California Dog Bite Laws

Dog owners often believe they understand what their dog is capable of and often deny the possibility that it would ever bite a human … until it’s too late. Dogs may be man’s best friend, but they’re still animals capable of causing personal injury or even death.

The more you understand about California dog bite laws, the better off you, your dog, and the people around you will be.

California Dog Bite Laws

California Dog Bite Laws

Animal law covers a wide range of topics, including everything from pet ownership to liability. 

Today, we’re taking a closer look at California dog bite laws so you know how to handle the situation, either as a dog owner or someone who suffered a personal injury because of a dog bite. Dog bites can cause very serious injuries and emotional trauma and there are laws in place to protect victims and manage dogs that have become dangerous. Dog bite law in California regulates how dogs are handled after they bite and what rights and responsibilities the victims and owners

Before we get into the details, please be advised that you should immediately wash the area to prevent infection. Bites have been known to cause dangerous infections days after the dog bite occurred, so it’s critical that you take the precaution and consider the possibility that the injury may become worse.

Let’s get started.

Liability Of Dog Owners In California

According to California Civil Code § 3342, the owner of a dog any time the dog bites someone. In this case, liability means you’re responsible for the costs associated with the injuries caused by the dog bite, like medical expenses and lost wages. This law applies in public, but it also applies on the owner’s property as long as the victim was there for a lawful reason. For example, you’re liable if your dog bites a mailman or a friend you invited over for a party. This is a “strict liability” rule, which means that if the dog bites, the owner is responsible as long as the victim wasn’t a trespasser. It doesn’t matter if the owner did nothing wrong or if the dog has never bitten anyone before. However, there is an exception where the victim was provoking the dog. If you were provoking the dog (by hitting or kicking it, for example), the owner is not liable for your injuries.

Liability Of Dog Handlers In California

What happens if the dog bites someone when it’s with a dog walker, handler, friend, or pet sitter? While the law regarding owners is strict liability, the law for dog bites that occur while the dog is with a handler is not. If you get bitten and want to sue the dog walker or handler, you’ll have to show that the handler acted with “scienter” – that he or she knew that the dog was vicious and prone to bite. Buffington v. Nicholson (1947) 78 Cal.App.2d 37, 42 [177 P.2d 51]. If you’ve been bitten by a dog, it’s usually easiest to use the strict liability rule and sue the owner. However, the owner may not have any assets or homeowner’s insurance (which usually covers dog bites). In that case, you may want to expand the scope of the lawsuit to include the handler, dog walker, or any other party that was responsible for the dog.

Injuries Other Than Bites

The strict liability rule for dog owners only covers injuries related to dog bites, although the bite doesn’t have to break the skin. But that’s not the only type of injury a dog can cause – what if you’re injured because of the dog attacks and knocks you over? In that case, you can still sue the owner or handler of the dog. You’ll generally need to prove that the defendant was “negligent,” meaning they knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous and failed to warn or protect you from that danger. In addition, some municipalities have laws that extend strict liability to types of injuries other than bites, so check with a local lawyer about the laws in your town.


The strict liability rule does not cover trespassers – people who are on your property without your express or implied consent. If they get bitten, however, they may still be able to sue you for their injuries. As with injuries other than bites, they’ll have to show that you were negligent in your handling of the dog or in the maintenance of your property. In that case, the court will determine whether your behavior was reasonable. For example, training your dog to attack anyone who enters your yard probably isn’t reasonable and you may be held liable.

What Happens To The Dog?

When there’s an incident involving your dog, the local police will file a report with the court and they’ll have a hearing to determine your dog’s status. If your dog has attacked another person or animal twice within a 3-year period or bitten someone once and causes minor injuries, it becomes a “potentially dangerous” dog under California law. Cal. Civ. Code § 31602. If your dog has severely injured or killed someone once, attacked another person or animal more than twice within a 3-year period, or bitten someone and caused minor injuries twice, it becomes a “vicious” dog under California law. Cal. Civ. Code § 31603. You’ll receive a notification about the hearing and its outcome and you’ll have the opportunity to appeal. If your dog is classified as potentially dangerous, you’ll need to keep the dog indoors or in a securely fenced yard (so the dog can’t escape and no children can enter) at all times while the dog is on your property. If you leave, you’ll need to keep the dog leashed at all times. Cal. Civ. Code § 31642. If there are no more incidents for 3 years, your dog will be removed from the list of potentially dangerous dogs. Cal. Civ. Code § 31644. If your dog is classified as vicious, the court may order the local animal control department to destroy it. Alternatively, it may impose conditions on your ownership to avoid any public safety hazards.

Get Legal Help

If you’ve been bitten by a dog or if your dog has bitten someone else, you need legal help. Dog bite law in California is complicated and full of exceptions and fine print. Check out our California Dog Bite Attorney Referral Service to find an experienced lawyer near you!

15 replies
  1. Deborah Dishington says:

    I was bitten by a strangers dog at the park while walking yesterday morning ( Pit Bull ) the gentlemen had three large dogs on leashes the pit bull in the middle lunged towards me and bite my thigh. Instinct pain.. the dogs owners are in Hawaii. I sought medical attention on 10 day anabiotic. I would like to be compensated medical for my clothing and loss wages. And the pain I am going through. I am in Burbank ca. ??

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi Deborah,

      We’re so sorry to hear about this – We may be able to help you seek compensation for your personal injury. Please complete and submit the form on this page:

      If you would like to speak to someone on the phone, you can always reach us by calling (818) 340-4529

  2. Jarrett Geyer says:

    My Pit Bull, a Highly trained Service dog allegedly bit a man trespassing on our property while others in the alleged moment assaulting her Elderly Disabled handler with a stick as he lay on the ground. They reported her, now we are in the process of Quarantine for her, she has been allowed to stay with her handler at this time. This a dog cost up $50,000 to replace out right, they failed to report to the Humane Society handling the investigation they own 2 dogs that were present on there property (next to ours 5 acres each) that fit the “size of the bite”, one being an aggressive Pit Bull. Now on video it shows our Pit being no where near him at the “Alleged” time he was bitten. Regardless if the let her stay or not she will be branded as a Viscous dog thus unfit for Service Dog use.

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi Jarrett,

      We’re sorry to hear about this unfortunate situation. We may be able to help arrange a free consultation with an attorney experienced in trespassing and dog bites – please give us a call at (818) 340-4529 to speak with one of our friendly Referral Consultants.

      If you prefer, you can also contact us by completing the form on this page:

      We look forward to hearing from you.

  3. Meghan says:

    Hello, my female Lab mix bit a man I rent a room to. This is the second time. She was asleep in front of my closed door. He was walking up the stairs at 2:00 A.M. He has Schizophrenia and is Bipolar. I feel that she may have scenes something. Anyhow, what do I do? Thank you

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:


      The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog.

      It might be in your best interest to keep your dog behind a closed door to ensure your dog doesn’t bite.

  4. Cotter says:

    My postman is refusing to deliver my packages because HE SAYS he is affraid of my dogs. But my dogs are never in my front yard where my front porch is and when I am NOT home they are in the house. Even if they are in the back yard, they are behind a 6′ fence that is locked with a padlock.

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi Cotter,

      U.S. Postal Carriers have the right to refuse delivery for a variety of reasons involving personal safety concerns. It sounds like your dogs are properly restrained inside, but carriers may still consider it dangerous if they fear your dogs can get to them through screen doors, open windows, or open gates.

      Inspect your property to ensure there is no possible way your dogs can get to the carrier then contact the delivery supervisor at the post office and explain you have taken steps to protect the safety of the carrier and request they lift delivery suspension to your residence. If they continue to refuse delivery, you may need to hire an attorney to resolve the matter.

      For a free consultation with a qualified attorney, call 818-340-4529.

  5. Myles says:

    On the 15th of September, I was in PetFood Express on Pico Blvd. with my dogs. One of my dogs was having a barking and lunging “contest” with another dog. Both dogs were on leash and being handled just fine by the owners. Nothing was going to happen. During this event, one of the workers at the store decided she was going to step in (unnecessarily) and “help.” While stepping between the two lunging dogs, she was bitten by my dog. My dog did not set out to bite her. Moreover, I was told by the Assistant Manager that the “first thing workers are taught” is not to intercede. So now, my dog has got an official mark against him that he never should have had. On top of it, the employee’s lawyer has demanded my insurance informatioin.

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:


      We recommend contacting a dog bite lawyer immediately. It’s not uncommon for professionals who work with animals to sustain bites, scratches, and other injuries – in most cases, the employer carries workers’ compensation insurance to cover medical costs and medical leave if necessary.

      We are happy to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with a dog bite lawyer – Call 818-208-2952 or submit an attorney request form to get started.

  6. Matt says:

    I was walking my dog today (on a leash and licensed) down the alley to our house. A neighbors dog was off leash in a parking lot with the owner’s children. The dog started barking and charged my dog and I. I stepped between them, but the other dog continued to come after my do. My dog then pushed the dog down with her nose and grabbed the other dog by the neck and started shaking it around. I got my dog to drop the other dog and it took off. Not sure what happened to the other dog. I haven’t heard anything from that household yet, so not sure if there were any injuries to the other dog. Am I right to assume that since the other dog was off leash and attacked my dog, that whatever my dog did was self defense? Add to that, my dog is an 85lb Doberman and the aggressive dog was a Chihuahua mix of some sort and I obviously have some concerns as to how this might be handled. Thanks in advance.

  7. Steve says:

    My dog a boxer terrier mix, got out and attacked a miniature poodle puppy. He bit the back of neck. We called police and waited for animal control. Animal controlled showed up and informed us it was our responsibility to take dog to vet, and it would be left to us on how to handle. I took the lady and dog to vet, dog was treated and we were informed it would have to spend night and be monitored. I payed a down payment and when a estimate was given to owner they need more money, so i payed more. I stayed with owner until her husband could get to the vets office. I informed them that whatever cost their pet insurance did not cover I would pay. I have not heard from them in 5 weeks, then a get a call, evidently the puppy died and now the want me to pay for replacement dog, pay for all shots and obedient trading. Also was mentioned the emotional stress on wife and daughter.
    What is my legal obligation in this matter.

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi Steve,

      We’re sorry to hear about this unfortunate experience. At this point, we would recommend speaking with an attorney for the best guidance. If you’d like, we can set up a free consultation – to get started, give us a call or complete an attorney request form.

  8. Lou says:

    I hired a dog walking service to take my dog out on a 60 minute walk. Half way through I received a phone call that there was an accident and my dog jumped on the mailman. I had specifically told the dog walker prior to her taking my dog in her possession to keep the dog away from people because she likes to jump on people. I also asked her to keep the dog away from other animals. The mailman was sorting mail with his back towards the dog and the dog jumped on him. He fell to the ground and complained of back and neck pain. An ambulance was called and he left on a stretcher and in a neck brace. The mailman did mention a prior back injury. The dog walking company is assuming no liability stating the dog walker is independently contracted. I received a letter from an attorney on behalf of the mailman asking for home owners / renters insurance info. My question is, does the dog walker hold any liability in this? My dog is medium size, collie mix and is about 40 lbs. Dog walker stated she was wagging tail and didn’t bark or growl when she jumped up on the mailman.

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi Lou,

      It sounds a dog bite lawyer may need to take a closer look at the details included in the contracts and waivers involved with the parties involved. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, we can help you find one for you and schedule a consultation.

      To get started, please complete and submit the form on our attorney request page.

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