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What are the Different Types of Dog Bite Law?

By Terrie Brockmann
Updated Feb 26, 2024
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The three most common types of dog bite laws or statutes are the negligence law, the one-bite law, and the dog bite law holding the owner responsible for the dog's actions. These laws, in varying degrees, hold the dog owner responsible for the dog's actions. Some laws allow the police to prosecute the owner, but do not provide the basis for the victim to receive compensation for his injuries or pain and suffering. In many jurisdictions, a dog owner must be guilty of negligence or scienter, which means the owner was fully aware of the dog's propensity for biting.

The negligence law usually states that a dog owner is responsible if she was negligent in controlling the animal. The specifics of the law may differ depending upon the jurisdiction. Ireland and Denmark have strict laws governing an owner's responsibility, including laws stating that the animal must be muzzled and on a lead of no longer than 2 meters, which is a little less than 7 feet, and led by a person who is 16 years of age or older. In England, owners of potentially dangerous breeds, such as pit bulls, must have insurance, and they must muzzle their pet in public, as well as register, tattoo, and sterilize the animal. Other places have no dog control laws, and it is the judgment of the courts that determines if a person is negligent.

The one-bite rule has been the rule of thumb for dog bite cases for more than a century. Under this ruling, the court takes little or no action if the dog has never bitten anyone before. In Nairobi, Kenya, there is no explicit dog bite law, and judges use the English common law and the Penal Code section 243 (d), which allows a dog one free bite. With dog bites being on the rise, many jurisdictions are abandoning the one-bite law for stricter laws.

The strictest law is the dog bite law wherein the owner is liable for his dog's action, even if it was provoked. Under this more stringent law, the owner usually is fully liable. A few jurisdictions allow some leeway if the victim was provoking the dog, trespassing, or attacking the dog's owner. Typically under this law, the courts rule for the euthanization of the animal.

The reason that authorities have strengthened their dog bite law is that the number of dog bite cases has risen. Not only are there more cases of bites, but in general many of the bites are more vicious. Part of the cause is that people are buying more of the potentially dangerous breeds, including pit bulls, rottweilers, and other such breeds. In the U.S., almost one-third of dog bite victims who go to hospital emergency rooms report that it was a pit bull that bit them. Pit bulls are capable of exerting more than 1,000 pounds (about 455 kg) of pressure, which is more than three times the pressure necessary for breaking a human bone.

There are different government departments that may have a dog bite law. A dog owner might try looking for city, regional, and national laws. In the U.S., a person should check out the city, county, and state laws. Typically, the local library will have a copy of the city or county laws, or a person can visit the city or county clerk. For American states, several websites list state laws. Check to make sure the website is current because many states are fortifying their dog bite law.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By Soulfox — On May 24, 2014

@Markerrag -- the problem with pit bulls is that so many of them have been bred and taught to fight that it is common for those dogs to be dangerous. The law chooses to err on the side of caution in a lot of areas when it comes to pit bulls.

By Markerrag — On May 23, 2014

@Logicfest -- luckily, most jurisdictions don't go that far. In my area, a dog owner will not be held liable for a dog bite if it can be shown someone was on the property illegally. Of course, there is a leash law but an owner generally won't be held liable if a dog gets out of a fence, runs loose and bites someone as long as the owner can show he took reasonable steps to confine the dog. If a dog digs out from under a fence, why should the owner be held liable if he can show he took the appropriate measures to keep the dog in the fence?

What has been a concern is how pit bulls have been demonized. Remember "The Little Rascals?" Pete the Pup was a pit bull. It's all about the training.

By Logicfest — On May 22, 2014

Those laws which result in the euthanization of a dog anytime it bites someone are overly harsh. A dog can get put down and its owner held liable if a dog bit someone that was provoking it or trespassing are ridiculous. If someone breaks into my house are hop the fence in my backyard, you'd better believe I want one of my dogs to bite someone. One of the reasons people get dogs is for protection of property and person, after all.

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