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The legal-speak is mostly gibberish to me, and seems to always leave quite a bit open to interpretation. None of my dogs has bitten anyone, and I certainly don't plan for it to happen, but I was told a horror story recently about a dog put down that made me wonder about dog owner rights. I live in Arizona.

I understand that if I'm negligent or if my dog attacks someone out of the blue, I'm liable for injuries. In most states, if the dog was provoked or the victim knowingly assumed risk, the dog owner is not liable. That's all well and good, but I wonder about the safety of the dog in question. For instance, if someone trespassed into my back yard and was bitten, how much danger would my dog be in? I have a 6-foot brick wall that would require someone to climb over it to get inside, so it couldn't be said that easy access implied welcome to enter. I've read some really weird legal decisions that were made, as some warning signs were actually said to leave open to interpretation a stranger's right to just walk into your gated yard. I would cite them but in truth I wasn't taking notes. I just recall a warning written on a blog where they mentioned at least one state where this was an issue. It could be false information.

I also read a post in a Newfie forum where someone's Newfie was off-leash while hiking (apparently the common practice in their area). Another man's dog was also off-leash, and was getting a drink at a stream. The Newfie approached for a drink, and the man slapped the side of the Newfie's head and yelled at the owner to get their dog. She was stunned, and luckily the Newfie (being a Newfie) didn't bite the man's head of despite being 150+ lbs and having jaws big enough to do it. I doubt this dog had ever been hit before, and backed away, confused. However, if the Newfie had bitten this man, what would the likely results have been? If the person who was bitten instigated the matter, would the dog still be put down?
 

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What's happening in different states I won't comment on, In IL if you have a Guard Dog or Beware Of Dog sign you are admitting to owning a dangerous dog and could be liable. I always used Beware Of Dog signs on our grounds, but I also never left dogs unsupervised when loose. The signs were put up for honest people to stop possible accidents.

Our personal protection dogs through the years were not there to guard outside areas because a competent bad guy could kill the dogs while outside running loose. Clients protection dogs there for training were always kenneled properly to prevent accidents. To protect your dog and you an outdoor kennel run with roof and on a concrete slab prevents accidents.
 

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I think a consultation with an attorney in your area would be worth the $100-200 or so it would likely cost if you are concerned about the potential for a dog bite (at least over and above the "really really rare chance" type of concern)

Remember that anyone can sue anyone for nearly everything. Make sure you have high personal liability on your homeowners policy and that it clearly cover dog based incidents. There are supplemental policies for pet owners and dog professionals (trainers, K9 handlers etc) if you can't get regular coverage in your area or with your company.

Personally, I'd put up a "No Trespassing- Violators Will Be Prosecuted" sign and make no mention of a dog. Padlock any exterior gates.

My local statutes say that a dog can bite in defense of its owner if attacked, in defense of itself if attacked and against someone who is committing a crime on the property of its owner GREATER THAN simple trespass. Meaning, if a dude jumps your fence and gets bit, no defense for the dog. If a dude breaks into your house and gets bit, defense for the dog. Now, the dude could sue you either way and get you tangled up in an expensive legal mess, but as far as Animal Control is concerned, in the second scenario the dog has protection.

It also covers leash laws and in general, if you are in an area with leash laws even if no one at all follows them, then an off-leash dog has much less protection while an on-leash dog is typically the "one in the right" (say, if an off-leash dog attacks an on-leash dog who fights back).

But I'm not a lawyer and every state, locality and courtroom sees things differently under different laws.
 

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No matter where you live make sure your dog's rabies shot is always up-to-date and never go past the due date. Even by a day. No matter if the dog is in the right, if it past the due date it must be quarantined at a vet or an approved shelter. Big bucks for the owner. I have a "WARNING- loose dogs on the property" sign. It is scary for any pet owner to be faced with a lawsuit of any kind involving their pet.
 

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Animal-related tort law (and tort law in general) varies greatly from state to state and generally the rules are specific to the facts of the case. If you're really curious, I agree that short conversation with a local lawyer could probably answer these questions much better than any blog or internet forum.
 
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