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Dog Laws

Posted by John Hathorn on May 3, 2018
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Scrolling through my Nextdoor app, I’ve been reading quite a few reports about dog bites in Santa Monica, where the owners aren’t taking responsibility for the actions of their pets. It sparked some curiosity in me about what the law says is supposed to happen, as a result of a dog bite in public or at home. Like most people I understand that dogs are like family, but it’s important to be informed about things in order to protect them, and others. Violent encounters with domesticated animals have the potential to seriously injure those involved. Here are some interesting details that stood out to me. For all the info, or if you have been involved with a dog bite incident, please refer to the State of California’s, Dog Bite Statute or consult an attorney.


Who is liable?

Generally speaking, the owner of a dog that bites someone else, will likely be liable for the costs resulting from the bite. This includes medical expenses and even lost wages. This is true both in public and in the owner’s residence. Remember, the bite doesn’t necessarily have to break the skin to make the owner liable for damages. For example, if someone was knocked down by a dog and that fall broke their hip, the owner may be held responsible. The victim does still bear the burden of proof, that the owner was negligent and knew that the dog could jump on people and did not warn those around the dog’s proximity.

If a trespasser enters someone’s home and the dog attacks the intruder, it is unlikely that the home or pet owner will be held liable for damages. If the dog is provoked by the victim by teasing, hitting and/or kicking the dog, the owner would likely not be liable for the injuries resulting from the bite.

A dog may be classified as being potentially dangerous if it has caused minor injuries or attacked another dog twice within a period of 3 years. If this happens, the dog must be kept indoors or in an adequately fenced yard. Depending on the severity and history of the incidents, the court may potentially order the local animal control department to euthanize the dog.

Service Dogs

The owner of a service dog must obtain a license to own or use one. To obtain the necessary license you have to sign an affidavit stating that the dog is a trained assistance dog. If a false affidavit is made, that person faces a fine of $1,000 or 6 months in jail, or both.

The definition of a service dog is a dog trained for the individual requirements of a person with a disability. A Guide Dog is any dog that is trained by a licensed person and a Signal Dog is trained to alert a person who is deaf or is hearing impaired. Interesting fact, not all dogs for the visually impaired are Seeing Eye Dogs- that is a specific company!

Leash Laws

Remember the days when your dog seemed so unhappy to be inside that you simply opened the back door and let them out to roam the neighborhood and explore the outdoors. You knew that they would come home sooner or later. Today roaming dogs are considered to be criminals either by state law or by city or county ordinance. Leash laws require dogs to be on a leash and under the control of the owner or walker whenever they are off the owner’s property. Some owners feel that they are in complete control of their dogs even without a leash, but they are in violation and could be cited. Dog parks or runs are the only places that a dog can be taken off the lease and allowed to run around. The owner should still be on careful watch. A dog that runs loose can be picked up and taken to an animal shelter by municipal or county animal control officers. The owner will be fined and charged the cost of impounding the dog.


It is important that every dog owner has adequate insurance. Remember the size, temperament and history of your dog is not taken into account. A small friendly dog can leave a permanent scar on anyone including, for example, the face of a small child. Your insurance coverage must be high enough to cover any eventualities that your dog may cause, as you will be liable for these damages. If renters cannot get a renter’s policy or the homeowners do not have a policy, then you should find a canine liability policy or get an umbrella policy that will cover all the gaps. Shop around for a good reasonable policy.

It doesn’t matter how big they get, they’ll always be our puppies at heart. No pet owner wants to have to put their best friend down and no parents want their children hurt. As pet owners it’s our responsibility to make sure that we are aware of the law and mitigate all risks effectively to protect our furry friends and everyone around them.

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