Everyone should know what to do in the case you get bitten by a dog, if your dog bites another dog, or in the unfortunate situation your dog gets attacked. This page has all of the information you need on your rights, federal and state laws, and county requirements!

Report a dog bite ONLINE on the San Diego Humane Society website under “Report an Animal Emergency”.

DISCLAIMER: This information is accurate as of June 2022, and is always subject to change. Please refer to the Department of Animal Services Pet Ownership Laws for current information and exact ordinances.

According to the San Diego Department of Animal Services (Animal Control), about 800,000 people in the US annually require medical treatment for dog bites and attacks each year. California is one of the few states in the US that has what is referred to as “strict liability laws” in regards to most dog bite and dog-related injuries or fatalities. This means, no matter whether or not you know your dog is prone to dangerous behavior(s), you are liable for the action your dog takes towards people and property (including other dogs).

When victims of domesticated dogs sue for compensation of proven damages, an owner cannot argue in defense of themselves saying they were unaware of their dog’s abilities to harm, or that the correct actions were taken in order to prevent the dog from inflicting harm.

While this law is relatively unwavering, there are some limitations. An owner is only liable in the situation that the victim:

  1. Was bitten by a dog
  2. Was in public OR was legally allowed on the property where the incident occurred

For example, if a robber broke into your home and your dog bit, fought, or severely injured the person in response (whether as a trained behavior or an untrained behavior) you & your dog would not be liable. You are protected on the basis of unlawful entry onto your property.

If your dog were to bite or attack a mail or food delivery person. you and your dog would not be protected as the person was lawfully on your property.

This law does not apply to dogs trained and employed by local or federal agencies (ie. law enforcement, military working dogs) while on duty OR while defending themselves or their handler from a person or outside party. In some situations a dog closing its jaws on someone’s clothing, a purse or backpack, or a shoe can qualify as a “bite”. This would depend on the individual situation and if the dog has a history of dangerous behavior.

Both animal control and law enforcement officers have the ability to request a hearing if they suspect a dog to be a threat. The court can decide if a dog is potentially dangerous, vicious, or a public nuisance, and in these situations, owners must keep their dog under certain conditions. Some of these conditions may include, but not be limited to:

  • Keeping the dog muzzled when outside of the owner’s property
  • Quarantining the dog inside its home
  • Keeping the dog on a 6-foot or shorter leash at all times
  • Seeking assistance from a veterinary behaviorist or professional dog behavior trainer

HeroicK9s works with dogs in all phases of potentially dangerous behavior. Ideally, owners with potentially dangerous dogs reach out for training before their dog commits a violent act and/or is labeled as dangerous. We are often called once a dog has already reached the first or second bite on their county record for behavior modification and rehabilitation.

All dog owners must notify the County Department of Animal Services as soon as possible if their dog bites someone. The dog will then be required to be quarantined, whether vaccinated or not, for a period of 10 days. On some occasions, typically when this is not the first occurrence of violent behavior, the Dangerous Dog Task Force may capture and/or impound a dog. Some owners may be allowed to quarantine their dog in their home if they can prove their ability to fully isolate the dog from both people and animals during their 10-day requirement. If an owner is found to be violating these requirements, they can be charged with a misdemeanor and risk the dog being temporarily or permanently confiscated. In severe situations, the dog may be required to be euthanized by animal control.

Report a dog bite ONLINE on the San Diego Humane Society website under “Report an Animal Emergency”.

A dog can be deemed dangerous if:

  1. The dog has forced people to defend themselves from dangerous behavior while AWAY FROM HOME at least twice in 3 years,
  2. The dog has bitten someone unprovoked resulting in minor injury to the person,
  3. The dog has killed or injured a domesticated animal at least twice in 3 years

A dog can be deemed vicious if:

  1. The dog aggressively killed or injured someone unprovoked,
  2. The dog has already been determined legally dangerous and has either repeated the violent behavior OR the owner failed to meet post-quarantine requirements in regards to the dog’s behavior and public safety

In the case that an owner is aware their dog poses a threat, allows the animal to roam at large, and the dog performs a violent act, the owner may be faced with criminal charges. This can lead to a felony charge if a victim is killed, and can lead to a “wobbler” (court-determined felony or misdemeanor) if a victim is only injured. This does not exclude the victim or family of the victim’s legal actions against the owner of the dog.

When a dog performs a violent act, an owner CAN defend themselves in court if:

  1. The victim was trespassing on private property at the time of the incident,
  2. The victim was at least partially at fault for the incident, OR
  3. The victim voluntarily subjected themselves to potential injury (ie. dog trainer, veterinarian)

When professionally training, selling, or handling a dog trained to attack on command (ie. protection dog, guard dog, sentry dog) you must obtain a permit as a “protection dog operator”. This may require working dog insurance for bodily injury and property damage liability coverage. This required coverage excludes dogs trained for sport as the dog is not trained to bite an object.

There are specific ordinances for San Diego County, and some specific ordinances for unincorporated areas, that are subject to change. Please contact the Department of Animal Services for more information on specific laws, permits, and ordinances that apply to working dogs.