Dog Bite Law: An Overview

Media outlets often run emotional headlines like “Dog Bites Child” to describe recent dog attacks. These stories can inspire vigorous debate over dog bite law reform with passionate voices defending both the dog and victim. As a concerned pet owner, you may ask what to do if your dog bites someone?

Whether you dog bit someone else, or you’re an attack victim, it’s important to understand dog bite laws. These laws can vary by state, but usually focus on defining liability (whether the victim or the owner). Generally, if the animal was provoked or the victim was illegally trespassing or committing a crime, the owner isn’t liable.

An exception to the trespass defense, however, is the “one-bite rule” assigning strict liability under many states’ dog bite laws.

What is the one-bite rule for dogs?

The one-bite rule for dogs refers to the issue of strict liability that lawyers for dog bites must consider. This rule indicates “owners or harborers” of an animal must be aware of its propensity for aggression. This can be because of the animal’s past behavior or its legal characterization (“dangerous breeds”). 

In states with strict liability, a dog bite victim can sue even if they were trespassing. That’s because such dog bite law considers the owner to be responsible for knowing the dog’s likelihood of violence. The owner is somewhat shielded under those dog bite laws if the animal was provoked (teased, harmed) by the victim. 

Can a dog be put down for just one bite_

Can a dog be put down for just one bite?

Most dog bite laws don’t automatically require euthanasia for just one bite. Instead, attacks generally result in the animal being quarantined/tested for rabies. It’s usually also required to file a report with the local health department. 

However, euthanasia may be required if the animal’s dog trainer intentionally raised the dog to fight or attack others. Another exception would be if the animal has rabies, or the attack caused extreme injury or death.

A dog rescuer or new owner should always inquire about the animal’s history for these strict liability reasons. Such information is typically available from health departments or other agencies. Dog bite laws may require euthanasia if a family member or other is harmed and the dog had an aggressive past.

Who’s to blame when your dog bites or attacks someone?

Common law precedence informs dog bite law by focusing on the owner’s behavior prior to the attack. That’s because the owner or “harborer” of the animal is considered ultimately responsible for its behavior. Liability can even extend to a landlord who permits a legally “dangerous breed” on their property.

Judges will consider if the owner violated any ordinance or failed to take reasonable precautions. Next, they’ll consider if the victim’s actions contributed to the attack. If the victim harmed or antagonized the animal, they share part of the blame. Note: very young children and the intellectually disabled aren’t generally liable for provocations.  


Dog bite laws can be confusing. Owners may ask “what should I do if my dog bit me?” They may also worry about liability if their dog bites another person. When it comes to dog bite law in your area, you need professional guidance. Someone trained in the litigation and strategy of dog bite cases.

That’s where The Sandel Law Firm comes in. 

If you’ve been the victim of an attack or have questions about dog bite law, contact Sandel Law Firm for a free consultation.

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