Cruel Dog Law
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Cruel Dog Law


When discussing cruel dog law, it is easy to misunderstand each other because some people use the terms cruel, vicious and dangerous as synonyms, while others see clear distinctions between these words.

In legal context, the term dangerous is often used to refer to the risk of injury or harm by any action of the dog. Even a friendly dog that does not want to cause physical harm can be called dangerous. A happy Saint Bernard that wants to say hello to an elderly person and jumps up, placing its front paws on the shoulders of the elderly man, can very well cause physical injury and therefore be considered a dangerous dog. The dog did not try to bite the elderly man; it simply wanted to be nice and friendly and involuntarily caused bodily harm in the process because it had not been trained by its owner not to jump upon people. This means that if one St Bernard jumps a person, and another St Bernard bites someone, both dogs can be labelled dangerous dogs. The exact definition of dangerous dog can however vary significantly between different laws, so it is always important to find out the exact legal definition for each law. In the United States, it is quite common to consider a dog dangerous even if it “only” attacks other domestic animals. This is because the risk of injury to people increases dramatically if the dog has a habit of attacking other domestic animals, since the owners of the attacked animals naturally tries to protect their pets and thus become injured in the process.

In legal context, the term cruel dog or vicious dog is often used for dogs that have tried, or succeeded, in intentionally harming someone. This does not mean that the dog has to be “evil”; it might for instance have tried to guard its owner from a perceived attack. It can still fall under the cruel dog law , since it intentionally tried to harm a person by biting, pushing, pawing or similar. In the example above, the St Bernard who bit someone can fall under the cruel dog law , while the St Bernard who never intended to harm the elderly man most likely will be considered a dangerous dog, not a cruel or vicious dog.

As mentioned above, the definitions used for dangerous dog law and cruel dog law varies a lot from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In some regions, all dogs of a certain breed can fall under the dangerous dog law or cruel dog law, even if each individual dog has never showed any such tendencies. This is for instance sometimes the case for Pit bull terriers, Dogo Argentinos, Fila Brazilieros and Japanese Tosas. In some jurisdictions, omissions by the owner can make the dog fall automatically under the dangerous dog law or cruel dog law, such as letting the dog roam free unsupervised or not using a leash in public areas. A dog can also fall under the dangerous dog law or cruel dog law if the owner violates other animal control rules. The dog is therefore only a dangerous dog in the hands of that particular owner. If the dog is sold to a more responsible owner that adheres to animal control rules, it may no longer fall under the dangerous dog law or cruel dog law.

Disclaimer: This text is meant as an introduction only and might contain errors. Always refer to a lawyer in your area to get the facts in your particular case.

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