be put down if it bites someone. Understanding dog bite laws in your area can help you ensure that your dog and others remain safe.
Dog bite laws vary by state, but generally, the law doesn't require a dog to be put down for biting someone once. Euthanasia may be required if the dog:
- Has rabies
- Has a history of vicious behavior or prior attacks
- Was trained by the owner to attack people
- Is found to be a threat to public health or safety
- Severely injures or kills someone
Because policies vary by state, you should review local laws and speak with a lawyer if your dog injures another person. There may be legal consequences, even if the dog doesn't have to be euthanized.
After a dog bite or attack, the owner may be liable for damages in civil court. That means the bite victim could sue the dog owner for medical bills, disfigurement or lost income.
Dog owners can face criminal consequences if their dog injures another person or animal. These cases tend to arise if:
- The dog is known to be dangerous
- The owner trained the dog for fights or to be an attack animal
- The dog caused severe injuries or death
Again, laws vary by state, but the owner could face fines, probation or jail time. A judge can also order that a dog be confined, muzzled or put down as a result of a criminal case.
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Most of the time, an average pet dog can bite someone at least once before being put down. Many states follow a "one-bite rule." Under these rules, the owner isn't responsible for the bite if they don't know the dog is likely to bite. However, a "one-bite" law doesn't necessarily mean an owner isn't liable for the first bite. That's because the dog may have displayed other problematic behavior, like growling at people or attacking other animals. Ultimately, decisions about euthanasia are made by a judge, often in a criminal or administrative court proceeding.
In California, a court may order euthanasia after a second bite incident if the judge finds that the dog is an ongoing threat to public safety. Courts may consider whether a dog owner can change the dog's circumstances in a way that's likely to help prevent further bites. For example, if the dog can be confined to a private yard to prevent bites, euthanasia may be avoided. Courts may also be less inclined to order euthanasia for a dog that nips often but isn't a genuine public safety threat — as may be the case with smaller dog breeds.
Courts may order an animal to be euthanized after a single attack if a judge believes the animal is a threat to the public. This may be the case if the animal has a dangerous disease or was trained for dog fighting. Some states, like Colorado, also give courts the authority to order euthanasia if a dog attack causes severe injury or the death of a person or another domestic animal.
All states may euthanize dangerous dogs, but the definitions and procedures vary. A handful of states don't have statutes explicitly detailing the process. Instead, these states rely on courts to determine how to handle dangerous animals based on common law and historical precedence. Counties and municipalities can and do pass laws on dog bites, so you should always check the laws in your locale.
Even if a dog has a history of biting, there are defenses in a dog bite case. Possible defenses vary by location but include situations where:
- The dog attacked a stray animal that wandered onto private property
- The dog bit a groomer, veterinarian or other animal professional
- The dog was defending itself or its owner
- The victim was committing a crime on the owner's property
- The victim was provoking or abusing the dog at the time of the attack
The owner may have the burden of proving a relevant defense in court. Dangerous dog laws generally don't apply to trained police or military dogs.
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