What Are the Laws Regarding Dangerous Dogs?

By Peter DePaolis

Dangerous dogs could be living in your neighborhood, but the rules for how they must be kept and your rights if one were to attack you depend on the state in which you live. Some states impose stricter standards for owners of dangerous dogs than others, and some states have minimal guidance in place.

Regardless of the law, if you have been bitten or attacked by a dog, you may have the right to seek compensation against the owner. Even if that dog is not registered as a dangerous dog, you should consult with an attorney to explore your options.

Reviewing the Dangerous Dog Rules for Washington, D.C., Maryland, and VA

The rules for how a dog is classified as “potentially dangerous” or “dangerous” depends on which state you live in. Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia each use separate statutes.

Dangerous Dog Laws in Maryland

Maryland does not have a dog bite statute, but they do have regulations for dangerous dogs.

What Is a Dangerous Dog for Maryland Residents?

Maryland classifies a dog as dangerous if it has:

  • Attacked or bitten without provocation, injured or killed another person, or created severe injuries (such as lacerations or broken bones).
  • Been deemed potentially dangerous by local authorities.
  • Inflicted severe injury or killed another domestic animal while off the owner’s property.
  • Attacked without reason.

What Owners of Dangerous Dogs in Maryland Must Do

If your dog is deemed dangerous in the state of Maryland, it is illegal to keep your dog unattended on your property unless you have the dog confined indoors or secured in a locked pen outdoors. Furthermore, you must restrain the dog any time you leave your property, and the dog cannot leave your property without a muzzle and leash.

You must register your dog as a dangerous dog and pay the registration fee annually. Some counties have additional penalties for owners that do not register or renew registration. If you violate the rules, the fine can be up to $2,500 in most counties – but some may charge more.

Dangerous Dog Laws in Virginia

Virginia’s dangerous dog laws are under the Code of Virginia Section 3.2-6540 Control of Dangerous Dogs.

What Is a Dangerous Dog for a Virginia Resident?

The state classifies any dog that has bitten, attacked, or harmed a person or domestic animal as dangerous. Law enforcement and animal control will investigate all incidents of bites or attacks to determine if the dog is truly dangerous. The owner must allow law enforcement to investigate and a veterinarian to examine the dog.

A dog will not be classified as dangerous in the state simply because of the breed. Furthermore, if your dog were to attack or harm someone while they committed a crime or when they were trespassing on your property without authorization, your dog will not be classified as “dangerous” by the state.

What Owners of Dangerous Dogs in Virginia Must Do

If your dog is classified as dangerous, you have 30 days from the report finding to obtain a dangerous dog registration from your local animal control office. You will pay $150 for the initial registration, and you will renew that registration each year.

You must confine your dog indoors or in a locked structure outside that is sufficient enough to restrain them from the public and not have any potential for escape. You must also leash and muzzle your dog if you leave your property.

It is a class 2 misdemeanor to allow your dangerous dog to attack another domestic animal again. Furthermore, if your dog attacks another person after being classified as dangerous, you will face a class 1 misdemeanor.

Depending on how you train the dog, you could be charged with a class 6 felony if your dangerous dog were to harm someone again.

Dangerous Dog Laws in Washington, D.C.

The Mayor’s office oversees all dangerous dog laws in the D.C. area. They conduct investigations into complaints and dog attacks to determine if the animal is dangerous or potentially dangerous.  D.C.’s classification of a dangerous dog works similar to other areas, including requiring that the dog has attacked and harmed another person or domestic animal without provocation.

Washington, D.C., has harsher laws for dangerous dogs. If they feel that the dog is dangerous or a threat to society, the Mayor may obtain a warrant to search the home and seize the dog.

Once a dog is classified as dangerous, the owner will have a hearing 5 to 10 days after the incident. The hearing determines if the dog is dangerous.

The Responsibilities of a Dangerous Dog Owner in D.C.

If the hearing determines your dog is dangerous, you will receive a certificate of registration from the Mayor. You will need to renew this registration annually. Your dog must be spayed or neutered, and you must maintain a proper enclosure on your property – which is determined by the Mayor’s office.

The only time your dog can leave the property is for medical treatment or examination, and your dog must be caged or controlled by a leash and muzzle. The leash cannot be longer than four feet, and the muzzle must be adequate to protect the public but not harm the dog.

What If a Dangerous Dog Injures You?

If a dangerous dog injures you, you may be entitled to compensation. To explore this right, speak with an attorney in your area that has experience with dog attack cases.

The attorneys at Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP, can help. We have offices in Maryland, D.C., and VA to serve you.

Schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation with an attorney regarding your dog attack case by calling one of our three office locations or by requesting more information online.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.